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Building School Safe Rooms With ICFs

As hurricanes and tornadoes become more common and more deadly, school safe rooms are becoming a life-saving measure in the affected regions of the US. But did you know that ICFs are emerging as the go-to construction material for these spaces?

In the post below, we’ll talk about the many advantages of building school safe rooms with ICFs and share some recent statistics about ICF safe rooms in hard-hit regions of the US. 

Concrete Storm Shelters
Logix ICF Storm Shelter

Why Build School Safe Rooms With ICFs?

The primary reasons builders choose ICFs to construct school safe rooms are speed of construction and energy efficiency.

ICF walls are easy to erect and don’t require large, highly-specialized crews. The installation itself also doesn’t take very long — ICF systems typically comprise several building elements in one.

For example, in addition to the structural concrete walls, Logix ICF blocks include 4 components that don’t need to be installed separately — insulation, air barrier, vapor barrier, and furring strips.

Since the crews don’t need to install any of these elements individually, ICF blocks can save plenty of time and money for the builder. Luckily, the installers don’t require much specialized training to master ICF construction. 

Apart from being easy to construct, ICF walls also offer higher levels of energy efficiency than traditional wall assemblies. That’s because ICF blocks insulate the concrete core from both sides, and provide 2 continuous layers of insulation.

ICF walls also have a high thermal mass, meaning heat takes a long time to dissipate from the enclosed space when a temperature change occurs. This enhanced level of energy efficiency is useful in school safe rooms (typically gyms or auditoriums), as it means that heating and cooling systems can operate at a reduced capacity and consume less energy.

Safe Room Wall Construction
Safe Room Wall Construction

Are ICF School Safe Rooms Disaster Resilient?

Yes — properly designed ICF school rooms are disaster resilient and serve their function as a shelter in the event of a hurricane or tornado.

Although there are no Building Code standards for ICF safe rooms, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has guidelines for safe room construction. ICF school safe rooms meet these standards.

ICF walls are an excellent choice for safe rooms because of their sturdy nature. Thanks to their reinforced steel concrete core, these walls can be designed to withstand winds with a speed of up to 300mph.

For reference, a Category 5 hurricane (the most powerful) has winds speeds of 157mph or more. Meanwhile, the strongest possible tornado (using the Fujita Scale) clocks in at 318mph.

Storm Safe Buildings

How School Safe Rooms Are Constructed With ICFs

ICF School Safe Rooms are built much like any other ICF wall. The first course of ICF block gets placed on in-situ concrete footings that rest on a slab-on-grade, the rebar goes in and gets secured per the reinforcement schedule, then the subsequent blocks go on top, forming walls that are 24-30 feet high. Finally, the concrete gets poured to form the walls’ core.

That said, there are a few elements that may differ between projects — namely, the interior and exterior finishes, and how these get attached. Here’s a sample section detail of an ICF school safe wall assembly:

Typical Wall Section - School Safe Rooms
Typical Wall Section - School Safe Rooms
Storm Safe Wall Detail
Storm Safe Wall Detail

The roof is typically constructed with bar joists and a concrete deck on top; however, the assembly is a bit different in the example above. Here, we’ve got steel beams supporting a steel deck with a concrete lid on top. Again, this is an element that may change from project-to-project. 

ICF School Safe Rooms Are Gaining Popularity in the US

Thanks to their ease of construction, energy efficiency, and suitability for disaster resilience, ICF school safe rooms have been gaining traction in hurricane and tornado-prone parts of the US. These regions include the Great Plains, parts of the Midwest, the Mississippi Valley, and southeastern US.

The acceptance of ICFs as a safe room material has largely been architect-driven, as architects tend to influence decisions in municipal school boards.

That said, contractors who build these safe rooms have also embraced ICFs — and Logix ICF in particular — as their go-to safe room wall material. Over the past few years, some 20-30 ICF school safe rooms were constructed in Oklahoma, with 4-6 being built every year. Some have also gone up in Texas, and only one so far in Kansas; however, these numbers are expected to increase.

School Safe Room Floor Plan Segment
School Safe Room Floor Plan Segment

Wrapping It Up

School safe rooms are a necessary, life-saving precaution in parts of the US that are affected by hurricanes and tornadoes. And, seeing how these natural disasters intensify every year, more and more safe rooms will likely be constructed to serve their communities, and design will continue to evolve.

At the moment, ICF systems like Logix ICF offer an excellent construction material for school safe rooms. ICFs are easy to install, offer great energy efficiency, and crucially, are able to withstand Category 5 hurricane winds and tornadoes.

Want to learn more about building with ICFs? Check out our support and resources page and sign up for an upcoming webinar!



By |2022-06-30T17:32:09-04:00June 20th, 2022|

About the Author:

President, Logix Brands Ltd.
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