If the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning, where would you go? For homeowners with a safe room, the answer is easy.
Simply put, a safe room is a concrete cubicle designed to remain standing and withstand a battering during a tornado or major storm. It can be incorporated into the design of a new house, or it can be added to an existing house. It can save your life.
The The Portland Cement Association, which promotes the use of concrete in home construction, describes a safe room as a small, windowless room that is completely encapsulated in concrete -- walls, ceiling and floor. Typically, the room would be located in a central area of the home for additional protection as well as accessibility, but can be placed on the outside wall of a home.
The PCA says the advantage of a safe room over a storm cellar is that the safe room can function year-round as a usable area, such as a bathroom, closet or utility room.
A safe room can be really, really plain and unfinished, says the PCA's Jenni Grover. However, Grover says some people install a phone line or include a refrigerator in their plans. The rooms can be built in a wide range of sizes.
Grover says safe rooms are not just for storm protection. Since they are typically built with a steel door and triple dead bolts, she says some companies are now promoting them as a safe place to go in the event of a burglary.
The PCA, American Polysteel, and Lite-Form International have developed safe room plans that make use of insulating concrete forms. In addition, both American Polysteel and Lite-Form have developed þsafe room kits for builders which include walls, roof and door. Lite-Form's Chris Stamm says a basic 10x10 safe room will cost around $2,000 to $2,500. He says some rooms range in price up to $4,000 or $5,000, depending on how big you go. Lite-Form says its safe rooms are eight times stronger than wood framed walls.
The safe room concept got a big boost after the federal government started urging residents of tornado-prone areas to consider building safe rooms. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency offers construction plans which are available free of charge by calling FEMA at (800) 480-2520. The plans also may be downloaded from FEMA's Web site.
According to FEMA, safe rooms constructed according to plan can protect those inside from winds up to 250 miles per hour. They can also block projectiles moving at 100 miles per hour.
The FEMA publication, Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room Inside Your House, was developed in collaboration with the Wind Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech University. It draws on 25 years of work by researchers who studied building materials in the laboratory and who also went into the field to examine buildings in the wake of dozens of tornadoes throughout the United States.
Carol Ochs is a Washington-based reporter who covers new home trends.