How to Build a Tornado Shelter

tornado whirling through green field
  • 6-10 hours
  • Advanced
  • 5000-8000
What You'll Need
FEMA P-320 publication
Safe-room construction permit
Materials listed in the FEMA P-320
Bags of cement
Fiberglass, steel bars, or wood board
Wire mesh

Not only can a tornado shelter keep your family safe during a tornado and other dangerous weather, but also it’s easy to build if you have the right tools. Check out the handy guide below to build one in your own backyard.

Step 1 — Get a FEMA P-320 Publication

There are regulations and standards that you should follow when building a tornado shelter. To know what you need to have, you should get a copy of the FEMA P-320 Publication. This publication has all of the details you will need on how to build your own tornado shelter in your area.

Aside from providing detailed information on how to build a protection shelter, the FEMA P-320 publication also provides the minimum requirements for designing your shelter, whether built in the garage, basement, as an interior room, or a separate structure. Construction plans and materials lists are also provided. You can get a copy of the FEMA P-320 through

Step 2 — Obtain a Construction Permit

The National Performance Criteria for Tornado Shelters has regulations that you should follow when building a tornado shelter. Therefore, it is important that you get the appropriate permits and inspection schedules before you start digging up any soil or pouring in concrete to ensure that you are following the law. You can get your construction permits from your local city hall.

Step 3 — Locate Your Wind Zone

The direction or location of your wind zone is important in determining how strong your tornado shelter should be. To check the location of your wind zone, look at a wind-zone map. You can also check it through the FEMA website.

Step 4 — Choose the Location of the Shelter

Depending on the data you collected, you can choose to build your shelter in the basement, garage, or interior of the home. It can also be a separate structure. This guide will show you how to build an underground shelter.

Step 5 – Dig the Hole

Now, you can begin digging the hole underground where the shelter will be placed. A standard small shelter should have a 12-by-12 feet room. Dig at least three times this space to allot for the thickness of your shelter.

Step 6 – Make the Concrete Floor

Next, level the floor. Pour some concrete onto it — enough that it will be 5-inches thick. Let the concrete floor dry.

Step 7 – Build the Walls

Measure the size of your walls depending on your preferred size. Then, dig holes to place your frames. You can use fiberglass, steel bars, or wood board depending on your wind zone. After you have placed the frames, pour some concrete to the height of your walls and allow it to dry.

Add Membrane and Mesh

After the walls are dry, place some waterproof membrane to cover the entire exterior wall of your shelter. Place some wire mesh on the interior and exterior of your shelter to reinforce the walls.

Step 8 – Build the Roof

Finally, build the frame of your roof for your tornado shelter using the 2x4 and plywood. Nail the wood board on top of the plywood and then pour concrete two times as thick as your floor. Let it dry before using the shelter. Just like stocking a storm shelter, you can equip this construction with goods you might need during bad weather.