Taking cover: How to build a storm shelter in your home

Home insurance coverage will help your family deal with a storm's aftermath. But what about protection during the storm? If you live in tornado alley and worry incessantly about Oz-sized cyclones, or in a hurricane-prone area like the Gulf Coast or Florida, it might be a good idea to build a storm shelter or safe room.

What is a safe room?

When it comes to storm shelters, you can build one from scratch -- or retrofit an existing room in your house. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency Set Data=FEMA), a safe room is a well-constructed structure that can hold up during extreme winds and take a pummeling from debris.

Here are specifications commonly associated with safe rooms, according to FEMA and State Farm:

  • Building materials are anchored to extremely stable surfaces, such as concrete flooring.
  • Materials are engineered to withstand wind gusts of up to 250 miles per hour.
  • Doors are made of heavy-gauge steel or a combination of steel and plywood to deflect flying debris.
  • Doors should have three deadbolts to prevent them from getting blown off by wind gusts.
  • A room that measures 8 cubic feet should shelter eight to 12 people, at least temporarily.

Getting the most out of your safe room

FEMA guidelines suggest that the best places for safe rooms include basements, other underground spaces and interior first-floor rooms without windows, according to State Farm. The safe room can be used for other purposes during non-emergencies. It can double as a storage room, utility room or master closet, bathroom or play area.

According to State Farm, the cost of installing such a structure generally starts at $2,500, depending on the labor needed, the size of the structure and the materials that you use. FEMA may be able to provide funding or assistance in designing, building or restoring your safe room, depending on your location, your needs, and your vulnerability to hurricanes, tornadoes or other natural disasters, according to the agency's website.

To make the most out of your safe room, conduct regular safety drills with your family. That way, when a storm or other disaster does hit, you'll have a system in place to minimize the time and effort it takes to get everyone into the safe room. Be sure that you and your family have enough food and supplies to survive in the days after disaster. Create a home disaster kit, and keep it in the storm shelter.

Keep in mind: Depending on the nature and quality of the safe room, installing or renovating such a structure can add to the value of the home and property. So you might need to increase your home insurance coverage, just as you would for any home renovation.

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