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Building the Ultimate Safe House 289

Posted by timothy
from the don't-forget-the-toilet-paper dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Candace Jackson writes that an increasing number of home builders and buyers are looking for a new kind of security: homes equipped to handle everything from hurricanes, tornadoes and hybrid superstorms like this week's Sandy, to man-made threats ranging from home invasion to nuclear war. Fueling the rise of these often-fortresslike homes are new technologies and building materials—which builders say will ultimately be used on a more widespread basis in storm- and earthquake-threatened areas. For example, Alys Beach, a 158-acre luxury seaside community on Florida's Gulf Coast, has earned the designation of Fortified...for safer living® homes and is designed to withstand strong winds. The roofs have two coats of limestone and exterior walls have 8 inches of concrete, reinforced every 32 inches for 'bunkerlike' safety, according to marketing materials. Other builders are producing highly hurricane-proof residences that are circular in shape with 'radial engineering' wherein roof and floor trusses link back to the home's center like spokes on a wheel, helping to dissipate gale forces around the structure. Deltec, a North Carolina–based builder, says it has never lost a circular home to hurricanes in over 40 years of construction. But Doug Buck says some 'extreme' building techniques don't make financial sense. 'You get to a point of diminishing returns,' says Buck. 'You're going to spend so much that honestly, it would make more sense to let it blow down and rebuild it.''
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Building the Ultimate Safe House

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  • Illegal (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mrmeval (662166) <mrmeval@gmail.cGINSBERGom minus poet> on Saturday November 03, 2012 @08:30AM (#41863735) Journal

    It is illegal in some jurisdictions to build fortified homes. Many of the techniques listed would fall under that category. This is for the protection of the police and safety workers of course.

  • Re:Illegal (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 03, 2012 @08:42AM (#41863791)

    It's illegal, for financial reasons.

    When you have a house made of prefabs, it means that every 50 years you have to tear it down and rebuild. During that time, the land can change hands, the zoning can change as well. Which means people stand to make a lot of money buying and selling.

    Then there's the fact, that, if you build a house indended to have a long lifespan, maintenance will be lower, making it much more cheaper in the long run, in essence, for an individual, it would be a bad investment, for a family though, it's something that will pass from generation to generation.

  • Or... go old school (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MangoCats (2757129) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @08:43AM (#41863801)

    Go old school and build a concrete dome [aidomes.com]. These are nothing new, very strong, and energy efficient.

  • Re:They'll take.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Greyfox (87712) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @09:11AM (#41863909) Homepage Journal
    They've been selling a lot of those to private citizens lately. IIRC they usually go for a couple million and they pull out all the interesting stuff, but you still get a couple of miles of underground tunnels designed to withstand a nuclear blast. The original generators were designed to run a year without contact from the outside world and there was room for a year's worth of food storage, too. Just put your own generators and fuel tanks in, restock the food supplies and you could hole up for damn near anything. Maybe even a civilization-devastating asteroid impact, as long as it's not a direct impact where you live.
  • by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Saturday November 03, 2012 @09:26AM (#41863955) Homepage

    The home may survive, but if it's beachfront, you may find the distance from your bunker to the waves is a lot less when you emerge after the hurricane.

    yeah. i mention sthapatyaveda in another post, but the "rules" for sthapatyaveda include never putting a building in a valley, or under a cliff, or within 1 mile of any kind of large body of water. there are about 30 "rules" for choosing a site, and, when you look at them and actually think about them, they actually make a hell of a lot of sense. the one "don't pick a plot that's been abandoned by nature i.e. has no animals or birds on it" is just... well... we know that animals have more instinctive sense than humans! "don't pick a plot that has a strange smell or has unclear air" is blindingly obvious, but so many people overrule that for other considerations, and then wonder why they get sick!

    as a race we can be pretty stupid, to be honest, about the kinds of things we put up with for the most... irrational reasons.

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @09:29AM (#41863971) Homepage

    like this [wikipedia.org]. Yeah, humans basically figured out this problem in the Stone Age.

  • by smpoole7 (1467717) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @09:30AM (#41863975) Homepage

    > I think they call them cellars...

    When the tornadoes came through Alabama on April 27th, 2011, I know of at least two cases where people died in nice, deep cellars. In once case, the storm that tracked through Phil Campbell, AL actually picked up a vehicle and dropped it on a family, killing everyone.

    Unless you reinforce the "roof" (typically the first floor of the home) over the cellar, or take other steps to ensure that things can't fall in on you (and this includes debris from a catastrophic collapse of the house itself), a basement won't necessarily protect you from an F4 or F5 "monster" tornado.

    Around here, most folks seem to prefer the separate buried shelters. They have to run in the rain and wind to get into it, but they prefer that to trusting an "interior room" or a basement.

  • Re:Brick (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 03, 2012 @10:00AM (#41864109)

    I grew up in an area where hurricanes are simply known as winter. All the houses are made of brick and seldom suffer damage. The American fetish with expensive stick houses is really amazing.

  • Re:Illegal (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BenEnglishAtHome (449670) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @10:23AM (#41864229)

    Now, that's one stupid law.

    Jeff Cooper (famous to some, infamous to others, "Huh?" to most) had an interesting take on home invasions. He believed that the only thing you really needed during a home invasion was time. Literally just a few seconds warning gives you time to react properly and save lives. He used to teach something along the lines of "Your home is going to be invaded through the front door by a murderous gang. Your family, including your toddler grandchildren, is spread about the house. You have two choices. First option - you have the finest, custom-built .45 ever conceived by the mind of man built by the finest 'smith in the world with cost as no object on your belt. Second option - you have a functional but generally piece of crap .32 somewhere in your pocket and ten seconds warning. Which do you choose?"

    The obvious answer is to take the warning time. To that end, he had a very simple entry to his home. It was a long (about 30 feet), narrow courtyard with a heavy, cast-iron gate at the end. Visitors had to ring the bell. He would look through the peephole and if things seemed OK, step outside the door. If he didn't know you, it would be up to you to explain why you were there. If he wanted to let you in, the gate was unlocked by a lever back at the front door.

    In short, if you wanted to home-invade that guy, you'd have to break down a heavy gate (providing warning) and traverse a hallway without cover (aka, a completely merciless killing zone) before you could even reach his front door.

    I thought his solution was elegant and cheap. It required only a couple of adobe walls leading out from the door to his house, an iron arbor "ceiling" for the outdoor room (from which decorative plants hung), and a sturdy gate with a very simply unlocking mechanism that was, essentialy, just a doorknob that extended back 30 feet to the front door.

    If I had a place in the country, I'd consider this a very reasonable way to build an entry. I like entry courtyards, anyway.

    But the law you cite would (arguably, depending on circumstances) make such a design illegal.

    Stupid, stupid law.

  • Re:Illegal (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JJJJust (908929) <JJJJust@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Saturday November 03, 2012 @10:26AM (#41864245)

    Well then, thank god for the Knox Box so they can just get the key from right beside the door...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knox_Box [wikipedia.org]

  • by Migraineman (632203) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @10:27AM (#41864249)
    Most people don't comprehend the "layers" concept. We lost power for three solid days. I've got a 2kW inverter and four Group 31 deep-cycle batteries to power the fridge and sump pump. They will hold me for 48-hours with realistic power management. We have a 200A alternator on the garden tractor that will recharge a battery in under an hour. We used about two gallons of gasoline keeping the electricity available.

    We heated two rooms (kitchen and living room) with firewood and the fireplace. We abandoned the entire second floor of the house. We purchased several suitcases of water prior to the storm's arrival (can't run the well pump with the current setup - a liability I *will* resolve.) The pantry was stocked with canned goods (i.e. baked beans, etc) that could be eaten right out of the can. We have two extra propane tanks for the gas grill. We sacrificed our normal behavior during the crisis, and had zero expectation that "business as usual" would return until well after power was restored.

    If you're going to build a "survivable" residence, it needs to have a small core that's extremely energy/resource efficient. Simply adding armor to the outside might be an easy sell from the builder's perspective, but it's only one piece of the survive-the-crisis puzzle. As evidenced by the problems in NYC right now, as soon as the storm passes, your supply lines become an even bigger issue.
  • by hot soldering iron (800102) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @10:28AM (#41864253)

    You could also contact Monolithic Domes in Italy, TX. They practice what they preach, using concrete and steel domes for their factory buildings. They took a direct hit from an F3 tornado. They had the employees pull their cars inside, and no one even had chipped paint. They've made real strides in recent years to make their buildings blend in more with the surrounding architectures. They don't have to look like a 60's hippy commune.

    I really don't understand why everyone is effectively saying, "fortified homes kill puppies!!" You guys LIKE running in the middle of the night to a shelter? Or waking up to find that a post came through the wall and killed your teen-aged daughter? I've always thought people who built little crackerbox houses were idiots. I know of AT LEAST one town in Kansas that had everyone still alive living in shipping containers for over a year because a tornado scraped the town off the earth, and they are just now finishing up infrastructure repairs to Joplin, MO after the tornado strike that ate a hospital and gutted the city. Before anyone says, "Well, they probably came off better financially after all the aid came in", I can definitively say that's crap. What aid money is out there is stretched to the limit with all the natural disasters happening, so you may not get any. When big disasters happen, it can ruin an insurance company to the point that they close their doors, and then no one gets paid. Besides, how much money would it take to let someone kill your little boy? Or your wife? Or you? How much are these lives worth to you?

    I grew up in Tornado Alley in NE Texas. Our home was 1800 square feet with laminated floor beams on a full, reinforced basement on a hilltop. We eventually moved, selling the home to my uncle and his family. It's still a fortress, and helping members of the family sleep well when the tornado sirens go off.

  • by Dyolf Knip (165446) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @10:45AM (#41864369) Homepage

    You basically cannot overstate just how indestructible these things are. I visited one in Atlanta and the owner said that just a few months earlier an 18" wide tree had fallen over onto the house. This would have caused tremendous damage to any regular house, but this dome shrugged it off almost entirely, with the stump of a limb poking a 6" hole through the wall. There's that beach dome in Pensacola that survived repeated direct strikes of powerful hurricanes back in '04-'05 that just leveled every surrounding structure. The only damage it took was things like the main stairs washing away, which they were designed to do anyway. There's a story about a guy who bought a piece of land with a monolithic dome barn on it and hired a contractor to demolish it. Took the guy a solid week of whaling on it with a wrecking ball before it came down. There was a cheap knockoff version of a monolithic dome (no rebar) in Oklahoma that took a _direct_ hit by a tornado. Terribly damaged, but the structure is still intact. Lastly of course is the dome in Baghdad that served as a government office building. During the US invasion back in '03, they dropped a 5000 lb bomb on it. The bomb punched through and destroyed everything inside, but the building is still standing.

  • Tropical Diseases? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tenebrousedge (1226584) <tenebrousedge&gmail,com> on Saturday November 03, 2012 @11:10AM (#41864513)

    When you say that, I immediately think of Dengue fever. [wikipedia.org] It's a hemorrhagic fever with four serotypes: fun for the whole family. Unlike most diseases where catching one variant grants immunity to the others, with dengue you end up with *less* protection from the other variants. I like to think of it as "Ebola Lite", except by the time you've had it a couple times you may not appreciate the distinction.

    You can get worse things without having to make the trip to the tropics: MRSA [wikipedia.org] will make your insides become your outsides at a shockingly rapid pace, and tends to cause permanent scarring in survivors. It's commonly found in hospitals! Fun fact: About half the US states do not require hospitals to report statistics on Hospital-Acquired Infections. [hospitalinfection.org]

    I've had both (within the last year or so -- may you live in interesting times). MRSA is worse, and lots closer to home. For all the hue and cry about salmonella, only about 30 people die per year from it. In 2005, over eighteen thousand people died [webmd.com] from MRSA -- it has a greater annual death toll than AIDS.

    If I had to pick which infection to get again, I'd probably go with "Ebola Lite". That should tell you something.

    The question of why MRSA gets less press than other diseases is left as an exercise to the reader. Support legislation on hospital infection statistics!

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