A safe room is a proven way to protect your loved ones from extreme weather events and from determined attacks by those using hand tools or small arms. Several companies build safe rooms that range from the modest and simple to the large and lavish. In Fall 2008, I built a safe room to protect my family. The strongest and least expensive safe rooms take advantage of existing basement walls, which usually are made of poured-in-place, reinforced concrete. Unless you live in a log cabin or stone house, you’ll need a basement stronghold to keep family and friends secure. What follows are high-level tips and techniques for building a basement safe room without breaking the bank.

Corners Are Key

A basement corner is particularly advantageous for building a safe room because two walls are already in place. If your basement has an area bounded by three walls, all you need to do is build the fourth with a door. My first step was to think about the room’s size and the scenarios we were likely to encounter. I visualized the room using masking tape on the floor, and the space appeared to be adequate for three or four people in a pinch.

Concrete Block

Box stores don’t usually carry solid wall block, which is more expensive. Opting for 16-by-8-by-6-inch, hollow, heavy-wall block, I paid about $0.75 apiece—today it’s nearly double that price. Virtually all concrete blocks have a notch for inserting reinforcing steel bar (rebar). I didn’t use rebar, in case the wall later had to be dismantled. Decades ago, I had done enough repair work on a brick wall to know that I was a lousy mason. So I hunted for an alternative to mixing mortar and applying it with a trowel. I discovered a liquid concrete bonding adhesive (Quikcrete) that works for applications without lateral loading. Buying a couple of gallons of the stuff and using old bristle brushes, I set to work.

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