DIY Tornado Shelter: Why and How To Do It Step By Step?

diy tornado shelter

If you live in an area where there are lots of natural calamities expected, especially hurricanes, storms, and tornadoes, then you need to get yourself a shelter where you can hide until the calamity passes.

Now, you can either make a shelter yourself, or you can buy a prefabricated one and simply install it.

Why Get A DIY Tornado Shelter?

There are several government institutions which offer you help. If you are willing to pay them, they will construct shelters or safe houses for you.

Agencies like the Federal agency of emergency management and many such institutions offer you help in exchange for money.

They have blueprints and standard measurements for storm shelters but then again what’s the whole point of hiring an agency if you have to offer a substantial amount of money to them anyway.

If you are reading this article, then you are probably low on a cash budget, and you want to build yourself a shelter too but at a low cost.

Don’t worry! Here, we will help you get yourself a shelter at a cost as low as possible.


Recommended Read: Protect Your Car from Hail

Steps to Build Your Own Tornado Shelter

Now, there are certain steps that you need to follow to get yourself a nice, cheap, cozy, but most important of all, a reliable storm or tornado shelter.

We’ll take you through each step with as much detail as possible.

At the end of the article, all you will need is some building material, and you’ll get going on building a storm shelter for yourself.

Below are the steps that you need to go through to understand what kind of storms or hurricanes that you will be facing and what kind of shelter you will need for a certain type of storm.


Deciding The Type of The Storm

tornado shelter

Once you have decided that you are going to build a storm shelter yourself, then the next step on the agenda should be what type of storms or tornadoes you face in your area?

Generally, there are two types of storm shelters; above ground and underground.

The best shelter for tornadoes is underground shelters; if your tornadoes are from the range 1-5 EFS (Tornadoes are usually within this range).

On the other hand, the best shelters for hurricanes are above ground shelters.

One important thing that we need to keep in mind is whether the area you live in is exposed to floods or not.

If yes, then you do not have much of choice on building an above ground or underground shelter.

In this case, you have to go with above-ground shelter, but if you do not have floods in your area, then you can go with either one of them.

Again, underground shelters are recommended for tornadoes.


Want It Inside or Outside of Your House?

If you already have a basement in your house, then you can build the storm shelter inside your basement. It will both cost you less and will be easier to construct as you have the foundation already laid for you. 

If you don’t have a basement, then you have to build it outside your house, and you will have to dig pretty much. Both the inside and outside shelters have their own pros and cons.

Pros And Cons of Inside Shelters:

If you build an inside shelter, then not only you will have your work cut out, but you can always get to the shelter faster in case of tornadoes. 

However, it comes with a price of making a mess inside your house, and it can be complex building a shelter underground in your house too. Secondly, you will be taking up quite a lot of space from your house.


Pros And Cons of Outside Shelters:

On the other hand, if you build an outside shelter, you can not only build a huge shelter because of no space constraint, but it’s also easier getting the material here and there. 

Yet again, in case of emergencies, it will take you pretty much time to get to the shelter and along with that, if you are making an outside shelter and it is above the ground, then it looks pretty hideous and will make your house look weird. 

All of these things do not matter at all if your prime concern is safety and making sure that your friends and family are fine. Now, here, we will go with an outside shelter.


Deciding The Size of Your Shelter


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According to FEMA standards, your shelter should have a space of 7 square feet per person in case of tornadoes. 

Along with this space per person, you will also need to calculate the space you will be allocated for your food and other supplies. In case you are planning on making a bath inside the shelter, then you will have to leave space for it too. 

Once you have decided how many people you want to build the shelter for and how much space you want to allocate for your supplies and other stuff, FEMA standards recommend that you leave a space of about 5 inches from each side for the walls.


Selecting The Material For Your Shelter

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The most common materials for building a storm shelter are;

  • Concrete that is pourable
  • Concrete Blocks
  • Wood and Steel

However, our recommended material is steel and wood. Why? If you are reading this article, then it means you probably do not know a thing about building a storm shelter. 

This means you do not know how to work with pourable concrete or concrete blocks, so it should be easier for you to move and use shafts and rods of steel along with the wood.


Starting On Building The Shelter

  • Digging: First of all, you need to dig a huge hole according to the size which you have decided in the previous step.


  • Walls: It might be time taking, but once you have dug the hole according to the size specifications, the next part is building the walls.
    Now, you can use wood and steel for this purpose too, but then it will cost you too much. So, what you want to do is build a wall by simply laying concrete blocks which are easy to handle.
    Make sure that the thickness of the walls is 5 inches. (Use some binding agent between the concrete blocks) Once you have laid the walls inside the hole you dug, you need to put wire mesh made of steel in the shape of a dome against these walls. This will give more strength to the structure.
  • Roof: Once you have completed the above-mentioned steps, it brings you to building the roof of your structure. You need to lay steel beams all over the walls until no part is left behind. Then, you need to put wire mesh over the roof too to give it structural stability.
  • Rain Proofing It: Now, you have almost completed the shelter except the door. But before installing a door what you need to do is lining all the walls and the roof with a waterproof membrane. In case it rains, you already have prepared for that.
  • Door: Coming to installing the door, your door needs to be strong. You cannot rely on custom-made doors, so it is recommended that you buy a door and install it in such a way that the hinges are on the outside. Plus, it should be a steel door with more than one deadbolt latch.

  • Furnishing: Once you have completed the shelter then it just leaves furnishing and making it fun while you are stuck inside. You can start by laying a wooden floor and placing some mats over it to make it more comfortable.
    Then, you can install some light furniture if you have enough space. To make it fun, you can have board games, cards, and stuff like that which you can enjoy with your family or friends.
  • Supplies: Once you have done all the hard work and you have made yourself a shelter, then the only thing that’s left is to fill it with necessary supplies.
    These can be instant food, coffee, snacks, cookies and stuff in a quantity that can at least make you survive for a fortnight and at most a month.

What Can Be The Cost of this DIY Shelter Project?


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The model we recommended at the weather station is going to cost you around $3000. If you go with buying a prefabricated shelter, they charge you between the ranges of $5000 – $24000 depending on your size and specifications of the shelter.

Compared to these prices, $3000 is pretty affordable given that you have made a pretty satisfactory shelter yourself.

Thankfully, there are government institutions in some cities who offer to pay almost 70% of your expenses whether you buy a shelter or build one yourself.

Make sure that they do pay in your area or not because if they do, then your cost will reduce to just $900.

And, that’s almost nothing compared to those fancy and expensive shelters costing you thousands of dollars.


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