We will not necessarily get into why you may need or want a safe room in your home. There is any number of reasons why. However, in your mind you should know why you want or need one, because it can make a difference when it comes to constructing one, or when converting a room already in your home into a safe room.
Safe Room: Doors First
According to FEMA any door that is an entrance to a safe room must meet certain requirements. “Residential safe room doors must be designed to resist a minimum wind speed of 250mph and be tested to resist missile impact and wind pressure”. Missile impact means it must withstand a two by four striking the door at 100 miles per hour (FEMA, n.d.).
Doors that meet these requirements cannot be picked up at your local hardware store. You would have to contact a reputable builder and arrange to purchase the specialized doors. Much depends on your geographical area and what natural disasters you can expect, when it comes to doors if you are only concerned with natural disasters. However, you might also want a safe room in the event of a man-made disaster, in other words, a room to escape to in the event of an intrusion.
Both inward and outward-swinging doors have benefits. For example, inward-swinging doors are less likely to be blocked by debris, while outward-swinging doors provide more space within the safe room. Local codes however, may dictate which way the doors swing, that is if you plan on getting a permit, and then are willing to have the safe room inspected to ensure it meets the local code requirements. Some of you, and rightly so, may not want anyone to know you have a safe room, and thus, plan to do the construction yourself.
For security reasons you would not want a door that swings out, because the door can be blocked from the outside. You would have to push on the door from the inside to move the barrier and this could be an impossible task. If the door swings in then any blockage can be removed or climbed over in some cases. There are advantages and disadvantages to both setups, and again it comes down to your particular situation.
If the home is under construction it would be rather easy to incorporate a safe room in the design plans, and likely less expensive than having one added on to a home already built. However, you do not need to add a room as it were, you can reinforce an existing room, which can be used as a safe room, and yet still be used as it was originally intended.
We have spent some time talking about doors and the reason is if the door can be easily breached, then it doesn’t matter what else you have done. If it can be kicked in, blown in by heavy winds or chopped through with an egress tool then it doesn’t matter what other reinforcements you have incorporated. You start with the door first.
You can purchase so-called security pods that can be attached to your home so you can escape to it, or you can build or have built a room designed specifically as a hardened safe room, or another option as stated before is to use an existing room.
If using a room already there, then you need a steel exterior door, and a steel frame. Windows would be a weak point and they would have to be secured in some manner to prevent entrance by anyone and then reinforced to withstand small arms fire. Ideally there are no outside walls, and one of the walls is a load bearing wall.
Plenty of things to consider, but a walk in closet would likely meet the requirements as would some other rooms in the home. A basement with block walls would be ideal, because it would get expensive to reinforce the walls and the floor in some cases, of an existing room. If you have to go the room because of an armed intruder then the walls and floors must stop a round from a handgun, rifle, or shotgun blast.
You can fill the cavities between the studs in your walls with concrete if you are on the ground floor otherwise the weight would be too much if on a subfloor. Attach plywood sheeting, as well, and then cover with drywall or you can attach steel or even Kevlar sheeting to the studs. If there is an attic above the room the ceiling would have to be hardened.
There is no point in putting in a steel door and then hanging it in a wood frame that can be literally kicked in, so steel door and steel frame. Decide if it swings in or out, and really only you can make this determination. Some may believe it is easier to breach a door that swings in while others realize it is too easy to block a door that swings out.
Make sure you have tools that would help you get out if the door was blocked on purpose or blocked due to storm damage.
Safe Room Requirements
First, it has to be big enough to house all members of your family and with enough room to store your emergency supplies, gun safe, and ammunition. Secondly, it would need a bathroom, and along with the bathroom comes the ever so important access to drinking water.
Accessibility is another consideration, how easy is it for all members to get to the room from anywhere in the home. This is something that has to be carefully considered.
Having the power cut off would be a real possibility, and it would be nearly impossible to install a separate power source that could not be compromised unless you had the resources to have an off-site power supply that can be controlled from within the safe room. You can harden your electrical system to a point by installing a heavy breach proof panel over the breaker box that can be locked with a quality lock. You do not want an intruder simply shutting off the breakers.
Have a gun safe within the room and sufficient ammunition in a separate locked box as well. Have an extra alarm control panel installed in the room, so you can activate the alarm from inside the room.
Make sure you have electrical sockets within the room so you can charge cell phones, and charge/power up computers. Install a landline phone and hardwired Internet access lines, because your Wi-Fi signal may be jammed or corrupted by the reinforced walls.
Any structure and any room can be breached, but the question is how long it would take to breach. Locks are rated on how long it would take someone to pick it, or otherwise compromise it.
When building or refitting a room you consider how long it would it take someone to get inside the room. Would the doors and walls hold up long enough for the police to arrive, long enough for you to mount a counter offensive and/or long enough for the intruders to become frustrated and leave.
FEMA. (n.d.). Retrieved 2015, from https://www.fema.gov/safe-rooms/frequently-asked-questions-tornado/hurricane-safe-rooms#Q01