Safe room

Popular Science - - FEATURES -

It’s the 21st cen­tury; you don’t need an un­der­ground bunker for a safe room. In fact, it might even be a worse shel­ter—be­cause you’re less likely to ac­tu­ally use it. The three safe-room man­u­fac­tur­ers and in­stall­ers we spoke to em­pha­sized that the room must be com­fort­able, ac­ces­si­ble, and gen­er­ally a pleas­ant place in which to hole up for hours at a time. That is, of course, in ad­di­tion to be­ing able to with­stand the 250-mile-per-hour winds of a cat­e­gory EF-4 tor­nado.


The ideal ma­te­rial for the room’s walls is a nearly in­de­struc­tible in­su­lated con­crete form, or ICF. It has a con­crete and re­bar core, sand­wiched be­tween foam in­su­lat­ing lay­ers, with dry­wall or an­other fin­ish out­side. Not only do the ICFs re­sist heat in fires and im­pacts in storms, but they also re­duce the sound of those scary noises out­side.

Air Sup­ply

The room needs ad­e­quate pas­sive ven­ti­la­tion, mean­ing air can still flow if a power out­age takes down the HVAC. Be­yond that, the vent sys­tem should ac­cess the roof of the build­ing. That way, if the house col­lapses around the room, those shel­ter­ing inside can still get that sweet oxy­gen.


Make the safe room a fa­mil­iar, eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble space—in a disas­ter sit­u­a­tion, it needs to be com­fort­able, even for small chil­dren. A lot of peo­ple use a closet, pantry (hey, the food’s there al­ready), or master bath­room, which pro­vides ac­cess to run­ning wa­ter as long as it re­mains safe dur­ing the emer­gency.


An­chor the safe room to cus­tom-poured con­crete foot­ings or to a home’s ex­ist­ing foun­da­tion. With the lat­ter de­sign, hooked J-bolts, which nor­mally tie a house to its foun­da­tion, won’t be as strong as ro­bust epoxyan­chored bolts. One 24-square-foot room, held with 19 such bolts, can with­stand up to 200,000 pounds of up­lift.


As any cop film will re­mind you, the door is the weak­est part of your wall. A safe room’s storm door needs sev­eral locks; some use as many as six 1-inch steel bolts to con­nect the door to the frame. And it should swing in­ward so you can still get out of the room if de­bris blocks the en­trance.

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