Choosing the Right Storm Shelter: 5 Key Factors to Consider

Tornado Shelter

A Storm shelter is a pretty broad term for a safe structure that protects people from bad weather, such as:

  • Tornadoes
  • Hurricanes
  • Wind Storms
  • Flying Debris
  • Earthquakes

But, for any safe room or tornado shelter to be an actual storm shelter, it must meet FEMA’s criteria. Let’s explore the types and considerations that go into buying a storm shelter that will be truly effective.

Types of Storm Shelters

You can’t even begin to consider buying a storm shelter until you know what even to consider (outside of your bathroom).

The Below-Ground Sort of Storm Shelter

Underground Bunker

You can have an underground storm shelter built from scratch, which isn’t altogether affordable. Or, if you have an existing cellar or basement, you can modify it into a storm shelter.

The Pros of an Underground Storm Shelter

  • Protects perfectly from flying debris.
  • Stands up against high-speed winds.

The Cons of an Underground Storm Shelter

  • It is not easily accessible for people requiring mobile aids, such as wheelchairs or older adults.
  • Flooding can become an escalating issue as precipitation falls, especially if expanded into an underground bunker in an area with a low water table.

Before you or a contractor begins storm shelter installation, call 811 for utility safety information so that everyone remains safe and the building process remains smooth.

The Above-Ground Sort of Storm Shelter

You can install a safe room or an above-ground storm shelter in just about any room of your home. One is a hefty investment, but they are sometimes better than an underground storm shelter if you have the room and the means.

Twister Pod 4 ft. x 6 ft. Tornado Storm Shelter

Pros of Above-Ground Storm Shelters

  • The fastest way to escape the dangers of a storm.
  • More accessible to people that require walking aids and the elderly.

Cons of Above-Ground Storm Shelters

  • Reduces your existing living space
  • Sometimes smaller than a below-ground storm shelter.

Underground Garage Units

The following puns are intentional.

The costliest (and the coolest) of them all are underground garage storm shelters. You have to find a private contractor that complies with FEMA 321 and 360 requirements and knows what you’re talking about. 

Underground garage units are most commonly found in Oklahoma – ground zero for Tornado Alley.

Bed Shelters

While underground garage units the typically the most expensive shelter, a bed shelter is the most affordable – if you can find one.

You can find queen and king bed-size shelters that are literally under your bed. A bed shelter is quickly and easily accessible and the safest room in the house unless you already have a FEMA-compliant space.

If you Google ‘bed shelters’, you can find all sorts of designs.

5 Considerations Before Buying a Storm Shelter

1. The Type of Storm Shelter Works for You

We’ve covered the types of storm shelters, and now is the time to figure out which one best suits your needs and wants. It never hurts to just narrow it down to two and focus your research on comparing and contrasting them.

  • Below-Ground Storm Shelters
  • Above-Ground Storm Shelters
  • Underground Garage Units
  • Bed Storm Shelters

2. The Size of Your Storm Shelter

3. Leave Room for Plenty of Provisions

You also need to plan on plenty of room for provisions. Even if you only plan on a few-hour stay, you could very well still need the food, water, and other essentials that you’ve stashed safely in your safe refuge – similar to a go bag essentials.

Just because you’re prepping for potential doom does not make you a doomsday prepper, either.

Food-Related Stuff

  • Can opener
  • Canned fruits and veggies
  • Canned soup
  • Nuts and peanut butter
  • Crackers 
  • Granola bars
  • Beef jerky
  • Trail mix
  • Eating utensils and food plates
  • Baby food
  • Pet food

Water-Related Stuff

It is recorded to store a gallon of water every day for each person sheltered in it.

  • Drinking cups
  • Baby bottles and formula
  • Bottled water
  • Jugs of water

Extra Clothes

The extra clothes recommendations depend on how long you plan to stay inside your storm shelter. But, it is never a bad idea to store some dry and warm clothes in your storm refuge.

First Aid Kit

Band-Aid Johnson & Johnson All-Purpose Portable Compact First Aid Kit for Minor Cuts, Scrapes, Sprains & Burns, Ideal for Home, Car, Travel and Outdoor Emergencies, 140 Count

Regardless of whether you have a storm shelter, it would be best if you had a reliable and stocked first aid kit. And, you need more one of those cute little kits you buy at the dollar store.

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Extra prescribed medications
  • Adhesive bandages in a variety of shapes and sizes
  • Compress dressing
  • Gauze pads
  • Antibiotic ointment and wipes
  • Ace bandages
  • Instant cold and warm compresses
  • Gloves, ideally non-latex
  • Thermometer

Other Must-Haves

  • Tent 
  • Tarp
  • Blankets
  • Sleeping bags 
  • Battery-operated weather radio
  • Battery-operated lantern
  • Flashlights
  • Extra batteries for everything
  • Cell phone and smart device chargers
  • Duct tape
  • Rope, ideally nylon
  • Swiss army knife
  • Waterproof matches

Personal Documents

If you have a safe room, why not store your important documents there for the long term? It keeps them safer than just sitting in a closet.

  • The deed to your home
  • Tax info
  • All insurance documents
  • Birth certificates
  • Medical-related documents
  • Financial documents

Things You Probably Didn’t Think About

One of the reasons that pre-planning for a disaster is necessary is because humans forget tons of stuff during an emergency. If you’ve already stocked your storm shelter, all you have to do is escape to it.

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Tissue
  • Toilet paper
  • Trash bags
  • Diapers 
  • Baby Wipes
  • Soap

4. DIY vs. Contractor

You have a few choices for making your storm shelter a reality. You can build it yourself or hire someone to build it for you. But, be sure it meets FEMA requirements to make it as safe as possible for your family.

Even if you decide to DIY, there are parts of it you likely aren’t going to be able to do yourself. The excavation and the below-ground building are too complicated and dangerous to try to do it alone.

Above-ground shelter building is not that easy, either. You’re working with high-grade steel and must meet local and FEMA codes.

5. The Price of a Storm Shelter

The bottom line is always where we land after considering and deciding on something. But, a design plan is easier to scale back than to scale up. You will just have to narrow down what’s important to you and how many people you plan on sheltering.

Below-Ground Storm Shelters

The average cost of an underground storm shelter is $4,000. But, if you want a super fancy custom-built one, you’re looking at upwards of $40,000.

Above-Ground Storm Shelters

The price of an above-ground storm shelter averages from $2,500 to $12,000. Of course, I’m sure if you imagine hard enough, you know what a luxury storm shelter costs.

Underground Garage Units

You are looking at an average cost of $4,000 to $22,000 for an underground garage unit. If you’re looking at a more luxurious option, it could cost $100,000.

Bed Shelters

  • The average cost of bed shelters is a bit trickier because there are different designs, and they range in quality from low-end to high-end.
  • Also, the price of bed shelters has shot up since 2020 because of the demand. Compare prices before investing in a bed storm shelter.
  • The national average for the price of a bed shelter is $6,000.
  • However, you can buy a low-end hideaway for as little as $500.
  • The highest-end bed shelters go for between $20,000 to $40,000.

A Storm Shelter Does More Than Protect From Storms

What catastrophic event could happen where I live? Any number of disasters can happen at any moment. A storm shelter is an excellent place to hide or escape and develop a plan. For many people, this is the next consideration they make.

And a storm shelter can be a good thing to have even if there is never a storm. And, they’re handy for a lot of reasons.

Storm Shelters Increase the Value of a Home or Property

And, when you add a storm shelter to your home, it is a one and done. You aren’t paying any ongoing fees because it is paid for. 

It may seem like a long time before the investment starts making those sorts of returns, but many families find it worth it. Depending on where you live, it could increase the value by $2,000.

When you go to sell your home, the fact you have a storm shelter will appeal to potential buyers.

A Storm Shelter Might Decrease Your Homeowner’s Insurance

You’re saving money a couple of ways while ensuring you protect your family, too. It does not apply to everyone, and always check with your home owner’s insurance company before making changes to your property.

Storm Shelters Protect You from Criminals

Storm shelters double as safe rooms in the ways that are important. They are durable, safe, and as secure as you’re going to get if the world ends. 

The easier the shelter is to access, the better you can escape a burglary or trespasser.

Storm Shelter for Your Valuables 

We all have priceless things that are unreplaceable. A storm shelter makes a great place to put a safe with your valuables inside. You are doubling up on protection and ensuring the safety of your things as best as you can.

Protection from Zombies

The chances of a Zombie Apocalypse happening are pretty low, but with the last few years happening the way they have, eh, not so sure.

A storm shelter is a shelter from the literal walking dead. By no means am I saying that every person should have a fully stocked bunker, but, I mean, if you can, why not?

Just keep all of the aspects of storm shelters in mind when making your decision. Do not react to fear or panic. It makes for bad choices.

And get free quotes and compare prices when it is time actually to invest. Make sure that the contractor or company you hire is in compliance with FEMA regulations.

Just do what you can, and always have a plan.

By Anita Brown

Anita Brown is our go-to contributor to our emergency preparedness website. Anita brings a wealth of personal experience and professional expertise to the table, having weathered several awful natural disasters. Anita is currently working towards obtaining her Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) certification.