Building Science

Safe Room Design Tips

safe room design

In life, you want every advantage you can get. That's especially true when it comes to protecting you and your family from potentially devastating external events like extreme weather. Having a safe room in your home can provide safe shelter during severe weather situations. Here are four tips to help you take advantage of safe room design.

Safe Room Designation. To qualify as a safe room, building construction and materials must meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) criteria. The construction must also give absolute protection against weather-related events. That means that individuals who seek protection in the safe room have a high probability of survival during extreme weather events as a result of the safe room's protection against injury and death.

  • Construction Guidelines. To qualify as a FEMA Safe Room, the design and construction must follow guidelines contained in two FEMA documents. The entire structure, including the foundation, walls, roof, windows, doors, HVAC equipment, etc., has to be designed to the specification. The first document is FEMA P-320 entitled "Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business." The second document is known as FEMA P-361, entitled "Safe Rooms for Tornadoes and Hurricanes: Guidance for Community and Residential Safe Rooms." In addition, FEMA provides a Fact Sheet on Residential Tornado Safe Room Doors. It is worth nothing that, according to FEMA, there has not been a single failure of a Safe Room constructed to FEMA standards.
  • The ICC Standards: The International Code Council upgraded its code for buildings that must withstand extreme winds. It based its upgraded code (known as the ICC 500) by using the FEMA Safe Room standards as the legacy document for the new standards. The standards and best practices in FEMA's guidance are not code or enforceable standards unless adopted by a local authority; however, they provide valuable guidance for building and improving safe rooms.

Funding Your Safe Room. The good news is that funding is available from various resources to build a safe room for your home. Some of the resources use an expanded definition of "safe room" to include safe areas constructed in your neighborhood. The funding sources are:

  • Community Development Block Grants administered through HUD provide funding to build tornado-safe shelters in low-income, mobile home areas that have at least 20 mobile homes in states where a tornado has occurred within the last 3 years;
  • FHA Mortgage Insured Financing permits borrowers to include funds for wind storm shelters under FHA 203(k) rehabilitation projects and new construction under FHA 203(b).
  • Hazard Mitigation Grant Program allows communities hard-hit by a major weather-related disaster to apply for funds to protect public or private structures, tear down or relocate structures from hazardous areas and to retrofit existing structures to protect them from extreme conditions.
  • Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program provides funding for applicants on a national basis, primarily used for National Flood Insurance Program properties that have suffered repetitive disasters.

FACT SHEET: Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grants (PDM) and Safe Rooms. This fact sheet provides important information on eligibility, funding, process, and the rules associated with each of the above programs. You can also call for information on Hazard Mitigation Grants at (866) 222-3580.

As of January 1, 2015, FEMA grant programs have provided $984 million in federal dollars to build 25,000 residential safe rooms and 2,000 community safe rooms in 25 states/territories.

For additional information on safe rooms, contact your State Hazard Mitigation Officer (SHMO). Your SHMO can tell you what information you need to provide if you want consideration for funding. The SHMO can also tell you any design requirements of your local authorities.

To read more about safe rooms, see the article from entitled "ROCK SOLID: Homes built to withstand severe weather."

A New Safe Room Wall Material

The Bautex Wall System that is made of a proprietary cement and foam composite material that provides many benefits over traditional methods of constructing safe room walls. These benefits include: Speed of construction, simplicity of installation/construction, integral fire-resistance and insulation and design flexibility all at a lower cost than other storm safe materials.

To learn more about the benefits of use the Bautex Wall System in safe rooms, please contact us.