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Designing a Storm Safe Custom Home

What are my options for a storm shelter or safe room in my custom home?

With St. Louis’s unpredictable weather and frequent natural disasters on the news, one of the most frequent features we are asked about by our clients is a storm safe shelter or a walk-in safety vault. A storm safe room, according to the Federal Emergency Management Association, is “a hardened structure specifically designed to meet the FEMA criteria, and provide ‘near absolute protection’ in extreme weather events, including tornadoes and hurricanes.” FEMA has developed guidelines for building safe rooms, which can be found on their website.

Steel Storm Shelter Custom Home St Louis Home Design Build

Modular steel storm shelter via http://stormshelter.com/modular-safe-rooms/.

A few years ago we built a “safe room” in a custom home in Creve Coeur, MO. This storm shelter and security room included mechanical ventilation, additional phone lines, a steel door, and was made with a combination of steel and poured concrete. The room was designed and built as part of the original construction documents, and was located in an area that isn’t normally excavated below an exterior deck. The idea started off as a requested security measure, but the added storm protection the room affords quickly became a highlight for the homeowner.

Adding a storm shelter or safe room during initial construction can be a very cost effective way to add additional security to your home. As general contractor and owner, Kim Hibbs explains, “By the time you pour all the concrete and install the systems, you may be looking at a $5,000 investment.” According to recent reports from The New York Times, though Moore, OK is located in a common tornado path, only one in ten homes had a safe room or storm shelter, and the main reason is expense. According to Builder Online, state and local government have discussed requiring such shelters, but have resisted because it would price homes out of the market.

With some renovation work, there are opportunities for homeowners who have ranch-style or older homes without basements to create a storm room in their existing structure. During a recent renovation project in Webster Groves, MO we worked with local company LeeCor Systems to line an area with structurally insulated panels, or SIPs panels, specially designed to withstand projectiles and winds to create a reinforced safe room in the house. SIPs panels are extremely durable panels that are typically used in the exterior walls during high performance building, and these special safe room panels, or “H” panels”, are custom designed and built for storm shelter protection and security. LeeCor Systems has installed these panels for a few clients in the past, and in this particular instance, the reinforced space was important to our client because their older home did not have a basement to seek shelter in during severe weather.

Here is a video showing the safe room panel testing and installation, as well as suggested uses in homes

Safe rooms or storm shelters can be finished out to look like the rest of the house – as functioning closets, pantries, laundry rooms, wine closets, even bathrooms – so that you can maximize the space within your home. If you wish to have them in a less conspicuous place, many homeowners choose to place them at the back of a walk-in closet or under the stairs in their basement.

If you’re considering building a custom home, let’s talk about your priorities for daily living, safety and security. Work with our team to build a custom home that meets your family’s needs. Contact us at (314) 392-9631 to discuss building your custom home.

You can find more information about safe room panels on LeeCor Systems website, and the FEMA website. 

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