Every year, it seems that somewhere we experience a disastrous storm. Even a strong wind storm with excess rain and snow, or even a freak ice storm like the one that hit in Maine in 1999 can sometimes put families in a tough position. Building a new log home offers a unique opportunity to design in features that can make surviving a storm much easier for your family. We cover the basics under the four necessities: shelter, water, heat/cooling and light/power.

Making sure there is safe shelter for your family is more of a necessity in the Midwest and plains, where tornadoes strike swiftly. The sustained winds of most hurricanes will not necessarily damage or destroy homes, but injury from flying debris can be just as dangerous.

If your area is subject to tornadoes, hurricanes or other wind related emergencies, you’ll want to ensure your family has a safe shelter area. For those in tornado-prone areas, a storm safe room is well worth the investment. FEMA issued new safe room guidelines for homeowners in 2008 entitled, “FEMA P-320 Taking Shelter From the Storm: Building a Safe Room for your Home or Small Business.”  It provides information on how to construct a “new absolute protection” for loved ones to save them from serious injury or death. The guidelines are based on current knowledge of meteorological records, as well as examination of damage to buildings from extreme winds. The handbook provides information on manufacturers, designs, possible funding in certain areas and other useful information. Including a safe room is something you’ll want to alert your design team about early in the process.
Water is an essential requirement for survival and clean abundant water after a storm is a primary concern. A stockpile of bottled water is always a good idea, especially with young children or seniors in the family household. Some old timers routinely fill a tub or a couple of big buckets of water prior to any big storm. Snow can also be melted for a source of non-potable water. For owners of private wells, a well-designed hand pump to access well water is a necessity, especially for homes located in areas where frequent power outages are common.  One company, Bison Hand Water Pumps manufactures its stainless steel pumps to reach static water levels of up to 200 feet for most residential wells. The spout comes threaded so that a common water hose can be attached to the exterior spigot to temporarily charge the house water system for toilets and non-potable uses. A Bison Pump installs easily alongside most electric submersible pumps and is as attractive as it is functional, with easy action that can be operated by a child. If the area may be subject to flooding, the Bison Pump also protects the well from infiltration of contaminates with a gasket seal.

If the storm pattern is one that happens in wintertime, consider adding a woodstove to a central room in the log home. More efficient than a standard open fireplace, a woodstove can provide necessary warmth for people and pets, as well as keeping your homes water system from freezing and breaking. Another source of heat that works well in emergency situations is natural gas or propane. Having a gas stove for heat can help to take the chill off, without the cumbersome necessity of a woodpile. Also, a cooking stove with gas or propane can provide ambient heat (though it is highly discouraged to use a stove solely for heat) and also hot meals cooked on the stovetop.

If your home is located in a warm climate, loss of power or services may result in the loss of air conditioning and refrigeration. Consider natural cooling elements such as shade trees, porches, pergolas that can provide shelter from hot sun. The ability of accessing cross breezes in a home when windows are opened can also provide relief in hot weather.  Pick up some battery powered fans in the off-season to help move the air about. To provide refrigeration on an emergency basis, a root cellar can help to keep some food cool. A large cooler stocked with frozen packs or ice blocks can also salvage some food supplies.

Lighting and Power
Lighting is essential to survival in the night, and helps to improve safety both inside and outside the home. In an emergency lighting can be provided through battery powered lamps and lights, electronic devices, candles, fireplaces, and oil lamps. It is preferable and safer to use non-flammable light sources, but with care a simple candle can accomplish a lot in a short-term power outage.

Lighting can also be achieved by starting up a gasoline or propane powered generator. Many homes that experience frequent outages have some sort of generator in their household inventory. In planning a new home, it’s relatively inexpensive to include an AC/DC convertor that is pre-wired to electrical essentials, such as septic pump, water pump, furnace and refrigerator. Stand-by generators provide a seamless and automatic start-up for electrical service whenever a power outage occurs. If flooding is a concern, consider a location for the generator that is above the floodplain level or even in a garage loft area to provide electrical service even with the basement floods. Check with your electrician to see what options are available in your area.

Other Emergency Steps

It’s a great idea to sit down with family members and work out a simple emergency plan. Agree on a primary and secondary rendezvous point, make sure everyone has cell phone numbers noted, and prepare a “bug out” bag of necessary supplies such as medications, pet food, baby formula, clothing essentials and basic toiletries. A supply of cash can also be a lifesaver should the power to ATMs and credit card networks be inaccessible. With a little preparation, an emergency doesn’t need to be a disaster.