How to Retrofit a Tornado Safe Closet


While basements are ideal locations to seek safety from a tornado, not every house has one. In that case, homeowners can retrofit a walk-in closet into a storm-safe room that can withstand a tornado's winds. Choose a closet that is on the lowest level of the house and has no windows. It should also be large enough to comfortably hold all family members, including pets. You can complete the retrofit in a weekend with supplies from home improvement and hardware stores.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Stud finder
  • 1/2-inch-thick plywood
  • Circular saw
  • Wood screws
  • Drill with screwdriver bit
  • 1/2-inch-thick drywall
  • Utility knife
  • Mesh tape
  • Joint compound
  • Trowel
  • Sandpaper
  • Prehung exterior solid-core door and hardware
  • Level
  • Molding
  • Finishing nails
  • Hammer
  • Paint and paintbrushes or rollers
  • Empty the closet. Remove all the brackets for clothing rods or closet organizers. You want to start working with bare walls. Remove the closet door, including the frame. Remove all interior trim pieces such as baseboard molding.

  • Measure each wall of the closet as well as the ceiling to determine how much plywood and drywall you need.

  • Locate the joists in the ceiling with a stud finder. Make marks on the wall where the joists are. Install 1/2-inch-thick plywood over the existing drywall on the ceiling, cutting pieces to fit with a circular saw. Attach with wood screws inserted into the ceiling joists. Place screws every 8 inches along each joint.

  • Find the wall studs with the stud sensor. Make marks on the ceiling as to where the wall studs are. Line the closet with plywood, going around the door opening. Attach plywood with wood screws, using the same 8-inch placement pattern as on the ceiling.

  • Line the closet with new drywall. This is the third and final layer of wall and ceiling protection. Use the stud finder to locate and mark the joist and wall stud locations. Trim drywall with a utility knife by making a score line at the desired measurement and snapping the excess drywall off. Attach the drywall with wood screws to the ceiling joists and wall studs. Place screws every 12 inches so they do not interfere with the plywood screws.

  • Place strips of mesh tape over the drywall seams. This tape is slightly tacky and stays in place on its own for a few minutes until it can be covered with the joint compound. Use a trowel to cover the tape with a thin layer of joint compound as well as to fill over screw heads with the compound. Let dry according to manufacturer's directions. This can take from four to 24 hours, depending on the type of compound used. There are no damp-looking areas when it is dry.

  • Sand the joint compound smooth with sandpaper. If necessary, add another layer of joint compound for a completely smooth finish. Let the second layer dry.

  • Set the prehung door and frame into the opening and use a level on the top as well as both sides to ensure the door is aligned correctly. Use shims if necessary to make the door level. Screw into place with wood screws or as directed by the manufacturer. Use at least three screws in the top of the door frame and six on each side. Trim away any shims with the utility knife. Test the door to make sure it opens and closes the way it should. Install the hardware, such as doorknobs and striker plate. Usually all holes already exist in the door and frame with prehung doors.

  • Install baseboard molding and door trim, attaching the pieces with finishing nails. Paint the interior of the closet. Let the paint dry completely. Replace closet rods or other organizers that were previously taken out. Put the clothes or other items back in the closet.

Tips & Warnings

  • Dedicate an area or storage tote to survival equipment should you need to use your closet during a storm. Include things like flashlights and batteries, battery-operated radio, nonperishable foods, water, blankets and a change of clothing.

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