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Aboveground shelters have become increasingly popular since 1997, when a deadly rash of tornadoes ripped through Texas. And while underground or basement shelters still represent the lion's share of storm shelters, shelters built at ground level have some benefits over those built belowground, including greater comfort (no worries about bugs, leaks, or a musty odor) and accessibility directly from the home. If you're thinking of constructing a new storm shelter, read on to learn what your options are and how much the structure will cost.
Storm Shelter Considerations
Most storm shelters, or safehouses, are built by people living in tornado-prone areas. But after witnessing the destructive power of storms like Sandy and Katrina, residents of the Northeast and other coastal areas are probably giving thought to building a shelter capable of resisting extremely high winds and the deadly flying debris they stir up (note that a storm shelter is NOT meant to protect against flooding). In a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) publication entitled "Taking Shelter From the Storm," a number of different shelter considerations are detailed, including the following:
- Foundation Type: A shelter can be built in a home or building with a basement, slab-on-grade foundation, or a crawlspace.
- Basement Shelters: Unless the basement walls are steel reinforced, they cannot be used as shelter walls. The shelter will also need its own ceiling.
- Slab-on-Grade Shelters: A saferoom built on this type of aboveground foundation must have walls that are completely separate from the surrounding structure. Although it's possible to modify an existing room or closet space into a shelter, new walls and ceilings are required. In some cases, it may be necessary to modify the concrete slab.
- Crawl Space: If your home has a crawl space, consider building an exterior shelter adjacent to the home. A shelter built inside of a home with a crawl space must have a foundation built, which means tearing up the floor and pouring a slab at great expense.
- Materials: Storm shelters are constructed with walls and ceilings capable of deflecting "missiles," or airborne debris. Materials used to build shelters include concrete masonry unit (CMU, or concrete blocks), concrete, wood reinforced with CMU, wood reinforced with plywood/steel sheathing, Kevlar, metal panels, and fiberglass shells. The shelter will also need a door capable of withstanding strong winds and missiles.
- Shelter Size: Common sizes for a storm shelter are 8 ft. x 8 ft. x 8 ft. and 14 ft. x 14 ft. x 8 ft., although other sizes are possible.
- Provisions: In addition to protecting you and your family, a storm shelter should contain the necessary supplies for a survival situation. FEMA recommends that you stock your shelter with items that include the following:
- An adequate water supply
- Non-perishable foods
- Eating utensils
- First-aid supplies
- A cell phone and/or a CB radio with backup batteries
- Appropriate clothing
- Important documents
- Personal hygiene products
Make sure you get several estimates for your storm shelter project. We have a network of reliable contractors across the US who will provide you with free price estimates after filling out one short form.
Storm Shelter Costs
- Expect to pay a minimum of $6,000 and a maximum of $20,000 for a storm shelter
- FEMA estimates the cost of an 8 x 8 x 8 safe room to be roughly $7,000-$8,000 and a 14 x 14 x 8 shelter to be approximately $11,000-$14,000. These prices, however, reflect a shelter installed during a new construction project. According to the agency, retrofitting an existing home or building costs roughly 20 percent more.
- FEMA recommends that your builder use only the materials that it has approved for safe room construction. A list of those materials and specific shelter design plans can, again, be found here.