How to Build: ICF Safe Rooms

What is a safe room?

A safe room is a hardened structure specifically designed to meet FEMA criteria and provide life-safety protection in extreme wind events, including tornadoes and hurricanes. To be considered a FEMA safe room, the structure must be designed and constructed to the guidelines specified in FEMA P-361 – to which the drawings in FEMA P-320 were designed. If needed, a design professional can be consulted to verify that the safe room meets or exceeds the guidelines found in FEMA P-361. It’s important to ensure that all applicable Federal, State, and local codes are followed. Also, keep in mind that when questions arise pertaining to the differences between FEMA P-361 and conflicting codes or standards, the most conservative criteria should apply.

FEMA Resources –

Protect valuable assets with an ICF Safe Room.

ICF Safe Rooms provide protection from winds as high as 250 mph. These safe rooms are created by building any room (such as the master bedroom closet) with ICF walls, pouring a concrete “lid” on top, and installing a steel door. Not only does it keep your family safe, but a closet Safe Room is also a fire-resistant storage area for your valuables and heirlooms. Integrating a safe room into your new home design, adding to an existing home, or retrofitting a current home is affordable and straightforward.

Looking for home plans with a safe room or a safe home?

BuildBlock works with many home designers and architects around North America. Contact BuildBlock today and let us help you connect with a professional to bring your dream to life.

See ICFs in action & learn more about building with icfs!

Protect from Disaster

Every year, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other extreme windstorms injure and kill people, and cause millions of dollars worth of property damage in the United States. Even so, more and more people build homes in tornado- and hurricane-prone areas, possibly putting themselves into the path of such storms.

Having a safe room built for your home or small business can help provide “near-absolute protection” for you, your family or employees from injury or death caused by the dangerous forces of extreme winds.
– FEMA 320

BuildBlock ICF Safe Room

What else can a safe room do?

Safe Room Options

An ICF safe room can be designed as another room in your home. Make your safe room a closet, bathroom, office, or pantry.

ICF Safe Rooms are like any other room in your home. Master bathroom, bedroom, closet, pantry, media room and more. Building a safe room doesn’t mean building an ugly bunker. Using ICFs, you can finish this room however you would like and use it as a part of your home each day. Add an ICF safe room to existing homes or new construction today! Add valuable square footage to your existing home. For example, if you add a 6×9 Safe Room to your home and it is worth $80 a square foot, you have added $4320 worth of value. In fact, depending on the size and scope of your individual project, you can almost break even in costs and enjoy your Safe Room each and every day as a new addition to your home and a safe haven in inclement weather.

Tornado & Hurricane ICF Safe Rooms

  • Built to FEMA 320 Design Specifications
  • Reinforced Concrete Walls and Roof
  • In-House Convenience and ADA compliance. This means no stairs to climb down, ease of entry and exit with family regardless of limitations.
  • Safety for Your Entire Family
  • 14-gauge Steel Door & Jamb with Three-point locks
  • Safely Protects Your Valuable Belongings
  • ICF Safe Rooms provide a 4-hour fire rating.
  • Resist winds up to 250mph when built to FEMA guidelines.
  • Reinforced concrete structures can withstand impacts from flying debris and extreme winds with little to no damage.

Safe Room Options

  • Design a Safe Room into your New Home Plans
  • Retrofit Your Existing Home
  • Build a Stand-Alone Above-Ground Shelter
  • Add on to your existing home
  • Upgrade a room such as an interior bathroom, bedroom, pantry, closet, or office.
  • Use your safe room every day, not just in an emergency.
  • Finish your safe room to look like any other room in your home and make it blend in seamlessly.

Hilldale Elementary's 11 Classroom ICF Safe Room

Hilldale Elementary, located in Oklahoma City, built an 11 room safe room to protect their student body. Despite the number of options available, Hilldale chose to build with BuildBlock ICFs. Now, the new section will not only be safe, but it will also be highly energy-efficient. This project was built with BuildLock 10-inch KnockDown ICFs, walls that can withstand winds over 250 mph.

Simply put, ICFs are the perfect technology to build an entire school out of, especially for energy efficiency and reduce long-term operating costs. ICFs are simply insulating forms for concrete that stay in place after the concrete is poured. The EPS foam provides high-density insulation and an airtight wall. With taxpayers covering the costs of energy in public schools, it makes sense to build them as energy-efficient as possible. BuildBlock ICF buildings can reduce energy bills 40-60 percent compared to traditional construction.

Read more about Hilldale safe room project here!

ICF Safe Room Design Detail

BuildBlock provides safe room detail designs that comply with FEMA 320 specifications for the construction of safe rooms in your home or building. BuildBlock can provide standard kits for a safe room at 8’x8′, 10’x10′, and 12’x12′ feet. Also, we can assist you in converting your design to an ICF safe room.


Considerations When Building a Safe Room

  • Safe rooms must be adequately anchored to the foundation to resist overturning and uplift.
  • Safe rooms must provide adequate ventilation.
  • Walls, ceiling, and doors of the shelter must withstand wind pressure and resist penetration by wind-driven objects and falling debris.
  • Connections between all parts of the safe room must be strong enough to resist high-velocity winds.
  • The safe room must be installed on its own footings and foundation separate from the main structure. This is required so damage to the home will not cause damage to the safe room.
  • Lastly, the door must be 14-gauge Steel Door & Jamb with Three-point locks.

Financial Assistance After Disaster

Homeowners who receive a disaster assistance loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to repair or rebuild a damaged or destroyed home may use some of the loan proceeds to construct a safe room. Additionally, the SBA can increase the approved disaster loan by up to 20 percent to cover the cost of adding a safe room. (Safe Room grants vary based on location. Please consult your local Emergency Management Office for more information.) 

For more information on FEMA 320, you can download the complete “Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room Inside Your House” document from the FEMA website at

Additional Websites and Resources

Visit Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) for information on grants. If you need additional information on HMA grants, contact the HMA Helpline by emailing [email protected] or by calling (866) 222-3580. Questions? Click on the “Frequently Asked Questions” link to view FAQs about the design and construction of safe rooms. If you need additional information about the design and construction of safe rooms, contact the Safe Room Helpline by emailing [email protected] or by calling (866) 927-2104. Please allow up to 5 business days for a response.

Potential Non-FEMA Safe Room Funding

Homeowners who receive a disaster assistance loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to repair or rebuild a damaged or destroyed home may use some of the loan proceeds to construct a safe room. Also, the SBA can increase the approved disaster loan by up to 20 percent to cover the cost of adding a safe room.

On December 3, 2003, the President signed into law the Tornado Shelters Act (Public Law 108-146). This act amends the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, authorizing communities to use community development block grant funds to construct tornado safe shelters in manufactured home parks. However, to be eligible, a storm shelter must be located in a neighborhood or park that contains at least 20 units, consists predominately of low- and moderate-income households, and is in a state where a tornado has occurred within the current year or last 3 years.

Lastly, the storm shelter must comply with tornado-appropriate safety and construction standards, be large enough to accommodate all members of the park/neighborhood, and be located in a park/neighborhood that has a warning siren. Community development block grant funds are funded through HUD.

On January 14, 2000, as part of HUD/FHA’s continuing efforts to be responsive to public safety concerns. HUD began allowing borrowers to include windstorm shelters as an eligible work item for FHA 203(k) rehabilitation loans and FHA 203(b) financed new construction. However, shelters financed with FHA-insured mortgages must be constructed consistent with the guidelines presented in FEMA Publication 320 USDA Rural Repair and Rehabilitation Grants The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers the Very Low-Income Housing Repair program which provides grants of up to $7,500 to very-low-income homeowners who are 62 years of age or older to address health and safety hazards. The improved property must reside in a rural town of 20,000 or fewer residents. Grant funding is variable each year.