When Does an Above-Ground Shelter Make Sense?

What do you think of when someone says “storm shelter”? A dingy corner of the basement? A door with steps leading down to a tiny room underground?

In the past, storm shelters were usually installed below ground level to provide safety from high winds and airborne debris. But modern above-ground shelters can provide equivalent protection when a below-ground shelter isn’t feasible.

When You Have a High Water Table

In some parts of the country, houses don’t have basements — often because of a high water table. A high water table creates two problems.

  • Seepage — If your storm shelter isn’t completely waterproof, ground water can seep in, creating wet spots, stains, and mold. In the worst case, you could head to your storm shelter only to discover you own a below-ground swimming pool.
  • Floating — Even if your storm shelter is completely waterproof, ground water can push it upward like a boat floating on water. The resulting pressure can cause cracks, leaks, or damage to hardware like stairs and handrails.

When You Want to Save Money

Unless you happen to own a cave, you’ll have to dig a hole for your below-ground storm shelter and cover it up after installation. Hopefully, you’ll have ten feet of dirt, not rock.

A suitable hole can be cut into solid rock but it will require experts with the appropriate equipment (and maybe explosives). It won’t be cheap.

When There’s No Good Location

Many other factors could limit your choice of location for a below-ground storm shelter. Maybe your septic drain field’s in the way. Perhaps your Home-Owners Association won’t approve it. Or the closest decent spot is a couple hundred feet from your house.

When You Want Something Convenient

Consider trying to round up a handful of kids and pets, and herding them to your below-ground storm shelter. Outside. In a thunderstorm. At night. With tornado sirens blaring.

Now consider shepherding the same menagerie into an above-ground shelter conveniently located nearby, perhaps in your basement or garage. When you only have a couple minutes warning, convenience can make all the difference.

When You Need More Protection

A bathroom or closet offers more protection than other living spaces. Basements offer even more protection. But in a direct tornado strike, neither are a good choice.

The majority of tornado deaths and severe injuries are caused by falling structures or windborne debris. When a house is being ripped apart, it can’t provide much protection for its occupants.

Above-ground shelters are built from steel and designed to withstand extremely high wind speeds, windborne projectiles, and impacts from above. Even if the building falls on it, anyone inside will survive.

These storm shelters are anchored to solid concrete. Most manufacturers recommend a reinforced concrete pad at least 4” thick, extending at least 18” past the exterior of the shelter.

If you don’t think a below-ground storm shelter would work for you, please consider the strength and convenience of today’s above-ground shelters.

When choosing a storm shelter, be sure to examine the benefits and costs of above-ground versus below-ground models. You may be pleasantly surprised.

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