Tornado Cellars and Shelters
One of the facts about living in Acreage country is that bad storms affect where we live. It’s not a matter of “if” a tornado will occur. It’s a matter of “when” we’ll get a twister in our neighborhood. Another fact of living in “tornado alley” country is that folks who prepare for storms usually do better when storms arrive than those who just hope the storms will go somewhere else. Most of us are aware of storm cellars which are part of traditional Midwest rural home construction. However, the majority of recently built homes in the Midwest don’t have storm cellars or other shelters as part of the construction.
For those of us lucky enough to be in the process of building a new home, a tornado shelter cellar can be added to the building plans with minimum effort and cost. However, even those of us with existing homes can have shelters added to the home place.
To be honest, there is a lot of bad information floating around about construction of storm shelters. Some writers would have Midwest homeowners believe that a usable shelter can be owner-built with a little cement, a few concrete blocks and a bit of digging in the yard. Many of these owner-built shelters wind up as muddy pits in the yard- a total waste of time, effort and money. For most of us, professional advice and construction are very good ideas.
One thing that is important for rural homeowners to know is that a traditional outside cellar is not the only storm-shelter possibility. Small, indoor shelters can be constructed in existing homes with minimal structural disruption.
Ron West of U.S. Storm Shelters, a storm shelter construction company which serves the Midwest, answers some questions which should help homeowners in making good decisions about construction of storm cellars and shelters.
Acreage asks: Can I have a storm/storage shelter built on my home place even after the home has been built?
West answers: Yes! Certified shelter/safe rooms are now available for installation in existing homes with concrete slab foundations. For indoor installations, the largest one currently available is 6’ by 8’ with an inward opening door. Larger-8’ by 8’ units can be installed in the garage. Such safe rooms are anchored to the slab foundation with building anchors. Our units have nearly two times the anchors that would meet minimum engineering requirements. Our units are designed to hold up even if the weight of a collapsing house should fall upon the shelter- as in a severe storm.
Acreage asks: How long does it take to have a storm cellar/shelter built? What is involved with the construction?
West answers: Two part answer: We offer two types of shelters- pre-cast concrete for in-ground installations and steel indoor safe rooms (storm certified). We try to keep an inventory of the precast concrete units-which take about seven days from casting to being available for delivery. The actual installation of the concrete units takes about a half day depending on the job site. The concrete pre-cast units require an excavation for installation and some specialized equipment to actually set the shelters in the excavation. Weight of the units ranges from slightly over 12,000 pounds to a little over 20,000 pounds depending on the size of the unit.
Acreage asks: How much room will a storm cellar take up?
West answers: Outdoor shelters take quite a lot of room. You have to get excavation equipment to the site to handle the dirt work, and then you have to get a large truck to the excavation to actually set the shelter. Both the 6’ by 8’ and the 7’ by 10’ units need around twenty to thirty feet of clear accessible space for installation. Dirt is mounded on three sides, which extends about six feet from the sides of the shelter on three sides. Indoor shelters are assembled from the inside out so the total floor space required for all of our inside units is 7” greater than the size to be installed. For example, a 4’ by 6’ Safe Room requires clear floor space of 4’7” by 6’7”.
Acreage asks: Can I have a storm cellar built just anywhere in the yard?
West answers: Yes, as long as we can get the equipment and setting truck to the site you want.
Acreage asks: Can’t I just dig a hole and build my storm cellar by myself out of cement and blocks?
West answers: A lot of people have tried to do just that. The end result is often a far more costly and less functional structure than any commercial unit that has been tested and certified to meet all of the FEMA/NSSA specifications for your shelter from storms. Concrete block units are usually very leaky, so be prepared to stand in water to whatever depth you have the water table in your ground. A common problem with homemade attempts is problems with the availability of proper doors. Storm shelters don’t do you a lot of good if a tornado sucks the door off.
Acreage asks: About how much will a storm cellar cost?
West answers: We provide a product that we hope you never have to use at all. Fortunately, if you do need to use it, we know it will save your life and the lives of your family- and possibly friends and neighbors. The monetary cost of concrete storm shelters starts around $2,500 installed depending on location and goes up to around $10,000 for the concrete products we sell.
The Steel Safe Rooms start as low as $2,595 installed and go up to around $10,000 depending on the size and location.
Acreage asks: How can homeowners know that they are buying real protection when they buy a storm shelter?
West answers: The National Storm Shelter Association works with FEMA and the International Code Council to develop standards for design, construction and installation of storm shelters. Membership in the NSSA organization is voluntary and is composed of industry specifications from all walks of the storm shelter business. Products offered by NSSA Member firms carry a certificate and a serial number indicating that they have been evaluated, tested and do meet all currentl FEMA/VICC standards for your safety. If a storm shelter does not have this certificate and level of certification, you are depending on the word of the dealer as to its safety.
It should NOT be necessary to pre-pay for any storm shelter. If construction is a special order, a deposit may be required, but not full prepayment. As with any industry, there are companies that are not legitimate.
The Midwest is a great place to live and raise our families- most of the time. Our four-season climate offers year-round recreation and great variety of weather. However, when cold air from the north meets warm air coming up from the Gulf of Mexico and the clouds start to swirl and tornadoes drop from the dark clouds, having a safe place close at hand to shelter ourselves from the storm is a very good idea.
Although a properly constructed shelter requires some time, effort, and money to plan and construct, the cost of protection seems low when we think about the lives of our family members being protected.
On another level of usefulness, many homeowners use their storm cellars as storage units for canned food and root crops from the home garden. There’s nothing wrong with this, but homeowners need to make sure that the shelter is not totally filled with cans of tomatoes, beans, and other produce- a shelter is no good if we can’t get in it!
To contact U.S. Storm Shelters for more information:
Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska- 1-816-432-4358
For educational website: http://www.usstormsshelters.com