Many people don’t think about creating a safe room in their home for the advent of a hurricane. While circumstances can leave some with few choices or no choice but to take refuge in a local hurricane shelter, and can give others valid reasons to stay. Anyone who lives in a low-lying area that could be flooded by torrential rain, high tides, and/or overflowing rivers, lakes, and streams created by a hurricane should do everything possible to find a way to evacuate when authorities recommend it. Drowning, after all, is the main cause of death during a hurricane.
That being said, a home that is outside of potential flood zones and that has been built with hurricane-resistant techniques and materials may be a safer alternative for some than evacuating. For example, evacuating can be a stressful experience for elderly parents or grandparents, or it may be important for a family member with health problems to remain near the health care providers who are familiar with his or her treatment and healthcare history. In such cases, building a hurricane safe room in your home adds an additional layer of reinforced protection.
Hurricane Protection Starts With Your Home’s Exterior
Hurricane resistant building techniques include the use of fasteners to anchor each part of your home to every other part of your home. The roof should be anchored to the walls and the walls should be anchored to the foundation to resist the uplift created as hurricane-force winds blow over the house. The walls should be anchored to each other to resist the horizontal force of the winds.
A standard practice for protecting homes and businesses before a hurricane is to board the windows up with plywood. If you plan to shelter in place in your home, though, rollshutters are a safer, stronger alternative. Rollshutters eliminate the worry that the plywood may sell out before you are able to purchase it. They eliminate the need to purchase new sheets of plywood each time a hurricane approaches, and the need to purchase and store sheets of plywood in advance to avoid paying exorbitantly high prices for it as a hurricane approaches. Rollshutters also eliminate the need to place more nail holes in the exterior of your home.
Choosing Your Safe Room
Your safe room should be a small, centrally located room on the first floor of your home. It should not be on an outside wall, and it should have solid walls and a solid ceiling with no windows or skylights. You should have as many walls as possible between you and the wind and any wind-borne objects, small and large. Because you will need to stay in your safe room for a number of hours and you may need space for sleeping, experts recommend that hurricane safe rooms should provide 10 square feet of floor space per person who will occupy the room.
Constructing Your Safe Room
Line the walls of your safe room with two layers of 3/4″ (1.905 cm) plywood, one with the grain running vertically and one with the grain running horizontally. For added protection, you can line the interior side of the plywood with Kevlar® or 14-gauge steel. If you nail this protective shell to a frame of 2” x 4” (5.08 cm x 10.16 cm) boards with the Kevlar® or steel facing the frame instead of the walls of your room, you can create a room within a room that has walls and a ceiling that are independent of the walls and ceiling of your home. Anchor the ceiling of this independent safe room to its walls, anchor the walls to each other, and then anchor the entire independent safe room within a safe room to the foundation of your home. Apply drywall to the side of the frame of two-by-fours that faces the interior of your safe room, and finish it as you choose.
Because you may need to remain in your safe room for multiple hours as the hurricane passes, you should install a ventilation system that exchanges air with the interior of your home at a rate of between 5 ft3/m and 15 ft3/m (cubic feet per minute) per person who will occupy the room. You will need to create an opening for that.
Finally, replace the door and doorjamb of your safe room with a stronger one. Choose a steel doorjamb and strengthen the wood in the wall surrounding the door with steel angle iron.
Choose a heavy steel door or a heavy, solid wood, exterior door to replace the lighter weight interior door. Choose a door with a 2-inch (5.08 cm) deadbolt lock, or replace the door’s lock with a 2-inch (5.08 cm) deadbolt. Mount the hinges so that the door opens inward so that it cannot be blocked by debris.
Before you begin installing the lock and door handle, strengthen the wood around them with either a brass or steel strike plate. You can choose either a keyless deadbolt or one that uses a key. Install the deadbolt so that it locks from inside the room. A deadbolt lock that uses a key might be the safer option if you have young children because they could lock themselves in a safe room with a keyless lock. If you choose a deadbolt that works with a key, have two keys on hand and keep them in two different in locations in your home.