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Old 04-26-2010, 09:43 PM   #1
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Creating a safer spot for severe weather.


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Hello all. I live in Omaha, NE. Of course, every year there are a handful of severe thunderstorms that have us huddled in the basement around our TVs and weather radios bracing for the worst.

Our new home currently doesn't have much in terms of a great shelter. We have a walk out and unfinished basement which leaves most of our basement vulnerable should a storm powerful enough to shatter windows blow through.

So I'd like to create a little area that is fairly safe. I'm not looking for something that is an EF5 proof concrete bunker. If God sends an EF5 right at our house, who am I to argue with that? I just want something fairly safe to protect us from flying glass and other debris should the windows get destroyed. Glass and othe debris can become torpedoes in high winds.

The area that draws my attention is under the stairs. There is a crawl space area. Not tall enough to stand up, but tall enough to sit on some pillows and blankets for a bit until the storm blows through. The only downside is, the walls of this crawl space are framed, but otherwise open to the rest of the basement. So I have to finish them off.

Now for the question: What is a good way to finish the walls of the crawlspace that would provide somewhat adequate protection?

It doesn't seem like drywall would be enough protection, but I don't want to make the walls thicker than normal and make the area look bad when I finish the rest of the basement.

My thoughts were 1/4" drywall over 1/4" MDF on both sides. This will keep the standard 1/2" thickness while giving some strength.

What do you all think? Should I put anything between the walls or studs for added strength?

Last edited by pheaton; 04-26-2010 at 09:46 PM. Reason: clarification on a couple of points....
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Old 04-26-2010, 10:49 PM   #2
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You can use cement board rather than MDF, or 3/4 inch plywood. Plywood has outstanding strength, and since the room is inside your basement, it will offer good protection. Another good technique is to install steel shutters for your windows. High quality steel shutters are considered sacrificial design elements, meaning they are only designed to resist penetration by missiles, i.e. flying debris, then be replaced. Very effective in hurricane winds up to 130mph, will not survive an F5, but very little will.

You should have an exterior, penetration resistant (read steel) door on the safe zone. Make sure you use top grade exterior grade hinges, and long wood screws for installation.

The good news is that for a relatively small investment, you can have a highly resistant space suitable for two or three people to ride out a tornado. I have inspected many houses that were struck by hurricane winds, and a few that were hit by tornadoes, and a fully enclosed structure under a staircase, inside a concrete basement, is a good candidate to survive a tornado.

You may also wish to check with your local building inspector, since tornados are common in your area, they are sure to have some good ideas.
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Old 04-27-2010, 09:10 AM   #3
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Do keep in mind that you are sometimes often the safest where you might not think you are.

These drawings show why they say to get INSIDE a bath tub..... the strong sides of the tub stop falling roof slabs or big chunks of walls from crushing us.

At first thought, most of us would say that UNDER the bed is safest. But the bed will crush under the weight of a roof... and, in turn, crush you. Not so, right up against the side of the bed.
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Last edited by Willie T; 04-27-2010 at 09:21 AM.
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Old 04-27-2010, 10:07 AM   #4
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Are we talking hurricanes and tornadoes here? What I would do is escavate a hole in the yard, install a culvert standing up inside the hole, and another culvert inside that culvert, fill the "walls" with cement/rebar, and add some kind of very strong top, perhaps a few foot thick cement with beam/rebar reinforcements. A sewer cover that can lock from inside to get in (kinda like a submarine hatch). You'll want proper seal and drainage so if there's lot of rain it does not flood out with you inside. a deep sump pit with battery operated pump could work. Just a thought. The stuff mentioned with work too. Depends just how strong you want this.
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Old 04-27-2010, 10:33 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Daniel Holzman View Post
You can use cement board rather than MDF, or 3/4 inch plywood. Plywood has outstanding strength, and since the room is inside your basement, it will offer good protection. Another good technique is to install steel shutters for your windows. High quality steel shutters are considered sacrificial design elements, meaning they are only designed to resist penetration by missiles, i.e. flying debris, then be replaced. Very effective in hurricane winds up to 130mph, will not survive an F5, but very little will.

You should have an exterior, penetration resistant (read steel) door on the safe zone. Make sure you use top grade exterior grade hinges, and long wood screws for installation.
Great suggestions. I had not thought about steel shutters. The door is another good point, the area would only be as safe as the door is secure.

Going back to the walls. As a new DIY person I've only ever completed a wall by using the standard 1/2" drywall. Does making the wall thicker than 1/2" have any negatives? Would you put any material inside of the wall?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Red Squirrel View Post
Are we talking hurricanes and tornadoes here? What I would do is escavate a hole in the yard, install a culvert standing up inside the hole, and another culvert inside that culvert, fill the "walls" with cement/rebar, and add some kind of very strong top, perhaps a few foot thick cement with beam/rebar reinforcements. A sewer cover that can lock from inside to get in (kinda like a submarine hatch). You'll want proper seal and drainage so if there's lot of rain it does not flood out with you inside. a deep sump pit with battery operated pump could work. Just a thought. The stuff mentioned with work too. Depends just how strong you want this.
haha. As I mentioned. I just want something to resist flying glass and other small debris. I don't care to finance or build a fallout shelter. .
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Old 04-27-2010, 08:34 PM   #6
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At my place, I once experienced an F2 tornado. When it came down, the falling lumber from over-head snapped the 2X8 floor joists like tooth picks!
It my opinion that you must guard against building parts from falling down and crushing you!
In your situation, I would build a room with cinder block! and then laminate 3/4" plywood to all surfaces.
The ceiling would consist of 2X12 joists with a double course of 3/4" plywood on top.
This room could be made with the walls in an L shape in the corner of the basement. I wouldn't make the room any wider than 5'.
The door would be at the top of the L and an escape hatch at the toe!
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Old 06-01-2010, 02:23 PM   #7
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Ok, so I've considered some different design elements to the crawlspace area under the stairs. I've done some research on various structures and how they withstand 2x4 impacts. I couldn't find anything on cement board, but anything in the way of MDF or plywood did nothing to a straight shot from a 2x4. Unless, the missle hit the studs. . In which case they would bounce off, or penetrate only slightly.

So here is my new question. Is there a downside to adding studs to the wall? If I put like 6 or 7 2x4s in between each stud this would create a 4 inch thick wall without any voids. . Then the outside can simply be drywalled so that its looks normal and I can use 1/2 plywood on the inside for even more strength. Does adding studs actually compromise the wall's integrity?
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Old 06-01-2010, 06:46 PM   #8
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It sounds like you have the same setup for your storm shelter as I have - under the stairs.

After reading this thread, I'm going to reinforce my walls too.

What I worry about in a tornado is the wind being forceful enough to pull the door of the shelter open and sucking the kids out and up into the funnel. I saw a dramatization of it on tv one time. I know it wasn't real, but it still got me thinking that it could happen.

What are you planning on doing with your door to reinforce it so that the wind can't pull it open?

Barb
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Old 06-01-2010, 08:31 PM   #9
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Wow~ I am really, really glad that I do not live in a tornado prone area.

We are in a 100 year hurricane zone - but our city has an average elevation of 36 feet above sea level. Thankfully, my house sits on the 'heights' at a massive 58 feet above sea level!
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Old 06-01-2010, 08:42 PM   #10
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We don't get a LOT of tornadoes, but enough have come through the state that we have to assume it's going to happen sometime and be prepared.
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Old 06-01-2010, 08:46 PM   #11
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Same here, the only thing we have to worry about here is snow storms. Those don't cause much if any property damage, they're just a pain because of all the snow you have to brush off the car every time you go to use it.

Beats losing the whole house every couple years!
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Old 06-01-2010, 08:46 PM   #12
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Yeah, I have a 'fruit cellar' under the stairs that is surrounded by 16 inch thick brick walls and has a door. Guessing if something nasty blows this way that's where I'll head with the pooches, and my husband... if I remember him.

The chickens are on their own.
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Old 06-02-2010, 03:07 PM   #13
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I have not decided on the door yet, I think I will just use a thick peice of plywood with some darn good hinges and latch. The entrance to the crawl space is well shielded by the part of the basement that is underground which is a decent natural barrier.

I'm still interested to know if there are any downsides to adding studs between the existing ones? This doesn't in anyway compromise the wall, does it?
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Old 06-05-2010, 11:31 AM   #14
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So what is your vote?

1. Add additional 2x4 studs between the existing studs, making it a solid stud wall basically.

2. So the same thing, but using 4x4s where possible.

3. I can also put in horizontal noggins in between the studs, which I know is what you do when you want to reinforce to hang something heavy on the wall, but I'm not sure it would do anything for impact?

I guess I like option 2 the best... Unless adding studs somehow makes the wall weaker? Do more studs always = a stronger wall?
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