In today’s uncertain climate, where home invasions, public unrest, and job-related travel pose significant risks, ensuring the safety of your family has become more crucial than ever. To address these concerns and find a practical solution, I made the decision to construct a basement safe room—a sanctuary that would provide an extra layer of security and peace of mind.
A safe room serves as a fortified space within your home, specifically designed to withstand potential threats. It offers a place of refuge where your loved ones can seek shelter in times of danger or uncertainty. By having a dedicated safe room, you demonstrate your commitment to their protection and provide reassurance that you have taken every possible measure to keep them safe.
Why Choose a Safe Room for Your Home?
The demand for safe rooms is on the rise, as more homeowners recognize their importance. Surprisingly, though, many individuals express a desire for a safe room but fail to allocate the necessary time and resources to bring this vision to life. However, it’s worth considering that a basement safe room not only provides protection for your family but also adds significant value and desirability to your home when it comes time to sell.
While my own basement safe room boasts a solid construction, it is essential to understand that its purpose extends beyond that of a bomb shelter or vault. Its primary function is to safeguard your loved ones and protect your valuable possessions from armed intruders with malicious intent. By investing in a safe room, you create a secure sanctuary that instills peace of mind.
It is worth noting that this article does not aim to teach you construction skills. However, it does offer valuable insights into the practical aspects involved in undertaking such a project. By gaining a comprehensive understanding of what building a basement safe room entails, you can make informed decisions that align with your family’s safety and security needs.
Opting for Masonry Construction: A Solid and Cost-Effective Choice
When it came to selecting a construction method, I decided to go with masonry construction due to its affordability and exceptional structural integrity. Hollow-core concrete blocks, available at most home-improvement stores, can be purchased for approximately $2 to $3 each, while 80-pound sacks of mortar mix typically retail for $9 each. Moreover, some stores offer discounts to members of the military and public safety agencies, potentially reducing your overall costs even further.
To begin the process, it is essential to calculate the number of blocks needed for each course (row) based on the dimensions of your room. Additionally, consider the requirement of a lintel, usually made of steel, to support the blocks above a doorframe. Streamline the process by arranging for the block and bags of mortar mix to be palletized and delivered directly to your construction site. This not only saves your energy for the crucial work at hand but also ensures a more efficient workflow.
Keeping the job site clean is crucial for maintaining safety, efficiency, and an organized workspace. Make sure to allocate extra time for periodic cleaning of the job site, including the mixer and tools. Neglecting to rinse out the mixer after each batch can lead to mortar residue adhering to the rotating drum, resulting in time-consuming cleaning complications.
By choosing masonry construction, you are not only benefitting from its cost-effectiveness but also ensuring a solid and durable structure. The combination of hollow-core concrete blocks and mortar mix provides stability and strength needed to withstand various environmental factors and the test of time.
Take advantage of the affordability and reliability offered by masonry construction. By adhering to proper construction techniques, ensuring a clean job site, and making smart material choices, you can achieve a successful construction project that meets your needs and provides a sturdy foundation for your space.
Exploring the Suitability of Masonry Construction for You
After embarking on a basement safe room construction project myself, I quickly realized that my masonry skills left much to be desired. This led me to make the decision to hire a professional with the necessary expertise to ensure the successful completion of the project while maintaining the utmost confidentiality. However, my involvement in the process allowed me to reacquaint myself with the basics of masonry construction and ultimately resulted in some cost savings.
It is important to note that masonry, like other construction trades, requires a certain level of physical stamina and strength. The task of lifting and mixing numerous sacks of mortar mix and handling blocks weighing half a ton or more can be physically demanding.
I personally experienced fatigue by the end of the third day of work. To gauge your own aptitude for masonry, you might consider purchasing a few blocks and a small bag of mortar mix to conduct a small-scale experiment. Using a scrap piece of plywood as a base, attempt to build a small wall. Take note of whether it is level and if the mortar joints appear uniform.
If you find yourself naturally inclined towards masonry and become more efficient and skilled at laying each block, it may indicate that you have the potential to undertake a larger project like building a basement safe room. However, if you find the learning curve to be too steep or the task too challenging, it may be best to seek out a professional mason with a proven track record.
Regardless of your decision, it is vital to prioritize the confidentiality of your project. Before presenting the opportunity to any potential mason, explicitly request that they maintain strict confidentiality, whether they secure the job or not. Confidentiality ensures that your basement safe room project remains discreet and protects the privacy and security of your loved ones.
When considering masonry as a construction method, take into account the physical demands involved and assess your own aptitude through small-scale experiments. By making an informed decision based on your capabilities and the level of discretion required, you can proceed with confidence, either through personal efforts or by engaging the services of a skilled mason.
Leveraging Your Existing Space for a Strong Foundation
If your house has a basement, you’re in luck. Basements typically offer a solid starting point for constructing a basement safe room. The corners of basement walls, whether made of block or poured-in-place reinforced concrete, usually consist of right angles, providing the strongest part of the structure.
When I moved into my house, there was a 10×12-foot storage room occupying one corner of the basement. This layout allowed me to plan the construction of two block walls inside the framed walls, creating a rectangular block room.
However, if your house has a crawlspace but no basement, don’t worry. It is still possible to build a masonry block safe room. In this case, consulting a contractor or structural engineer is advisable to ensure that the floor joists can withstand the additional load.
When making your calculations, don’t forget to account for the anticipated weight of the room’s contents. If your house is built on a concrete slab, the extra weight shouldn’t pose a problem.
Effective Planning for Your Basement Safe Room
To visualize the footprint of your basement safe room, you can place tape on the floor to mark where you plan to build the walls. Generally, a larger basement safe room is preferable. In my basement, I had two existing stud walls, so I decided to construct the masonry walls inside them and secure them to the foundation using rebar (reinforcing bar).
I began by selecting the size of the blocks and determining the required quantity of blocks and sacks of mortar. It is wise to include some extras of both, as it is not uncommon to break some blocks or require more mortar than initially anticipated.
Standard hollow-core concrete blocks measuring 8x8x16 inches are widely available, and additional mortar is used with rebar in certain voids to reinforce the wall. To ensure optimal strength, I ordered a commercial, 2-inch steel door with a welded frame, which offers superior durability compared to knock-down frames.
For enhanced security and convenience, I opted for a pushbutton mechanical lockset, which eliminates the need to search for or fumble with keys. It is worth noting that a battery-operated lockset is not recommended, as it can fail at the most inconvenient times.
By leveraging the existing space in your home, you can establish a strong foundation for your basement safe room. Whether you have a basement or a crawlspace, careful planning, consultation with professionals if needed, and thoughtful consideration of the necessary materials and security features will ensure the successful construction of a secure and reliable safe room.
Commencing the Project with Safety Precautions
Before diving into the construction process, it is essential to prioritize safety. Portland cement, which serves as the active bonding ingredient in mortar mix and concrete, can be caustic and cause chemical burns. Therefore, it is crucial to wear gloves that provide adequate protection against direct contact with the cement.
Additionally, if you will be pouring a concrete floor, wearing waterproof boots is advisable. When handling bags of mortar mix and pouring them into a mixer, it is essential to avoid inhaling any cement dust, as it can harm the lungs. Safety glasses should be worn at all times to protect the eyes.
Maintaining a Smooth Workflow
To ensure a smooth workflow, effective communication between the mason and the assistant is crucial. Regular communication ensures that the mason has all the necessary materials and tools throughout the workday. It is helpful to stage several blocks near the mason so that they can be easily accessed and replaced as they are used.
Moreover, a continuous supply of mortar is essential to keep the job progressing smoothly. Setting up an electric mixer on a tarp in the driveway serves multiple purposes: it minimizes dust in the garage and provides adequate ventilation. Once each batch of mortar (consisting of one bag of mix and water) is ready, it is tilted into a wheelbarrow, shoveled into two 5-gallon buckets, and carried to the mason.
Mixing Mortar with Care
Following the mixing instructions on the mortar sacks diligently is essential for achieving the right consistency. Adding too much water can result in a soupy batch, so it is advisable to add water gradually, a cup at a time, and observe the result before adding more.
It is important to note that temperature and humidity can affect the consistency of the mortar, so it is better to be conservative with the water. It is easier to add more water as needed during the process than to remove excess water. While the mortar sits, it may dry out.
To moisten it, you can dip a brush into a bucket of water, shake it into the mortar, and work the mix until it reaches the desired consistency. Using a brush offers more control compared to using a container.
By prioritizing safety measures and ensuring effective communication and efficient mortar mixing techniques, you can kick-start your construction project with a solid foundation. These precautions and practices not only contribute to a safer working environment but also help maintain the quality and consistency of the mortar throughout the construction process.
Starting and Finishing with the Door
Before embarking on laying the blocks, it is important to position the steel doorframe in place and secure it to ensure stability throughout the construction process. In my case, I used clamps to attach it to the existing wooden door frame.
Ensuring that the doorframe is square and plumb is crucial, and it is recommended to have the door open into the room for accessibility, even if there might be shelving or debris on the other side.
As blocks are added near the doorframe, reinforcing the frame with mortar using a trowel is essential. Wire anchors, which can be obtained where the door is purchased, are used to tie the doorframe to the masonry. Once the basement safe room is complete, installing a push button all-mechanical lock provides convenience and eliminates concerns about losing or fumbling with keys.
Starting with the First Course
Before commencing the block-laying process, it is necessary to check the surface on which the blocks will be placed for levelness, both horizontally and vertically. If the base is uneven, enough mortar should be used to compensate and ensure that the top of the first course is level.
The first course is of utmost importance, so it is advisable to take the time needed to get it right. The bed joint, which connects the long edges of the blocks (typically the top and bottom), and the head joint, which connects the ends, play a critical role in the structural integrity of the wall. To maintain a consistent level and straight courses, using a level that can check multiple blocks at once is helpful.
Additionally, a chalk line can serve as a guide for maintaining levelness and straightness. Allowing the first course to dry adequately is crucial to prevent the weight of the second course from displacing the mortar underneath. For added strength, staggering the blocks from one course to the next is recommended, ensuring that the joints between blocks are positioned above the center of the blocks below them. This may require cutting at least one block for each course.
During the block-laying process, mortar is applied beneath the blocks using a trowel, and they are securely positioned with gentle taps from a hammer. Checking for levelness and plumbness at each stage is important to maintain the structural integrity of the wall.
To protect the floor from dropped mortar, using rosin paper or a disposable tarp is advisable. For enhanced structural integrity, steel rebar rods can be used at corners and inside the blocks, spaced at regular intervals.
Drilling holes into the floor using a drill with a tungsten-carbide bit allows for the insertion of rebar, which can then be secured with high-quality epoxy. It is important to leave enough space between the top of the rebar and the ceiling to facilitate placing the blocks onto the rebar as the construction progresses. Mortar is used to fill the voids in the blocks where the rebar runs through.
As a final touch, a few days after completing the basement safe room, pouring granite aggregate into the voids that do not contain rebar can be considered. This addition of dense mass to the walls offers an efficient and cost-effective way to further reinforce the structure, as an alternative to using additional mortar.
By following these steps, from starting with the doorframe to completing the first course, you can ensure the proper foundation and construction of your basement safe room. These measures contribute to the strength and integrity of the structure, providing a secure space for you and your loved ones.
Undoubtedly, constructing a basement safe room may not be suitable for everyone. Nevertheless, I can attest to the immense peace of mind it brings. The presence of a secure enclosure, combined with the provisions we have diligently stored inside, allows me to sleep more soundly at night, regardless of my location. Knowing that I have provided my family with an additional vital means to endure challenging circumstances provides a deep sense of relief.
The mere knowledge that there exists a designated space within our home that prioritizes safety and protection brings a profound sense of tranquility. It serves as a sanctuary in times of uncertainty, offering a shield against potential dangers and instilling a comforting assurance in our collective well-being. With careful planning and consideration, we have created a refuge that stands as a testament to our commitment to safeguarding those we hold dear.
Furthermore, the stored provisions within the basement safe room serve as a vital lifeline during emergencies. By meticulously stocking essential supplies and resources, we have ensured that our loved ones are equipped to face adversity with resilience and preparedness. This comprehensive approach provides a comprehensive safety net, leaving no room for doubt or worry. It signifies our dedication to providing every critical opportunity for our family’s survival in the face of adversity.
While the decision to construct a basement safe room is a personal one, it cannot be denied that the peace of mind it imparts is immeasurable. The profound relief and reassurance it brings make an effort and investment worthwhile. By prioritizing the safety and security of our loved ones, we not only establish a physical barrier against potential threats but also foster a profound sense of comfort and tranquility that resonates throughout our daily lives.
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