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What You Need to Know About Building a Storm Shelter: An Interview with Michelle Barbee of Safe Sheds, Inc.

By Michelle Barbee

Tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

Safe Sheds, Inc. was started in southern Illinois by a couple, Don and Betty Guymon, following a devastating tornado in their area that left many residents with no homes. They were compelled to produce affordable storm shelters that would protect families who live in tornado-prone areas but don't have sufficient protection. Since that time, the company has grown rapidly, selling and installing above-ground concrete safe rooms across America to both residential and commercial customers. There are two sizes of safe rooms available: 8' x 10' and 6' x 6'.

When you want to have a shed built, what are some important questions to ask a potential contractor?

When shopping for a safe room that will be used a storm shelter, there are several important characteristics a consumer must look for in construction. Typically, shoppers must first choose between an in-ground and an above-ground shelter. Both types of shelters can be constructed in such a way as to meet the industry standards set forth by FEMA Publication 320 to provide "near absolute protection", but above-ground structures offer easy entry to the elderly and handicapped, do not require excavation for installation, and can, in the case of Safe Sheds shelters, be moved to a new location should the buyer relocate.

In hurricane areas, a Safe Sheds above-ground safe room protects individuals who choose to shelter in place or can be used for secure storage of valuables for those who choose to evacuate. A properly equipped Safe Sheds shelter can also serve as post-hurricane living quarters for a short time (FEMA recommends families be able to survive up to three days before help arrives). Any shelter should be manufactured by reputable companies who have sought third-party review of their engineering documents. Although membership is not mandatory, many shelter manufacturers, including Safe Sheds, are members of the National Storm Shelter Association and have their shelters independently tested by Texas Tech University. Safe Sheds is also happy to refer potential customers to safe room owners so they can personally view the shelter they are considering.

What are the basic steps in the process of building a shed?

Safe Sheds Inc. manufactures above-ground concrete safe rooms at their facility in Salem, Illinois. Constructed of precast monolithic concrete with a steel door, the units are finished in stucco. The buyer has a choice of over 75 exterior finish colors to ensure that their shelter is an attractive addition to their property. The safe rooms are delivered and installed by Safe Sheds employees and can be placed in tight spaces such as backyards, near pools, and within 2' of existing structures.

What is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to designing/building a new garage or shed?

Before purchasing an above-ground safe room, homeowners should obtain any necessary permits and review subdivision covenants that might interfere with placement. If the customer is interested in installing the safe room inside a garage or out-building, that should be done early in construction before walls and doors are in place but after concrete foundations have had suitable time to cure. Although there is no need for excavation or cranes to install a Safe Shed shelter, buyers should ensure that our delivery semis will have access to the property that won't damage landscaping or fencing.

What do you have to offer your clients in terms of resolving these challenges?

Often a satellite map image of the property will give our delivery drivers helpful information about the site on which the unit will be installed. For commercial purchases of multiple units, we can send a company representative to survey the property in advance of delivery.

Do you have any tips for homeowners who want to make sure the look of their shed complements their house?

Because our units have an exterior finish of stucco and are available in a tremendous number of colors, homeowners should have no trouble ensuring that their shelter compliments their property. Customers have added amenities to the inside of their units to make them more comfortable when they're being used. Attractive landscaping around the safe room allows the unit to further blend in to the property and improves curbside appeal. People are pleasantly surprised when they see how attractive a storm shelter can be!

What's the best way for people to get in contact with you?

There are a variety of ways to contact us: our web site,, has a "Contact Us" form that allows shoppers to request a personalized quote. Pricing for the units are listed on the web site, but people frequently ask for freight quotes, too. You can reach us by phone at 888-556-1531 or by e-mailing us at Visitors to our manufacturing facility in southern Illinois are always welcome, too.

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About The Author

Michelle is the contact person for Safe Sheds, Inc.

Phone: 888-556-1531

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