How to Select a Storm Shelter or Tornado Safe Room

Red Neck Storm Shelter

One example of short cuts people try to take. It may work... but is it worth the risk? What if it doesn't...

Which is better?  An underground storm shelter?  Or an above-ground tornado safe room?

You’ve seen the destruction that tornadoes and severe weather can wreak on homes, businesses and entire communities and you know you need better protection from these devastating storms.  By now hopefully you’ve also realized that not all storm shelters or tornado safe rooms are created equal.  While having some sort of storm shelter or safe room is better than no safe room or tornado shelter, to ensure your family’s safety and survival through even the most dangerous of storms, you need to choose wisely.

concrete shelterMost people are familiar with the old type of metal or concrete storm shelter that years down the road now more closely resembles a dungeon than a safe place to ride out severe weather.  These older units, while again better than nothing, in most cases were simply not designed or tested to withstand the impact of a strong storm, like a Huntsville tornado.

One of the most serious issues is usually the door.  With the high winds and blowing debris, you want to make sure your storm shelter or tornado safe room door is impact-tested to withstand both the wind trying to pull it off it’s hinges (requiring a substantial hinge and 3-point locking system) as well as impact from debris traveling at 250mph (like a 2×4 or tree branch), simulating the worst of storms, an EF-5 tornado.

This area is where most storm shelters fail.  A regular wood or even metal framed door is not designed to withstand the impact of such objects at anywhere near those kinds of speeds.  If the door were to fail or worse get sucked off, you may be subject to imminent injury or worse death.  Needless to say, you need to make sure your storm shelter or safe room door is strong, secure and specifically tested to withstand impact from an EF-5 tornado, the strongest of tornadoes.  (The premier tornado testing facility is at the Texas Tech University Wind Science Center)

The question I’m asked the most is whether or not an above-ground safe room can actually be as safe as an underground storm shelter.  To answer that question quickly, simply watch this short video below:

So this begs the question, if an above-ground impact-tested tornado safe room can be as safe as an underground impact-tested storm shelter, how do you decide which to choose?

The answer is quite simple; it really is a matter of personal preference and space.

If you have a 2 or 3-car garage – or even a 1-car garage that you don’t use to park your car in and have the space for a 4×6, 4×4, 4×8 or other sized tornado safe room, then that may be an option for you.  Conversly, if you do not have any available space for even a 3 1/2 foot x 4 foot safe room in your garage or on a back patio or something, then an underground storm shelter may be the best option for you.

If you have the space in your garage for a tornado safe room, the benefits are:Tornado Safe Room

  • You can enter from your house without having to get wet or subjected to the outside elements (assuming your garage is attached to your home and has a garage door)
  • You can also use a safe room to store valuables like guns, jewelry, important documents, etc as you would use a safe (you may want to consider installing a deluxe model safe room for this purpose if you’d like a little thicker walls and three heavy-duty Medeco deadbolts to make it that much harder to break into)
  • Easy access in and out for those who may be wheelchair-bound or have difficulty going up and down stairs
  • The All Weather Safe Room can just as easily be uninstalled as it is installed if you decide to move and want to take your tornado safe room with you
  • Each of the All Weather Safe Rooms comes standard at 80 inches high, giving you plenty of head space, again making it very easy to enter and exit
  • All Weather Safe Rooms also have vertical doors that open inward in case a strong storm hits and causes part or all of your garage to collapse around you (which, being surrounded by your garage is likely to happen) so that you’re able to easily climb out after the storm
  • The ability to choose a custom size (down to the inch) and door location for safe room, for as few as 3 adults to as many as 100 (10×50 foot safe room, ie, our community safe room) as the All Weather Safe Rooms are custom built for each customer

 In contrast, an underground storm shelter like “The Refuge” storm shelter or Lifesaver Storm Shelter may be better suited for your needs if:Lifesaver storm sheltersRefuge storm shelter

  • You do not have a suitable location for an above-ground storm shelter
  • You “feel” safer being underground that above-ground.
  • You’d like a more economical option to give you more space for your dollar.  An underground storm shelter is likely to give you more space as metal is more expensive than fiberglass, saving you as much as $1,000 depending on which storm shelter you choose
  • You prefer to be outside in the open to decrease your chances of the building around you collapsing on top of you
  • You have neighbors or family who you also want to easily be able to get into your storm shelter
  • You want to protect up to 20 adults in one location, underground

In conclusion, any way you look at it, a tested, quality underground storm shelter is just as safe as an above-ground storm shelter (assuming you’re dealing with a reputable company with quality products that have been specifically engineered, designed and tested for use as tornado protection); the question you have to decide is which factors are most important to me and which one do I prefer?

If you’re still unsure though and would like to discuss your situation with us further to review other concerns or specific issues your house or yard may contain, just give us a call or send us an email anytime by calling (256) 258-WIND (9463) or click on the CONTACT US tab at the top of the page.  Hopefully this article has helped you figure out which option may be best for you and your family.

Please comment below and let us know your thoughts, your determining factors, etc and also be sure to share this article with anyone else you feel may benefit from it, via facebook, twitter or other means as well.

 

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6 thoughts on “How to Select a Storm Shelter or Tornado Safe Room

  1. Hi Hans:

    Thanks for this very informative article. I am thankful that I live in a part of the world that we don’t get t0rnadoes. If I did though, I would want to have adequate protection.

    Thanks!
    Kevin

  2. Hans,

    I sat through Hurricane Katrina in Florida. The roofs were blown off many building. I was sitting on a couch next to a window watching a piece of metal from the roof move back and forth. The roof of my neighbor’s apt on the same floor caved in. When it rained, the rain was just pouring in and we poured it down the stairs. There is no safe room in this building.

    Thank you for sharing this really important information.

    Warmly,

    Dr. Erica

  3. Hans, thanks for this awesome information. I live in a part of the country where we don’t get tornadoes, BUT I am one for preparedness in many ways. My step son lives in a part of the country where there are tornadoes AND other things that can have an impact to his home.
    I’m sending him this blog after I comment.
    I think it is so important for people to have a safe place and plenty of food prepared.
    ANYTHING can happen these days and I have several things in my basement to last me a few weeks. Also a go-pack in case of an emergency.
    It is better to be prepared!
    Thank You
    Donna Merrill

    • Donna, very wise! I agree, it’s always a good idea to be prepared in these uncertain times, and I don’t just mean weather-wise! Extra food, water, means of protection, fuel, medical supplies – all very important in case of severe weather or other unexpected events. Like they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

  4. Hi Hans,

    This is a very informative post. Fortunately for me, I don’t live in a tornado zone. But the idea of having a walk in safe in the garage is intriguing for many reasons. Thanks for sharing.

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