After seeing a number of truly devastating storms wreak havoc on Americans, it seemed like a good time to learn more about the lifesaving benefits of designing a safe room in your new home. These safe rooms are designed to offer “near-absolute protection” for families to escape sudden and violent storms without injury. How they work is pretty simple. A safe room is structurally designed to withstand a certain amount of force as well as protect its occupants from airborne “missiles” or debris that poses a high risk of injury during a storm.

Understanding the hazards
First, and especially if you’re building in a new area, you’ll need to assess the hazards from high winds and tornadoes in your area. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) has compiled an amazing set of data using meteorological and incident locations to develop a grid to help homeowners assess their risk. The FEMA 320 document, which is downloadable from its website, walks the reader through assessing their potential risk. FEMA’s tool allows families to assess risk by combining the number of tornadic events within a 2,470 square mile area and one of four wind zones from another map-based chart to provide a reading on the level of risk based on past observations. The wind zone map also identifies special areas of wind risk, including that of hurricanes. Low risk translates into a matter of personal preference, while for moderate and high risk areas, a safe room should either “be considered” or “is the recommended method of protection.”

How is a safe room designed and constructed?
In 2008, the International Code Council issued the Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters, also known as the ICC-500, which is incorporated into many local building codes as a design guideline for constructing a “near absolute” protection from wind and tornadoes. While many families rely on basements for their safe areas during a storm, basement foundations have been known to collapse under certain conditions, and are susceptible to flooding dangers because they are below grade. According to the ICC, “This standard (ICC-500) provides design requirements for the main wind resisting structural system, components and cladding of these shelters…” The standard specifies the requirements for life safety, entrances, lighting, sanitation, ventilation, fire safety and minimal square footage for occupants.

The FEMA standard (FEMA P-320), which is available for download on their website, also details similar standards for safe rooms, and includes plans for lean-to shelters, basement-located safe rooms, and various wall construction options, including concrete wall sections and wood frame plywood rooms that use steel sheathing to protect from airborne missiles. The plans include detailed drawings and specs for doors, ventilation and other features.

If you’re planning to build in an area that is storm likely, you may want to consider adding a safe room to your home’s design. They are easier and much less expensive to design into new home plans rather than retrofit later on. If you think a safe room might be appropriate, call your Katahdin dealer or representative and he or she will be happy to assist in adding it to your dream log home.