It can be scary watching the 24 hour news and the apocalyptic musings of the History Channel and Discovery. That amplified fear can make some wonder if they should be doing more to protect themselves in their own homes.
Can we make our own homes safe enough to weather nature’s worst storms?
Hurricanes are intermittent. We saw a rash of them hit the US in 2004 and 05. We saw, and many experienced, the ravages of these events. Homes, today, are built to withstand some very high winds – however they are designed to meet the medium sized storm events. Frankly, a Category 4 or 5 storm can still destroy a home; even if built to today’s standards.
Evacuation is still the best way to avoid the full impact of these mega storms. However if one is unable to get out there is a way to provide some larger degree of safety – and that is by creating a safe room. These are also called storm shelters.
A safe room is a small windowless room that has been strengthened to resist the effects of wind pressures and the impact from windborne debris generated by extremely severe weather. These are becoming rather common in Florida and other hurricane state.
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 a few myself for folks who value the room’s existence even if they never actually use it. Seems a lot like insurance, doesn’t it?
These rooms can be separate or can be some part of the home, like a walk-in closet, which is built like the proverbial brick stink house. They need to be isolated from the main structure so that as the main home becomes unglued and turns into countless fragments, this little oasis of space remains unscathed.
The best way to do this, above ground, is to build a concrete storm shelter with walls that are reinforced masonry, with all the cells (the holes in the concrete block that you have seen) filled with reinforcing bars and concrete. Generally we form and pour concrete slab roof over top. This can be relatively inexpensive do to if you are building your home – it is easy to work into the structure.
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.
FEMA has a great guideline called FEMA320A “Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room inside your house”. Any structural engineer can probably design such as room for you.
Like insurance, a safe room can offer peace of mind – even if you never really use it. Let’s face it, life has its inherent risks. This is a way to effectively scratch one risk right off the list.
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