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Should homeowners have a safe room?

Updated: Apr 11

What is a safe room?

A safe room, (panic/secure room) is a fortified space in a building that provides occupants with protection and security in the event of a threat or emergency situation.

Should you have a safe room in your house?

Whether or not you should have a safe room depends on several factors, like location, security concerns, budget, and personal preferences. If you live in a region where natural disasters are common, a safe room can offer safety during emergencies. A safe room can also provide a safe place to hide during a break-in or home invasion if you live in a high-crime area, have specific security concerns, or if you need to protect your family or valuable assets. It is best to conduct a risk assessment of your building and surroundings. Evaluate potential threats and hazards that might make a safe room a practical addition to your property.

What are the different types or styles of safe rooms?

One of the simplest and most cost-effective options is a multi-purpose safe room, like a reinforced closet or bedroom, which is typically used as a hiding place during home invasions. This would look like adding security features like reinforced doors, locks, and communication systems to an existing room or area. This type of safe room aims to maximize utility for everyday use while providing security when needed.

Another Example of this would be basement safe rooms, which add extra protection from tornados, or hurricanes. These are just like a detached underground storm shelter, being constructed underground and having reinforced walls and roofs to protect against debris.

Secret or hidden safe rooms are concealed within the home, often behind hidden doors or walls. They are designed to be discreet and blend into the home's architecture and decor until needed. Custom safe rooms like these are typically more expensive than prefabricated options.

There is also Nuclear shelters, which are in a class all their own, and if you are interested in that type of room, you can look into companies like The Panic Room Company.

Any of these rooms can incorporate advanced technology, like biometric access control, surveillance systems, and secure communication networks. Additionally, adding bulletproof materials in walls, doors, and windows can provide protection against firearms. These additional features are best for high-profile individuals and businesses with significant security concerns.

You can also purchase prefab safe rooms that come in various sizes, with various options, and can be installed in an existing room. They typically have reinforced walls, doors, and ceilings as well as ventilation, communication systems, and emergency supplies.

What is the best location for a safe room?

The ideal location for a safe room in your home depends on several factors;

  • Accessibility: All household members need to be able to get to the room easily and quickly, ground floor, and/or near the bedrooms is best.

  • Structural Integrity: Choose a location with strong structural support, or reinforce walls, ceiling, and floor for added safety.

  • Secrecy and Concealment: If you want a hidden safe room, choose a location with concealed access, like behind a bookshelf.

  • Visibility and Escape Routes: Avoid making the safe room visible or easily accessed from the outside. Plan for a back up exit if the main access is blocked.

  • Utility Access: Consider access to water and power sources for emergency needs, depending on the room's purpose.

A risk assessment and professional consultation for safe room construction will help in determining the best location and design. The location should prioritize security, accessibility, and functionality while considering potential threats and emergencies in your area.

Does it depend on the type of weather events/disasters/region?

The design and construction of a safe room should be dynamic to the specific types of weather events, disasters, and regional risks that are prevalent in your area.

In places where they have tornadoes, you'll see safe rooms designed to withstand extreme wind forces and flying debris. Having things like reinforced walls, roofs, and doors. In places where they have hurricanes and flooding, like coastlines, or river areas you would see the same wind resistant design elements I just mentioned, but that would be located above ground level and watertight. In earthquake-prone areas, we focus on structural integrity to withstand seismic forces using things like flexible foundations, or reinforced walls and ceilings to minimize damage during an earthquake. In areas with wildfire risk, there is a focus on air filtration and ventilation, and providing protection against heat and flames with fire-resistant materials and emergency notification systems.

Then on the other end, you have the safety and security side. This is where you see a lot of reinforced doors, walls, ceilings and floors. They often have backup communication systems, video surveillance, and hidden or discrete locations with easy and quick access.

What should you keep in the safe room? Essentials for comfort and safety? Can you have tech/ventilation/refrigeration, etc?

The contents of a safe room can vary depending on its purpose and your specific needs, but here are some essentials and considerations for what to keep in a safe room for both comfort and safety:

1. Security Features:

  • A sturdy and reinforced door with multiple locks and deadbolts.

  • Security cameras and monitors to watch the situation outside.

  • Reinforced walls, ceilings, and floors for added security.

2. Ventilation:

  • Adequate ventilation is crucial to prevent suffocation. Depending on your safe room's design, you may have vents, an HVAC system, or portable fans with battery backups to ensure a constant supply of fresh air.

3.Communication Equipment & Technology:

  • A landline phone or reliable cell phone and power bank for charging.

  • A battery-powered or hand-cranked emergency radio for updates on the situation outside.

  • A laptop or tablet with chargers to stay informed and entertained.

4. Emergency Supplies:

  • First aid kit with essential medical supplies.

  • Essential Medications

  • Flashlights with spare batteries.

  • A fire extinguisher.

  • Basic tools like a wrench or pliers.

  • Non-perishable food and water for at least 72 hours.

  • A small portable generator or power supply with a backup fuel source.

  • Blankets, pillows, and warm clothing.

5. Water Filtration:

  • A portable water filter or purification tablets in case your stored water supply runs out or becomes contaminated.

6. Sanitation:

  • A portable toilet and hygiene supplies, especially if you anticipate extended stays.

  • Trash bags and a waste disposal plan.

Regularly check and update the supplies to ensure they remain in working condition and are not expired. Additionally, ensure that everyone in your household knows how to use the equipment and is familiar with the safe room's location and procedures for accessing it during an emergency.

Can you build one yourself or better to buy? Tips for construction? Legal/zoning/insurance?

Being an advocate for do-it-yourselfers, and a heavy DIY’er myself, it pains me to say, in my humble opinion, when it comes to safe rooms, skills and expertise equate directly to safety, the main purpose, and you should hire professionals to construct a safe room. When mistakes are made with safe rooms, it can mean the exact opposite, and be dangerous. That being said, building a safe room yourself is possible if you have the necessary construction skills and engineering, design, and code expertise.

This is a complex and costly project involving various safety and security considerations. Whether you should buy, or DIY, depends on your capabilities, budget, and needs. It's best to consult your local building authorities, engineers, or security professionals who are familiar with the risks in your area to ensure that the safe room meets the necessary standards and requirements. Keep in mind that some jurisdictions may have specific building codes that regulate safe rooms.

I would recommend starting with alternative safety measures, and consider other security and safety measures as well, such as an alarm system, reinforced doors and windows, or a home security plan. These measures can enhance your overall safety without the need for a dedicated safe room.

Average cost?

The cost of building a safe room can vary widely depending on several factors, including the size of the room, its location within your home, the level of security features you want, and your geographical location. On average, you can expect to spend anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 or more for a basic residential safe room.

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