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New shelter option allows homeowners to prepare for severe weather.

April 15, 2019Washington, D.C.

Forest Service Wood Tornado Shelter Provides Safe, Affordable Storm Protection

Home Innovation Research Labs Provides Technical Guidance, Helps Spread the Word

USDA Forest Service researchers have developed a tornado shelter made of wood that provides powerful protection at an affordable cost. Home Innovation Research Labs helped produce the construction guide and how-to videos that will allow building trade professionals and advanced DIY homeowners to understand and apply this new, potentially life-saving, technology.

With safety and security in mind, Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) engineers designed the residential tornado shelter to resist the high wind pressure and debris impacts generated by high-wind events. Most importantly, the wood shelters can be built into an existing home using readily available materials and tools.

“The 2019 tornado season has already been a deadly one, highlighting the concerns of millions of Americans about staying safe through these terrifying storms,” said Forest Service Deputy Chief of Research and Development Alexander Friend. “We have designed an affordable shelter that can be built by a local contractor or an advanced do-it-yourselfer using readily available materials. We also wanted to make sure this shelter would be easy to retrofit into existing homes.”

FPL achieved this goal by using easy-to-obtain materials and minimizing the need for specialty materials and hardware. The 8-by-8-foot room can be built by a local contractor or skilled homeowner, which can result in substantial cost savings. The estimated cost of materials for the shelter is between $3,000 and $4,000, but costs can vary depending on local market costs.

The shelter walls are constructed using three layers of 2-by-8-inch lumber nailed and glued together and stacked log-cabin style, then sheathed with three-quarter-inch plywood. A specifically designed roof and door, ventilation holes, and anchors into a concrete slab complete the shelter.

“In order for this innovative technology to be truly practical, FPL realized it needed to be presented in a way that building trades or advanced DIYers could easily understand and use as a resource,” according to Vladimir Kochkin, director of Home Innovation Research Labs’ Building Science division. “Our expertise with all manner of building codes and constructability issues, allowed us to work with FPL to create the informational and educational resources needed.”

The shelter recently passed industry safety standards, meeting the impact and wind requirements of the “Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters” as defined by the International Code Council/National Storm Shelter Association. In addition to providing the necessary safety protections when needed, the structure’s size makes it suitable for other uses, such as a bathroom or utility room, when not needed in an emergency.

Other tornado shelters currently available on the market, most made of steel and concrete, can be costly and are often not suitable for remodeled or retrofit applications within a home.
To see the full construction guide and link to the “how-to” videos, visit www.HomeInnovation.com/TornadoShelters.

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