How To Build Your Own Storm Shelter

Friday, May 27th 2011, 5:55 pm
By: News On 6

Emory Bryan, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- The storms over the last few weeks have a lot of people thinking about storm shelters and some wonder if it's something you can build yourself.

Building one is not beyond the capability of an advanced "do it yourselfer." FEMA publishes plans for building storm shelters out of regular materials and it's good enough to provide what FEMA considers "near absolute" protection.

See the blueprint for building a safe room from FEMA.

Bill Rhees is an experienced homebuilder, who has more than 50 storm shelters under his belt. On one home, the shelter only added about $5,000 to the cost. It's a closet that can withstand the strongest tornado.

"The only way that you could tell it's any different is the thickness of the wall, right here in addition to the wall right here" Bill Rhees, with BMI Homes, said.

Storm shelters in new construction are just reinforced rooms made of conventional materials like wood and steel. Rhees said it's straightforward work and something any good builder, or even a skilled "do it yourselfer" could do.

Learn more about safe rooms from FEMA

"There's a book about that thick that gives you 4 or 5 options about how to build a safe room that's acceptable and if that's done, they're about as safe as can be," Rhees said.

The standard for shelters is the strength to withstand a 250 mile per hour wind for 3 seconds and the impact of a two by four moving 100 miles an hour. It cannot be attached to a surrounding structure.

The standard was developed by scientists who say it's not the wind, it's what's in the wind, that tears apart buildings and it's what's in the walls of a shelter that counts.

The FEMA standard can be met with regular double studs, anchored to a slab, covered with plywood and a layer of steel.

The requirement for a slab makes it difficult to retrofit an existing home without building outside the existing walls, but storm shelters can be add ons, or built into outdoor sheds for about the same cost.

For existing homes, it's usually less expensive and more practical to put a pre-fab unit in the garage that's $3,500 or so and up.