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Third-generation home builder Kristin Beall, of Charlie Johnson Builder Inc. near Orlando, offers concrete in-home safe rooms or storm shelters in her affordable, modest-sized homes as a bulwark against the hurricanes and tornadoes that regularly slash through Central Florida beginning this time of year.
“With features like safe rooms built into our designs for not that much more money, we can build a home that will give our home buyers that extra sense of security,” Beall said.
The safe rooms are made of reinforced concrete masonry and engineered to withstand Category 5 hurricane winds — storms as violent as Hurricane Katrina. A solid core door opens into the safe room, not out from it, in order to help prevent its occupants from being trapped inside.
“The house can literally crumble around this room while its occupants remain safe inside their reinforced concrete masonry cocoon,” said Beall.
“In most plans, our safe rooms are large walk-in closets integrated into the home. They’re functional space, not wasted space,” Beall said.
Typical concrete masonry storm shelter systems have been successfully tested to withstand a 15-pound 2x4 propelled at 100 mph.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests that in-home shelters should be located in basements; in interior rooms on the first floor on a foundation extending to the ground; in an interior room on top of a concrete slab-on-grade foundation; or on a garage floor.
Wherever they are located, they should be accessible from all areas of the house and free of clutter to provide immediate access.
Below-ground safe rooms provide the greatest protection, but FEMA cautions that the rooms must be designed to remain dry during the heavy rains that often accompany severe windstorms.
None of the structure should be part of an interior or exterior wall of the home because those walls generally don’t meet the higher loading requirements needed for a safe room. Safe rooms essentially must be separate, self-contained structures that won’t fail as a result of the failure of the walls of the home surrounding it.
In addition, a shelter’s walls and ceilings must be able to withstand impact from flying debris.
These shelters also can be retrofitted to existing homes relatively economically.
Past engineering for concrete masonry storm shelters required that they have a large, dedicated foundation. Research confirms that such a foundation is no longer needed and that the weight of a fully grouted concrete masonry shelter is heavy enough to adequately resist uplift and overturning forces. Consequently, such safe rooms are now easier to install in new or existing homes.
While safety is a priority in all her designs, Beall does keep up with the newest products and features that can add comfort and drama to her homes. After all, aesthetics are important.
“You don’t want a house that looks like a fortress,” Beall said. “You can build homes that are safe and architecturally pleasing.”
For more information on building with concrete, visit the Concrete Home Building Coalition website at www.nahb.org/concrete; or email Tony Gacek at NAHB, or call him at 800-368-5242 x8357.
This article was provided by industry experts of NAHB’s Concrete Home Building Coalition, part of the NAHB’s Building Systems Councils. The coalition is sponsored by the American Concrete Institute, the National Concrete Masonry Association and the Portland Cement Association.
To learn more about the various types of residential concrete construction, go to www.nahb.org/ConcreteVideo. To learn more about the Concrete Specialization Courses through the Home Builders Institute’s Residential Construction Superintendent Series, visit www.hbi.org/concrete.