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Know Your Risk And Have A Safe Place To Go
Having a safe room in your home or small business can help provide "near-absolute protection" for you and your family or your employees from injury or death caused by the dangerous forces of extreme winds. Near-absolute protection means that, based on our current knowledge of tornadoes and hurricanes, there is a very high probability that the occupants of a safe room built according FEMA guidance will avoid injury or death. A safe room can also relieve some of the anxiety created by the threat of an incoming tornado or hurricane. Our knowledge of tornadoes and hurricanes and their effects is based on substantial meteorological records as well as extensive investigation of damage to buildings from extreme winds. All information contained on this page is applicable to safe rooms for use in homes as well as in small businesses.

Residential Safe Rooms

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Know Your Risk

Frequently Asked Questions
Tornado/Hurricane Safe Rooms

Q: What is the cost of installing a safe room in a new home?
A: Costs for construction vary across the United States. The cost for constructing a safe room inside a new house, which can double as a master closet, bathroom or utility room, is between $2,500 and $6,000 depending on the following factors:
  • The type of foundation on which your house is built
  • The size and location of the shelter

Q: Can I install a safe room in an existing home?
A: Typically, due to foundation size and location limitations, a retrofitted safe room is usually installed as a separate addition to an existing home or as a detached structure. Sometimes, with proper foundation preparation, it is possible to install a safe room in a garage or a basement.

Q: Where is the best location for the safe room?
A: A small interior room above grade is the best location for a safe room. Safe rooms are often used for other non-emergency purposes. Bathrooms and large closets are a frequent choice. Because warning times for tornadoes can be very short, quick access to the safe room is important in choosing location. If the owners have any special accessibility needs these should be considered in the location and design of the safe room.

Q: Are homeowners in hurricane-prone areas as well as tornado areas being encouraged to build safe rooms?
A: An increasing number of homeowners are building safe rooms to protect their families from the high winds of hurricanes, or because they are unsure whether they will be able to safely evacuate an area. However, homeowners in flood-prone or storm surge areas should evacuate to provide safety for themselves or their families when a hurricane threatens.

Q: My house has a basement; do I need a safe room?
A: Some strong tornadoes have resulted in loss of the floor framing, collapse of basement walls, and death and injuries to individuals in the basement. What constitutes an acceptable level of protection is an individual decision. The basement is the safest place to seek shelter for homes without a safe room. However, basements do not provide the same level of protection as a safe room. Basements are a good location to install a shelter or build a safe room but access for handicapped or physically challenged individuals may be limited.

Q: Is there a FEMA approval process?
A: There is not a FEMA approval process. The designs in FEMA 320 meet FEMA's goal of providing near absolute protection if they are constructed as shown in the plans. Other shelters that meet the criteria in National Performance Criteria for Tornado Shelters also meet this goal.

Q: Besides FEMA guidance, what other codes and standards are there for safe rooms and community shelters?
A: Currently, design and guidance exists in FEMA 320, Taking Shelter from the Storm, Building a Safe Room Inside Your House, FEMA 361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Shelters, and the National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) shelter standard.