With storm season coming soon, it's time to be prepared and for many that means installing a storm shelter. Many families are trying to decide if above-ground or underground shelters are the best option for them.
"Most storm shelters that are FEMA -approved, that are above-ground, are tested by shooting a two-by-four into the door. I think everybody in Oklahoma City knows that in an F5 tornado, there are a lot more things flying through the air than small two-by-fours," says Aaron Glenn, the owner of Aaron's Storm Shelters. He says his underground shelters go far and above FEMA standards. "This is a permanent structure. It's built into the property. This thing can never be picked up and moved. If you test them with a two-by-four, they're going to pass that test every time. If you test them with a car, they're also going to pass that test," says Glenn. You can also build onto his shelters, and make them indoor shelters. "This structure here is strong enough that they're going to add onto this house and use this as a floor and foundation for the new addition," says Glenn.
"You can remain inside your house and go right to the walk-in closet that doubles as a safe room," says Mike McCabe, Construction Supervisor with ICH High Performance Homes. He recommends his above-ground safe rooms, which are also FEMA approved. "This has its own footer and its own sub-foundation, which is steel-reinforced. It's like one big piece of concrete. It's steel reinforced in both directions-- horizontally and vertically. It's anchored to the ground. Of course, tornadoes need to be able to get up underneath something to lift it up," says McCabe. He says above-ground is just as safe, but easier for the elderly or handicapped to use. "There are no stairs to negotiate or ladders to negotiate. You can get a wheelchair in it if you have handicap members of your family," he says. He also has a few concerns about underground-- like flooding and getting trapped. "If debris has fallen on the door and you can't get out, that's obviously problematic," says McCabe.
Glenn disagrees. "As you can see, there's a lip that sticks up above the concrete and the door closes over the top of it. Spray a fire hose directly down on the top of that door and no water is going to come in it," says Glenn. He says above-ground are more expensive because they have to be built stronger, and if a company is offering something that's cheap and easy, beware. "If you compare something that's moveable to this (underground shelter), you're basically comparing an eggshell to a coconut shell," says Glenn.
Both have the records to prove safety. "We had 17 storm shelters in the direct path of the tornado. Not one of them sustained any damage aside from the vent caps," says Glenn.
"Up to this point, we have not had a failure," says McCabe.
When it comes to picking what's best for your family, both recommend doing your research. "When you're looking for a storm shelter, the one thing you don't want to ask is how quick can you get mine done? And, what's the cheapest I can get?" says Glenn. "If someone can get out there and do your storm shelter tomorrow, that means they're looking for work and there are a lot of companies that are trying to come into business right now. Hire a good, reputable company that's been in business for a long time because what good is a big warranty if the company's not going to be here next year?" he says.
Glenn says Aaron's Storm Shelters has been in business for more than 50 years. "I've got people that have been working for me longer than most of the companies in Oklahoma City have even been in business," says Glenn. On average, his storm shelters will run you below $100 per square foot. "A lot of people are paying over $200 a square foot for the in-garage units. Those things are not proven to last. I would love to go show you a storm shelter that's been in the ground for 50-years that we've built and it's still working good today. I would challenge any in-garage storm shelter company to show you one that's been in the ground for more than 10 years," says Glenn.
McCabe says ICH High Performance Homes has been in business for 13 years.