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Building a Tornado Safe Room in your home.
Every family needs to have a designated space in their home to use as a shelter from a tornado.

Caveat emptor - The following is just an opinion built on personal experience and expert training. Use at your own discretion.
Tornado Safe Rooms

I live in north Texas, just north of the Dallas and Fort Worth Metroplex. Every couple of years or so we have a storm large enough to produce tornadoes, and they do. We have seen what the weather service call EF1, EF2 or maybe as large as a EF3 tornado. So far the big EF5, which they say we're over due for, hasn't happened (thankfully!). Tornadoes are rated by the National Weather Service on the Enhanced Fujita scale. An EF3 is strong enough to do serious damage to your home but leave interior walls standing. So it make sense to take shelter in an interior part of your home during a tornado warning. A room like a walk-in closet that IS NOT on an exterior wall. If you live in a home that has a crawl space or basement, then getting below the floor is the best place to take cover. But here in Texas and Oklahoma, most all new homes are built on concrete slabs.


But what can you do to build a shelter in your home to protect yourself from the damaging winds of a tornado? You can build an interior room with additional strength to give it the ability to remain standing if your home is in the path of a tornado. It all depends on how much you are willing to spend to reinforce this room. My clients take this matter seriously and so do I. Although I realize that here in Texas we have more State Lottery winners than we have tornado victims. Meaning, you have a better chance of winning the Lottery than being a victim of a tornado. However, more and more of our clients are asking what can they do to protect themselves from a tornado.

Home Built Safe Rooms - In my opinion, the first step is to anchor the walls of your designated safe room securely to the foundation. Many builders like to use power driven anchors around the perimeter wall. That's where they have a device that has a 22 cal. cartridge in it and an anchor is shot into the concrete slab. This gives OK reinforcement to any horizontal movement but none to any vertical movement. This type of anchor is not acceptable for a storm safe room. Simpson Strong Tie have anchors designed to give the proper tie down for the wall where your safe room will be. The next step is to secure the walls and ceiling joist to the bottom plate. Simpson also has excellent devices to use to accomplish this. After that, two layers of 3/4" of plywood or OSB around the inside of the room. Some believe a 14 gauge continuous steel behind the two layers of 3/4" plywood is needed. Something new that some builders are using is DuPont Kevlar. That's the same material bullet proof vest are made of. Finish it off with a solid core door that has a 2" dead bolt to secure it shut. A room built such as this should very well with stand an EF3 to EF4 tornado. However, the winds of a EF4 or EF5 could lift a vehicle off the ground and fly it through the air. If this vehicle landed on your safe room the room might not be as safe as you would want it to be. The only SAFE place to be during a EF4 or EF5 tornado is in an underground shelter. An EF5 will leave an empty slab where your home once stood, including your safe room. It was an EF5 that hit Greensburg, Kansas in 2007.

FEMA has a couple of detail sheets of their Safe Room design. You can download the PDF sheets here(1) and here(2).

Commercial Safe Rooms - This is an industry that has taken off in the past decade or so. The engineering schools have been shooting 2x4s into walls studying how to build a safe room that can withstand the forces of the BIG ONE, the EF5. I have seen commercial safe rooms made of steel and rooms made of concrete. The makers of these rooms claim they can withstand a 2x4 piece of lumber being shot at it at 200 miles per hour, about the minimum wind speed of an EF5 tornado. The BIG EF5 tornado is one out of a hundred and the odds of your home being struck by any tornado is, well, like I said, you have better odds at winning the State Lottery than being a tornado victim. But there's always that one time it happens to somebody. Ask anybody in Moore Oklahoma. It has hit them a couple of times that we know of.

Develop a Plan for you and your Family - Although the odds of any of us being a tornado victim are small, ever family needs a plan and a designated place in the house to take shelter if you do find yourselves in the path of any tornado of any size. This needs to be an interior space of small size on the first floor of your home. If you live in a house with a crawl space or basement, then find a suitable space there. During the spring and summer, keep this place cleared from storage and be ready to take shelter in a moment's notice. Get your family a Weather Alert Radio that has the S.A.M.E. (Specific Area Message Encoding) feature in it. Program it for the county or parish you live in. The NWS performs a weekly test on Wednesday and make sure yours is working. Tornados have been know to occur at 2 in the morning with no warning. This radio will should you that warning. In the spring and summer months, always keep one eye to the clouds and keep informed by the television or radio if there is the possibility of severe storms forming in your area.

Jerry Karlovich has been designing homes for over 40 years for builders and home owners in the north Texas and southern Oklahoma area. Since we have been on the Internet, our clients come from all over the United States and the globe with homes being built in Ireland and New Zealand. Jerry is also an Amateur Radio Operator and serves as a Storm Spotter for the National Weather Service and undergoes severe storm training once a year for the past 35 years.  These Severe Storm Conferences are taught by the most knowledgeable meteorologist in the business where the most advanced information of storm and tornado safety is shared. A Storm Spotter is not to be confused with a Storm Chaser as in any Hollywood movie. I just let the storms come to me and I don't go looking for them.

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