A safe room is a windowless box inside your house where you and your family can escape the danger of wind-borne projectiles during hurricanes or tornadoes. Safe rooms have several advantages over outside shelters. For example, safe rooms are usually less expensive: A simple lean-to shelter in a basement will cost around $2,000, while a fortified safe room in a new house will add an extra $3,000 to $6,000 to your construction costs. If timing is critical, you also don't need to venture outside to access the safe room, since you can reach it from inside the house.
The secret to building an effective safe room is to fortify existing walls with plywood (the most economical choice), steel or concrete, and to make sure the whole room is properly fastened together. According to the Texas Tech University Wind Science and Engineering Research Center, adequate fasteners are important to the shelter's structural performance. The shelter's roof must be securely anchored to its walls, the walls to each other, and the walls to the shelter's foundation. In addition, proper ventilation is a must if you're using your safe room to protect you and yours from hurricanes.
At its Baton Rouge campus, Louisiana State University has included a safe room inside its Louisiana House (LaHouse), a showcase home was constructed to demonstrate storm-resistant building techniques and materials. Although the LaHouse has been officially used as LSU's Home & Landscape Resource Center and offered educational outreach since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, the home itself has only been fully functional since July 2008. The LaHouse's safe room is off the master bedroom and can be used as a walk-in closet. This safe room includes these upgrades:
- Ceiling and walls fortified with thicker sheathing (plywood or oriented strand board)
- More anchors, straps and fasteners (nails and screws) to hold the walls, floor and ceiling together
- A hidden sliding steel door for more protection during storms
- A ceiling structurally independent from the second story of the house built so that if the second story blows away, the safe room on the ground floor remains intact
A shelter or safe room may be empty, or it may be stocked with items like bottled water, non-perishable food, blankets, battery-operated lights, a radio and a first-aid kit. Unlike tornadoes, which blow through an area quickly, hurricanes can take hours to pass through. You'll want your family to be warm and comfortable as the storm passes.
For more information on hurricane shelters, please see the links on the following page.