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How to Design a Closet That is Also a Safe Room

Updated on April 17, 2013

A Large Closet Makes a Great Safe Room

The safe room serves two purposes.
The safe room serves two purposes.

If you live in an area subject to tornadoes, you know the value of having a place where your family can gather during intense storms. Likewise, if you live in a neighborhood with a high rate of crime, you could benefit from having a safe place to hide from those intent on harming you.

Unfortunately, if you don’t have a basement, which is the safest spot in the case of a tornado – you end up being swept away with your home, or injured by falling debris. One alternative is to design and build a closet that doubles as a safe room. This is not a weekend project – it’s an investment in your home. But, it’s also an investment in your family’s safety.

You Might Need a Permit

Before You Start

Get the proper building permit from your local building authority. In most communities, any time you alter the structure of your home, you need to pull a permit. This allow the city inspector to take a look at your plans and to make sure you build a safe structure.


The best place for a safe room/closet is off the side of a bedroom – usually the master bedroom, but this might not be feasible in all cases. Local zoning regulations will determine how close to the property line you can build and if the master bedroom is not on the ground floor, you’ll have to make some changes.

The safe room should be on the ground floor, so if no bedroom is available, consider attaching near the kitchen for use as a walk-in pantry or another storage area.

Typical STem Wall Construction


In most cases, you’ll need to excavate a minimum of 5-feet below the surface of the ground, but if you live in a cold region where the frost line is deeper than 5-feet, you’ll have to dig farther. In order to offer the correct support for the safe room, you must construct a concrete footer that sits below frost line. Don’t skimp on concrete wall depth, even if you live in a warm region, because the deeper the walls, the greater the wind uplift resistance, if you’re building the room to protect your family from tornadoes.

Exterior Walls

Your entire safe room must be concrete if you want it to withstand the strongest tornado-force winds. This isn’t so difficult. You will frame the walls above ground level just as you did below ground level and fill the forms with concrete. The standard minimum concrete wall is at least 8-inches thick, and filled with steel reinforcement in the form of rebar which increases its integrity.

All four safe room walls must be concrete. Frame the opening between the interior of the house and the safe room to hold a security steel pocket door. Most of the time – you can leave the door open for easy access to clothes or pantry shelves. If desired, install a regular interior door on the inside of the house for aesthetics.

Ventilation and Mechanical Elements

During wall framing, make provisions for ventilation, electrical wiring and phone cords. Hard-wiring a land line is a good idea. If you survive a tornado in your safe room, you’ll need to call out for help. Ventilation is essential. You don’t need to add a heat or AC duct, but you must have a small vent or inline fan that allows your family to have fresh air when they’re in the room. At the same time, you don’t want the vent to serve as an invitation to predators who mean you harm, so install metal bars over the vent for safety.

Outfitting Your Safe Room

Be prepared. Keep a cell phone charger in your safe room along with a battery backup that can charge the cell phone. Keep a few folding chairs tucked behind hanging clothing and keep a stash of blankets handy. Stock the safe room with some provisional snacks and bottled water and keep a large collapsible portable-potty tucked away on a shelf. The general rule is to plan for a three-day stay. Most communities can rescue survivors of a tornado within that time. It never hurts to plan for a few more days, however, if you have room.

Stash battery operated or wind-up lanterns and radios so you can stay abreast of the news outside until you can safely leave your shelter.

Do You Have a Safe Room? What Can You Add to These Ideas?

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    • PurvisBobbi44 profile image

      PurvisBobbi44 2 years ago from Florida


      What a smart DIY idea. Did you build one for your home? I think this is brilliant and I am sharing with my Twitter, G+ and pinning on my Re-pin board.

      Have a great day.

      Bobbi Purvis

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York a DIY enthusiast who continually has some sort of project going...I LOVE this!...UP++pinned & tweeted