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How to Build the Best Tornado Safe Room

Building a tornado safe room will protect your family, your belongings and your property, as well as give you peace of mind if a disaster does occur in your area. In addition to natural disasters, a safe room also provides a safe shelter in the event of fire, a home invasion or break-in, or a terrorist attack.

A natural disaster is a major adverse event resulting from natural processes of the earth. A disaster can be any of the following, including floods, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding and windstorms, to name a few. These disasters happen more than you realize and are caused by many different reasons.

Tornadoes occur most often in the United States, mostly in an area which is called Tornado Alley. Tornado Alley includes the Midwest states of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Nebraska, as well as the southern state of Texas. Not included within Tornado Alley but known for strong tornado activity are the Southeastern states of Mississippi, Georgia and Florida.

Tornadoes occur in all parts of Canada except those with an arctic climate. They are frequent from New Brunswick to the Rocky Mountains and most common in Southern Ontario, followed by Southern Manitoba. Canada ranks second in the world for the occurrence of tornadoes, averaging 80 to 100 tornadoes yearly. The United States has approximately 1,000 to 2,000 per year.

The United States averages approximately 1,000 tornado events each year, and causes an estimate of 1,500 injuries a year and 80 deaths per year, directly from tornado activity.

To learn more about the incidence of disasters, statistics and disaster types, check out our article here.

Weather is not the only contributor to property damages and loss in the Unites States — a burglary takes place about every 18 seconds. This equals about 200 incidents per hour and up to 4,800 per day. That’s a total of 2.5 million burglaries a year, 66% of those being home break-ins.

The Rationale For a Safe-Room

Safe rooms provide an ultra-safe location inside your home or workplace. Not only will it provide you a safe place to store your valuables, it will protect your family during a robbery or home invasion. Your safe room is like a vault not only for all your prized and valued possessions, but also for you and your family.

Safe Room Design

Safe rooms can be located inside or outside of the home.

According to FEMA, “a safe room is a hardened structure specifically designed to meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) criteria and provide near-absolute protection in extreme weather events, including tornadoes and hurricanes. Near-absolute protection means that, based on our current knowledge of tornadoes and hurricanes, the occupants of a safe room built in accordance with FEMA guidance will have a very high probability of being protected from injury or death.”

FEMA P-320 includes safe room designs and shows you and your builder/contractor or local design professional how to construct a safe room for your home or small business.

To learn more about FEMA safe room requirements, click here.

safe room design specsICC 500 does have a minimum requirement for the slabs to be at 3.5-inch thickness with a 6 x 6 W1.4 x 1.4 welded wire reinforcement, or number 4 bars at the maximum spacing of 18″ on the center.

Finishing the Safe Room With a FEMA-rated Safe Room Door

Like any other room, safe rooms must be accessed through an opening or door. Just as the walls and roof of a safe room are designed and built to protect against extreme winds and wind-borne debris, so must the safe room door.

Steel doors commonly used cannot withstand the impact of what a tornado can propel and have resulted in injury and death during tornadoes. Door assemblies designed for safe room doors to provide life-safety protection during a tornado for you and your family, they must be rigorously designed, constructed and tested.

Products must have passed the FEMA ICC 500 testing and the FEMA requirements.

In addition to having passed required testing for tornado impact and pressure, the door assembly should be easily locked and unlocked so that access to and from the safe room is both quick and easy.

safe room doors

Safe Room Doors

This is an example of typical safe room doors, courtesy of FEMA.

safe room vault

SAFE ROOMS WORK! This credit union vault saved the lives of 22 people who used it as a safe room for shelter during a 2013 EF-5 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma.

Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs) are known to build top quality safe rooms at a very reasonable price point.

What Are Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs)?

An ICF block looks like this:

ICF Pro-Link slider1

ICF blocks are stacked together to form the exterior walls of the home, and then concrete is poured into the hollow core to form this highly insulated, concrete-and-steel, wildfire-resistant wall assembly:

ICF Pro-Link slider2

Here is cross section of a typical ICF-built safe room: safe room cross section

This whitepaper outlines the FEMA-compliant design specs for ICF Safe Rooms.

ICF Safe Rooms Can Be Stand-Alone

ICF Safe Rooms Can Be Built Within A Home

(Zoom into detail of the safe room)

Safe rooms are created by building any room with ICF walls, pouring a “concrete lid” on top, and installing a steel door.

A safe room built within the home is fire-resistant and is also great as a storage area for your valuables. Adding a safe room into your home build or existing home is both affordable and very straightforward.

sample safe room

The Many Benefits of Building a Safe Room with ICFs

ICFs are recognized by all FEMA guidelines 320 and ICC 500.

  • No stripping or framing required for Insulating Concrete Forms
  • Proven track record of withstanding severe weather events and other damages
  • Low cost to build for higher performance
  • Quick and modular
  • Ready to accept common finishes to blend in

ICF Safe Rooms are highly insulated and air-tight, which will keep your family more comfortable during power outages by maintaining your safe room’s interior temperature longer as well as keeping humidity out.

energy savers slide

Established and growing network of ICF qualified contractors and builders

ICF Pro-Link By Logix

What Is the Cost of Installing an ICF Safe Room?

Costs for ICF Safe Room construction vary across the United States depending on the design and size of the safe room as well as the cost of local materials and installation labor. As a general ballpark, the cost for constructing an 8′ x 8′ ICF Safe Room that can double as a closet, bathroom or utility room inside a new home would be in the $8,000 range.

To learn more about ICFs, visit

By |2019-09-13T16:02:11-04:00July 20th, 2018|

About the Author:

President, Logix Brands Ltd.