Every year, hurricanes and tornadoes strike the United States. These storms take lives and can cause billions of dollars in damage. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends building a home shelter or safe room if you live in a high risk area. In 1999, FEMA published an information booklet on how to assess your needs and build a shelter, and includes guidelines for materials and construction. Building a safety shelter requires funds, monies that may be available to homeowners through state and federal laws.
Since 2000, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Federal Housing Authority has supported the installation of safe rooms by enabling homeowners to get FHA 203-b guaranteed loans of up to $5,000 for the construction of windstorm shelters in their homes. To be eligible, the shelter must comply with FEMA requirements and the national performance criteria for tornado shelters. The safe room may be the only improvement under the loan.
Individual states have various laws to address safety shelters. One example is the state of Mississippi, which offers a program funded by a FEMA grant and administered by Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. The program enables state homeowners to claim reimbursement of up to 75 percent of eligible costs for single family shelters, up to a maximum of $4,000. The shelter must be built according to FEMA construction criteria to qualify. In Kauai County, Hawaii, the local municipality has implemented tax breaks for homeowners who build a shelter
Financing for windstorm shelters or safe rooms may be obtained from any mortgage lender, once the homeowner and the design of the structure have qualified for FHA insurance. Homeowners who qualify for a disaster assistance loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration for rebuilding may use part of the loan to add a safe room. Shelters may be site built or prefabricated.
A suitable safe room can only be built if you live in a regular house. According to FEMA, if you live in a mobile home or an apartment building, you should leave the structure and look for safety somewhere else in the event of a hurricane or tornado. The agency recommends safe rooms built below ground level for the greatest protection, but a windowless, interior room on a first-floor level may also suffice. FEMA recommends retrofitting existing homes with internal shelters, or building stand-alone shelters if an internal shelter is not possible.
- “Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room Inside Your House”; Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mitigation Directorate; 1999
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development News Releases: Cuomo Announces FHA-Insured Mortgages Can Be Used to Finance Windstorm Shelters
- Southern Home Safety: MEMA Grant Programs
- “2007 Tornado Recovery Advisory”; Federal Emergency Management Agency
- Concrete Network: Safe Room Financing
- Photo Credit Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images
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