Your family room, with its wall of sliding glass doors, may be the most dangerous space in the house in which to ride out a hurricane.
What's a better idea? One answer: a safe room.
These reinforced, bolted-down structures often do double duty the rest of the year as a closet, wine cellar, storage room or pantry. They can provide secure storage of valuables or weapons whether you're at home or gone on vacation. Come hurricane time, they shelter the occupants and resist extreme winds and flying debris.
The showcase home in this spring's Tampa Bay Builders Association Parade of Homes at FishHawk Ranch in Lithia — the Cellini model by Homes by John C. Fowke — included a safe room as a closet. Other builders offer them as well.
"We've had a lot more interest in them because of tornadoes in the last two years because we haven't had any hurricanes," said Eddie Sutton, manager of Tampa SafeRooms in Seminole (www. tampasaferooms.com). The swath of tornadoes that cut through Central Florida near the Villages last year prompted some of that interest, he said.
The rooms range in size from 4 by 4 by 8 feet to 12 by 12 by 10 feet and can be installed in a day to a day and a half in new construction or as a retrofit of an existing home, said Sutton, who represents two brands: Remagen (www.remagensaferooms.com) and StormBlocker (www.stormblocker.com).
Those brands range in price from $5,000 to $15,000, Sutton said.
The Remagen brand is framed in steel with steel panels. The StormBlocker has hurricane-reinforced wood framing and composite wall panels with a woven-fiberglass surface over a proprietary core.
Another manufacturer is DuPont, under the StormRoom name (www.stormroom.dupont.com). Reinforced wall panels, attached with structural steel connectors, are lined with Kevlar sheathing, the material used in bullet-proof vests that DuPont says is five times stronger than steel. Their price range is $6,500 to $14,000. That's the brand in the showcase home at FishHawk Ranch.
The rooms are ventilated, and plumbing and electricity can be added. The interior walls can be finished with drywall, paint, paneling, whatever the homeowner wants.
Above-ground storm shelters must meet federal codes. Structures must withstand 250 mph winds and must resist a 15-pound 2 by 4 shot at the shelter at 100 mph.
"In the last 12 months we've gotten to the point where people really understand what they are and what they're for," Sutton said.
Safe rooms are considered a "green" building feature in the category of disaster mitigation. Along with window protection and garage door reinforcement, safe rooms can earn builders points toward certification by the Florida Green Building Coalition.