With the ever and increasing presence of 24 hour news as well as the apocalyptic messages on many of our cable changes it is no wonder that many folks begin to wonder if they are doing all they can to protect themselves, even in their own home.
Can we make our own homes safe enough to weather nature’s worst storms?
In 2004 and 2005 US was hit by several hurricanes and we saw (or experienced) the destruction of these events. Homes today are being built by high structural standards – however they are designed, in reality, for wind events that occur in mid-sized hurricanes. Get a really big storm (a Category 4 or 5) and all bets are off.
Beyond evacuation and other very wise precautions, you can still provide for a way to get to safety in your own home by building what is called a safe room.. These are sometimes called storm shelters.
Storm Shelters are usually relatively small and windowless rooms that have been built to withstand much more severe wind forces than the rest of the home. Many have been been built in Florida and other hurricane prone states.
A relatively cheap storm shelter can provide you and your family with a sense of security knowing that there is a space in your home that will withstand the forces of the worst hurricanes. These can also act as tornado shelters.
What is a safe room? It is usually a small space within the home that has special walls, ceilings, fastening systems and doors and are (to use an engineering term) really, really strong They can serve the vital purpose of providing safety for you and your lovelies during those scary events.
I’ve designed some of these and my clients have considered them a form of insurance – even if they do not use it.
Safe rooms can occur separate to the house or can be made a part of the house – inside. When inside they can be some routinely used portion such as the walk-in closet. It is important that these rooms be isolated, structurally, from the main components of the home so that any major failure can occur without taking down the safe room.
Above ground safe rooms are generally best in high water table states (such as Florida) and are usually built of reinforced, solidly poured masonry walls, and poured concrete ceilings (set just below the trusses). It is less expensive and much simpler to build while constructing a new home.
One of my clients had me design his master walk-in closet and bathroom into a safe room. Its ceiling was designed to be concrete and rest just below the bottom chord of the trusses. The trusses could blow off and basically the entire home could collapse yet he and his family would remain safe.
Any structural engineer can design such as space for you. FEMA has a great guideline called FEMA320A “Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room inside your house”.
Of course, we can’t nor should we worry all the time. Life has its inherent risks. But, like insurance, a safe room can offer peace of mind – even if you never really use it.