No stranger to violent storms, Central Florida is seeing an increase in safe room construction, thanks in part to third-generation home builder Kristin Beall, vice-president, Charlie Johnson Builder Inc. The reinforced concrete masonry rooms are being offered in many of the company’s affordable, modest-sized homes to protect homeowners from the threat of hurricanes and tornadoes.
Beall turned her focus to the durable structures after the devastating 2004 hurricane season, in which three hurricanes—Charley, Frances and Jeanne—tore through Central Florida. The rooms are designed and engineered to withstand Category 5 hurricane winds (Hurricane Katrina was only a Category 3 when it made landfall), and have been reviewed by FEMA and the National Storm Shelter Association. To help reduce severe weather-related losses, most coastal states have adopted strict high-wind building codes based on the International Code Council standards. Furthermore, a typical concrete masonry storm shelter system has been successfully tested to withstand a 15-lb., 2×4 propelled at only 100 mph—the sustainable wind speed of a Category 2 hurricane.
In the past, concrete masonry storm shelters were required to have a large, dedicated foundation. Research, however, has proved that this is not necessary since the weight of a fully grouted shelter is heavy enough to adequately resist uplift and overturning forces. Subsequently, such safe rooms are now easier to install in new and existing homes.
Unlike the stereotypical storm shelter, the safe rooms being offered by Charlie Johnson are hardly noticeable and quite useful. In the majority of the constructed homes, they are large walk-in closets that are integrated into the home, allowing for a functional space. Grouted, solid concrete block reinforced with steel make up the four walls of the safe rooms as well as a 4-in. thick concrete ceiling. In order to prevent occupants from being trapped inside, a solid core door opens into the safe room, not out from it. Beall notes, “The house can literally crumble around this room while its occupants remain safe inside their reinforced concrete masonry cocoon.”