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How to Build a Storm Shelter in 11 Simple Steps

If you’re a responsible adult who wants to be prepared for anything and everything, one of the best things you can do is learn how to build a storm shelter. Storm shelters are designed to protect you and your loved ones from anything that the elements throw your way.

How to Build a Storm Shelter

While many people don’t build storm shelters because they don’t think they have the space or the money for one, they couldn’t be more wrong.

This article will look at everything you need to know about how to build a storm shelter. We’ll examine the different options you have as well as the best way to build one yourself. Let’s get building!

Key Details to Keep in Mind When Building a Storm Shelter

Before getting started with the “how to” process, let’s look at some of the main things to keep in mind when you’re preparing to build your storm shelter.

  • The door for your shelter will be one of the most important and expensive components.
  • You can build your shelter outside your home or inside.
  • In order for your storm shelter to meet FEMA requirements, you must have at least three square feet of space per person.
  • Your storm shelter should be capable of surviving against winds of up to 250 mph.
  • Your storm shelter will cost anywhere from $2,000 to $15,000 on average.

Location Options for Your Storm Shelter

Storm Shelter Inside the Home

Interior storm shelters are the most common types of storm shelters and are often also known as safe rooms. The reason inside storm shelters are more popular is because they allow you to pursue safety without having to leave the comfort of your home.

Interior Storm Shelter

Most of these types of shelters are located in basements, or in specially designed closets or pantries if your home doesn’t have a basement.

Storm Shelter Outside the Home

The next option you have is to build a storm shelter outside of your home. Exterior storm shelters are usually either pre-fabricated buildings or are located in the garage or in another exterior building such as a barn or shop.

Exterior storm shelters are good options if you have time to plan ahead for a disaster, but not if your area is prone to unexpected storms where you won’t have time to exit your home before disaster strikes.

Exterior Storm Shelter

Different Types of Storm Shelters

Underground Storm Shelters

Underground storm shelters are usually located in the basement of homes and are typically the cheapest and easiest way to build a storm shelter. It’s also the method we’ll look at below in the section for how to build a storm shelter in your existing house or in a new construction. Underground storm shelters are most common in areas prone to tornados and heavy winds.

Above-Ground Storm Shelters

Above-ground storm shelters are usually pre-fabricated sheds or buildings built by construction professionals. These buildings are specifically designed to withstand heavy winds and are best suited for areas prone to hurricanes. You’ll likely require a building permit for an above-ground storm shelter, which is an additional hoop to jump through and cost to keep in mind.

Pre-Fabricated Storm Shelters

Pre-fabricated storm shelters, also known as safe sheds, are heavy, sturdy sheds that are specifically designed to weather any type of storm. These sheds are usually made out of solid concrete and weigh around 24,000 to 25,000 pounds.

Pre-made Storm Shelter

These types of storm shelters are a popular option because they get delivered by trucks to your property and often come with everything you need in a storm shelter.

How to Build a Storm Shelter: Step by Step

Now that we’ve looked at a few different types of storm shelters and where they should be located, let’s take an in-depth look at how to build a storm shelter.

The method we’ll look at is meant for an existing house to which you wish to add a storm shelter. You can also use this method if you’re building a new home and want to add a shelter to your basement or garage.

1. Choose the Best Location

The first step for how to build a storm shelter of any type is always to choose the location. Optimally, you’ll have a ranch house with a basement so that you can build your shelter downstairs. Basements offer the most protection from storms because they’re below ground.

Choose a Location to Build a Storm Shelter

The only time you want to steer clear of a basement storm shelter is if your area is prone to flooding. There’s nothing worse than getting trapped in a flooded basement where you have nowhere to go.

Basements are also a good option because you’ll likely already have a block or concrete walls at your disposal. The reason this is important is that the walls of your storm shelter will need to get anchored to something extremely solid, and there are few better options than concrete.

2. Clear the Location of Obstructions and Debris

Step two for how to build a storm shelter will be the easiest of all – clearing the area of debris and obstructions. This means moving any boxes, toys, workout equipment, junk, or anything else you have in the way.

3. Ensure You Have Enough Space

One of the most important things to keep in mind when learning how to build a storm shelter is to make sure you have enough space. FEMA recommends having a minimum of three square feet of space per person. However, while that’s the minimum, you’ll want double or triple that amount of space to keep from losing your sanity.

Three square feet is enough for very short periods of time, but not for weathering a long storm. This means that if you have a family of four to six people, you’ll want a storm shelter that’s at least forty to fifty square feet, if not more. In general, your safe room can’t be too big, as long as it doesn’t eat too much into your living space.

4. Measure for Size

Once you know how much space you’ll want and need for your storm shelter, the next step if to measure and lay it out so you get a good visual.

One Step in How to Build a Storm Shelter Is Using a Measuring Tape

Seeing the size of your storm shelter in real time is much different from seeing it in your head and could impact your sizing decisions. The three measurements to keep in mind and lay out are the length, width, and height of the storm shelter.

5. Gather Your Supplies and Tools

Once you have the layout and measurements for your room, you’re ready to learn the nitty-gritty details about how to build a storm shelter. For the actual construction, here are some of the tools you’ll need.

  • Carpenters square
  • Pencil
  • Power drill
  • Impact drill
  • Circular saw
  • Measuring tape
  • 2x6s
  • 14-gauge steel sheets
  • 3/4-inch plywood
  • Storm shelter door
  • #10×2-inch screws

6. Cut 2×6 Boards for the Frame

Once you have your tools and supplies gathered, the location picked out, and the perfect room size, you’re ready to learn how to build a storm shelter. Here’s how to get things started.

Cutting a Board to Build a Storm Shelter
  • Lay 2×6 pieces of pressure-treated lumber on the floor of your basement in the shape and size of your storm shelter.
  • Fasten these pieces of wood to the concrete floor using a power drill and either anchors or concrete screws.
  • Seal any seams where one piece of wood touches another piece with waterproof caulk or silicone to ensure an air and water-tight seal.
  • Do the same thing above by attaching pressure-treated 2×6 pieces of wood to the ceiling of your basement. Ideally, you’ll have a concrete or solid ceiling to which you can firmly fasten these pieces of wood.
  • Use your measuring tape to ensure that the frame attached to the ceiling is identical to the floor frame.

7. Build the Frame and Fasten It to the Walls

Once you have your floor and ceiling frame prepared, you’re ready to build the walls.

  • Measure and cut pressure-treated 2×6 pieces of wood that fit perfectly between the floor and ceiling frames of your storm shelter.
  • Your 2x6s for your wall should never be more than 14 1/2 inches apart, or 16 inches apart from center to center.
  • Ideally, one of the walls of your storm shelter will be located against a concrete wall so that you can anchor the wall to the concrete for added security.
  • You’ll also want to add extra 2x6s between your wall joists exactly halfway between the floor and the ceiling. Doing this will make your wall joists sturdier, and it will also give you something solid to fasten your plywood and 14-gauge metal to.
  • Follow this procedure for the entire perimeter of your storm shelter.

8. Use Steel Siding Instead of Drywall for the Walls

Now that you know how to build a storm shelter’s frame and how to anchor it to concrete for added security, let’s look at how to build your interior walls.

For starters, you’ll want to use 14-gauge steel sheets and attach them directly to the wall studs. If you have a concrete ceiling, then don’t worry about attaching these to the ceiling, as it’s already solid enough.

You should use #10×2-inch screws to attach the metal sheets to the wall studs.

9. Fasten Plywood or Garage Door Tiles to the Siding

Once you’re finished with your steel sheets, you should attach a layer of 1″ plywood on top of the steel sheets. Use the same screws to attach the plywood to the steel sheets and ensure that the screws get driven into the wall studs and not just the steel. You can add a second layer of plywood or switch to spare garage door tiles if necessary.

10. Install the Door

The most important step when it comes to learning how to build a storm shelter is choosing the right door and installing it correctly.

Your storm shelter door should be capable of withstanding a tornado which means that the hinges, handle, lock, frame, and hardware all need to be rated to protect against tornadoes. Once you have the right door, here’s what you’ll need to do.

  • Wait to add metal and plywood to the wall where you are adding your door.
  • Cut the 2×6 frame out where you plan to add the door.
  • Install the door according to its specific instructions.
  • Attach the metal sheets and plywood to all areas around the door to form a perfect seal and finish your final wall.
  • It’s important that the door fits perfectly into the frame that you cut out for it to ensure a tight fit and seal.

11. Pack Your Storm Shelter With Any Supplies You’ll Need

The final step for learning how to build a storm shelter is to equip the shelter with everything you’ll need to survive for a minimum of three days. This includes:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Vents running to the outside of your home to take stale air out of the storm shelter and bring fresh air inside. You may need to enlist the help of a heating and cooling technician.
  • Games
  • Entertainment
  • Battery packs
  • Battery lights
  • Extra batteries
  • Warm clothing
  • Fans
  • A first aid kit
  • Anything else you’ll need or want inside your storm shelter

Wrapping Up How to Build a Storm Shelter

Learning how to build a storm shelter is one of the best things you can do as a responsible adult. If learning how to build one is too much work, you can also enlist the help of a professional contractor or purchase a pre-fabricated storm shelter. Building your own storm shelter is a fairly difficult task, but it’s one that you can do as long as you have the right tools, supplies, and training.

If you’re curious about other kinds of survival shelters, check out our Shelters Section.