How to Design a Tornado-Safe Room

Recent natural disasters highlight the need for tornado shelters inside, or close to, homes in tornado-prone areas. A safe room typically costs about $2,500 to $5,000 to build — a small price to pay to stay safe.

Start by obtaining the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) publication 320, Taking Shelter From the Storm: Building A Safe Room Inside Your House. This free booklet includes construction plans that meet the National Performance Criteria for Tornado Shelters. Then, before you hire a builder or roll up your own sleeves, consider the following:

The location
The best place for a safe room is in the basement. If that’s not possible, it should be in the interior of your home’s first floor. If you are unable to add a safe room within the confines of your house, build a separate room that is easily accessible from the house.

A safe room’s requirements:

• There should be no windows.

• The room should not be in a flood zone or storm surge zone.

• The walls, ceiling, and door should be able to withstand winds of up to 250 miles per hour, flying debris, and windborne objects.

• The connections between all parts of the room should be strong enough to resist wind.

• The door should open inward to ensure easy opening after the storm in case fallen debris blocks the outside.

• The room should be anchored securely to a concrete foundation to resist overturning or uplifting.

• Sections of either interior or exterior home walls that are used as walls of the safe room must be separated from the structure of the home so that damage to the residence will not damage the safe room.

The size
A tornado-safe room should have five square feet of space per person.

Your area’s wind zone
Look at FEMA’s “Wind Zones in the United States” map to determine your area’s wind zone. That will help you figure out how strong your safe room should be.

All safe rooms should have first aid and emergency kits with at least the following items: medications you need, an emergency radio, batteries, a flashlight, basic tools, blankets, water, and snacks.

Legal requirements
Be sure to get the proper permits and inspections needed before your begin construction. You can find more information on FEMA’s website.

See also: What You Need to Know About Tornadoes


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