How to Build a Safe Room
LESLIE: Well, you’ve seen the devastating images on television or maybe you’ve been a victim yourself. Severe weather can turn your life upside down and put you and your family at risk of some pretty serious injury.
TOM: That’s right. But preparing for storms like tornadoes or hurricanes can mean the difference between life and death. And one way to do that is by building a safe room, which is kind of a special room, located in or around your home, that’s specifically designed to protect you from the worst that Mother Nature may have to offer. This Old House general contractor Tom Silva is here to tell us more.
TOM SILVA: Hi, guys. How are you?
TOM: We are great. Now, you guys had something happen to you during one of your recent projects. Your Providence project, you actually had a hurricane blow through.
TOM SILVA: Yeah, our last project, in Rhode Island, was on the edge of the water by the ocean there and it gets pretty windy. And we did have a hurricane come through. It didn’t blow as bad as we expected but we had to batten down the hatches to protect the building from blowing away.
LESLIE: And that’s really a reminder that this type of weather can happen anywhere in the country, even in unusual circumstances like that.
TOM SILVA: Anywhere at all.
TOM: So, when it comes to being prepared for those sorts of storms, Tom, I think people tend to think that a basement is always the best thing to do. But that’s not always true, is it?
TOM SILVA: Well, it’s not always true. A lot of people don’t have basements. A lot of houses are slabs or some people live in mobile homes where they’re up off the ground.
TOM: And I guess the roof structure – I mean the floor structure – could be easily torn right off and open you right up, basement or not.
TOM SILVA: Exactly. Yeah, yeah. The best place in a basement, for example, is in the corner of the foundation. But you’ve got to still ride it out, hope for the best.
LESLIE: So I guess a safe room has really sort of taken over for the term “storm shelter.” It’s sort of like a one – word usage now for an area that you might go to in the event of an emergency in the home or a weather-related situation.
TOM SILVA: Mm-hmm. A room that’s really structured well. Like a lot of people go to bathrooms in the center of the house. And again, if you look at some of the devastation that happens from hurricanes or tornadoes, the houses are blown away or the roofs are taken off and some people are really lucky.
TOM: Well, bathtubs have gotten a lot smaller over the years, too.
TOM SILVA: Well, I’ve gotten a lot bigger, too.
LESLIE: So, Tommy, when it comes to deciding where in your home would make the best place for a safe room, is there one room that’s better than the other for choosing?
TOM SILVA: I like to think that corners are the strongest parts of the house. So, a bathroom with four small corners is much better than a family room with a wide open space. So you want to find a nice, tight space with four corners.
TOM: And I think it’s important to note that these rooms don’t have to be stand-alone rooms; they really could be worked into any design. So you could have, for example, a master-bedroom closet that’s your safe room, correct?
TOM SILVA: Absolutely. The master-bedroom closet, most of them are bigger than bathrooms. But they’re reinforced with shelving and everything else, so that reinforces the part of the structure that helps …
TOM: Yeah. But they don’t have as many seats.
TOM SILVA: That’s true. That’s …
LESLIE: And important seats.
TOM SILVA: Right, right.
TOM: Tom, let’s talk about the cost of safe rooms. They’re not inexpensive, are they?
TOM SILVA: No, they’re not inexpensive because there’s a lot of work involved to make them strong. But there is federal help available and FEMA.gov is a place to go to find that out, too.
TOM: Yeah, good point. That’s the Federal Emergency Management Agency website at FEMA.gov. Lots of resources right there.
And Tom Silva, you are a tremendous resource. Thanks so much for filling us in on what it takes to create a safe room. Tom Silva, the general contractor from TV’s This Old House, thanks for stopping by The Money Pit.
TOM SILVA: Well, thank you very much. Nice to be here.
LESLIE: Alright. You can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of a ton of common home improvement projects, check out their website, ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by GMC. GMC, we are professional grade.