Construct a Secure Storm Shelter

Stay safe when tornadoes or high winds hit your area with this severe-weather shelter that can be added to a garage or basement.

A well-built storm shelter — made with affordable, readily available lumber and materials — will be safe, solid, and secure.
Illustration by Len Churchill

On average, more than 1,000 tornadoes touch down annually in the United States, which has more tornadoes than any other country in the world. Tornadoes have been spotted in every state. But Florida and Tornado Alley, which generally runs through the central states, typically see more tornadoes than any other part of the country.

Tornadoes are usually brief — the average one is on the ground for only five minutes, although some can last for 30 minutes or longer — but they’re capable of causing massive damage. (The most severe storms can generate wind speeds of up to 300 mph.) In the U.S., tornadoes are responsible for an annual average of 80 deaths and 1,500 injuries, with additional deaths and injuries caused by severe storms with high winds.

If you find yourself caught in a tornado or a storm with high winds, your odds of survival greatly increase if you have somewhere safe you can take shelter to avoid being hit with flying debris, or being carried away yourself. This 4-by-8-foot severe-storm cube will help protect you on both counts. (Hurricanes and tropical storms pose their own unique sets of dangers. While this structure can protect you from strong winds and flying debris, it won’t protect you from storm surges, flooding, or torrential rain.) When built correctly, this structure will serve as a safe place for you and your family to hunker down when wind-related storms are on the horizon.

Choose a Location

When choosing a place for your storm shelter, the single most important factor to consider is a solid foundation. Your shelter will only be as secure as the surface to which it’s anchored, and the most secure base is solid concrete. A basement is perfect, because the surrounding concrete walls add an extra layer of protection, and the concrete slab provides a sturdy anchoring surface.

If you don’t have a basement, situate your shelter in a garage, utility space, or unused part of your house with a concrete floor. You can pour a concrete slab and build this structure independent of your house, but this will involve adding a roof and siding — steps not covered here. You can also secure it to an existing wood floor, but, again, the shelter will only be as strong as the surface to which it’s connected.

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