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  Concrete Safe Rooms Save Lives

The most inherent danger to people and property during the high winds of tornadoes and hurricanes is the flying debris carried in the high winds. Carried at such intense velocity, items such as 2 by 4’s can become missiles that can cut right through a building wall and endanger the people inside.

The best way to keep your family safe during a tornado or hurricane is to build a concrete safe room inside your home.  A safe room is a small, windowless room that is completely encapsulated in concrete - walls, ceiling and floor.  Typically, the room would be located in a central area of the home for additional protection as well as accessibility, but can be placed on the outside wall of the home.   A safe room can be incorporated into the construction of a new home, or can be retrofitted into an existing home.  The advantage of a safe room over a storm cellar is that the safe room can function year-round as a usable area, such as a bathroom, closet or utility room.  

Some of the most cost effective systems for building the walls of a safe room are insulating concrete forms, concrete masonry, and cast-in-place conventional concreteTests conducted at Texas Tech University conclude that concrete provides the strength and mass needed to resist the high winds and flying debris of a tornado.

Quick Facts: Safe Rooms (i.e. Panic Rooms, Storm Shelters)

With the release of Columbia Pictures’ “Panic Room,” moviegoers were introduced to the concept of an in-home hiding place more commonly known as a “safe room.” Safe rooms are typically built with concrete walls, ceiling and floor, and equipped with a heavy-gauge steel door. Originally designed to offer shelter from tornadoes and other severe weather, they also offer refuge from intruders. Most homeowners choose to use safe rooms as a simple storage space; others outfit them as home theater systems or walk-in closets. Safe rooms often are equipped with an outside phone line and space for food and safety supplies; some homeowners even install security system control centers.

Safe Room Plans Available from FEMA

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers a 25-page illustrated publication, Taking Shelter From the Storm: Building A Safe Room Inside Your House. The booklet outlines the basics of safe room design including construction plans, materials, and construction cost estimates. Plans for safe rooms built using reinforced concrete masonry, conventionally cast reinforced concrete, and insulating concrete forms are included in the booklet. It's available from FEMA at no charge by calling toll free (800) 480-2520 or visiting their web site at www.fema.gov 

Habitat and Concrete Bring Quality to Affordable Housing (Continued)

As in conventional Atlanta-area construction, the first step is to pour a concrete slab that forms the foundation and floor. Next, workers begin building the perimeter walls by positioning and tying-in vertical reinforcing-steel cages around the slab. Foam panels are then placed inside the reinforcing steel. Aluminum forms for the concrete are locked into place on both sides of the steel-foam assembly.

Concrete is poured into the aluminum forms to create a concrete wall that incorporates foam insulation. The forms are later stripped away and used on the next house.  The resulting exposed concrete surface can be finished to meet the homeowner’s preference. Options include finishing the concrete itself—to look like brick or other finish styles—or adding vinyl siding, stucco, real brick and more.

Construction costs are comparable to those of traditional wood-frame houses, say form and concrete producers.  As in all Habitat projects, construction relies on volunteer labor, donated materials, and industry sponsorship.

Homeowner's Worksheet:
Assessing Your Risk

New Concrete Alliance Promotes Solid Concrete Homes (Continued)

Realizing the tremendous potential of concrete for building single- and multi-family homes and commercial projects, the Concrete Foundations Association™ of North America (CFA) is spearheading this national effort to advance the benefits of solid-concrete construction.  The Concrete Homes Council is the alliance that hopes to take the industry to its highest level of performance yet – and its voice is being heard loud and clear.

DiVosta Homes, Inc., a division of Pulte Homes, is building attractive, affordable concrete homes in communities across South Florida.  The rock solid construction provided by concrete gives these homes the strength to withstand fire and hurricane force winds while protecting against insects and wood rot.  Because concrete has tremendous thermal storage capacity, these homes also stay cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter than traditional wood housing.

Safe Haven Homes, LLC in Wisconsin is building safer and energy-efficient concrete homes in a region that is hard hit with tornadoes.  Security Building Group, LLC in North Carolina is building disaster-resistant homes in the country’s hurricane region.  They have a number of projects planned in North and South Carolina coastal communities as well as a Parade Home in Raleigh in 2002.  Both companies are committed to concrete construction not only for its safety and security qualities, but because it is energy efficient, quiet, and environmentally sound way to build.  Concrete homes follow “green building” objectives and significantly conserve trees by reducing the need for lumber.

The Concrete Homes Council has begun to form alliances with developers, builders and contractors in a full-court press to build 100,000 above-grade, cast-in-place concrete homes over the next five years in one of three construction variations:

1.   Concrete exterior walls only;
2.   Both interior and exterior concrete walls; or
3.   Complete concrete exterior, interior and ceiling/floor construction (the most secure built home).

“In order to reach this goal and promote solid concrete construction throughout the country, the CHC will act as a catalyst to bring builders, developers and concrete contractors together as allies in the planning and execution of above-grade, removable form concrete construction projects,” says CFA Executive Director Ed Sauter.  “These three key players should be visionary in their desire to build higher quality homes using cutting edge technology, and committed to completing a large-scale development together in a timely manner.”

Because solid concrete homes require less maintenance and lower energy bills by 40 to 60%, they are a smart building solution for any project from apartments and condominiums, to single-family homes and high-rises.  Since concrete homes can be built in countless different architectural styles with a wide range of low-maintenance features, the design flexibility is ideal both for large-scale residential or commercial developments.

Concrete Homes: Built-In Safety

Debris driven by high winds presents the greatest hazard to homeowners and their homes during tornadoes and hurricanes. Recent laboratory testing at the Wind Engineering Research Center, Texas Tech University, compared the impact resistance of residential concrete wall construction to conventionally framed walls. The frame walls failed to stop the penetration of airborne hazards. The concrete walls successfully demonstrated the strength and mass to resist the impact of wind driven debris.

The Peace And Quiet Of Concrete (Continued)

Comfortable Living
Because concrete homes are built with solid concrete walls they are more air-tight than wood-frame. The continuous layer of rigid insulation used in concrete construction provides a consistent thermal barrier unlike wood-frame and batt insulation which has gaps in the insulation. This reduces drafts and cold spots inside your home resulting in more comfortable living spaces throughout your home.

Thermal Mass = Even Temperature
The mass of the concrete also has the heat-absorbing property called thermal mass. This smoothes out swings in temperature over time. It keeps the house from overheating or getting suddenly cold when the furnace or air conditioner cycles on and off throughout the day. It also helps keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter resulting in year-round comfort.

Lower Energy Bills
The same qualities that bring you the quiet comfort of a concrete home - thermal mass and consistency of insulation - also brings the peace of mind of saving money. Concrete homes can often reduce energy bills by over 50 percent compared to wood-frame homes. It's not often an investment pays that kind of a return.