A friend of mine spoke with me a few weeks ago about the possibility of creating a “safe room” in his house – not the concrete-encased, automatic-blast-door, food-for-months kind of thing that rich people have, but rather a kind of designated shelter from home-invaders. The idea is another difficult-to-access space inside a house that we are already trying to make difficult to access, further discouraging the intruder. My answer to him is that it is nominally possible, but it will take some work.
The first question is, “What room?” Unfortunately, that is not something I can really decide for you. Some of it depends on the layout of your house, some on where you spend your time, some on whether you are single or married or have kids, and so forth. In our case, it would actually make the most sense to harden our child’s bedroom… but do you really want a child having a temper-tantrum inside a room that you intentionally made difficult to enter? In a lot of cases, the master bedroom may make the most sense, or perhaps even the master bathroom or closet, but this is far from a given. Generally, to keep costs down and simplify the situation, the room should only have one entryway that already has a door mounted in it and a minimum of walls that adjoin to other rooms. Likewise, some way of egressing from the room – such as a window – in the case of a fire is borderline-required.
The second issue is that all interior doors are, frankly, crap. I am not going to say that these gentlemen are the brightest cookies in the shed, but they do adequately demonstrate my point:
They punched through a luan door – a product largely of the ’60s and ’70s – with barely any effort. Unfortunately, modern hollow-core doors are not any better given that they are, for all intents and purposes, solidified foam.
So once you have chosen a room, the first order of business is replacing that door. A solid wood door is what I would consider to be the bare minimum, with a metal-skinned wooden door being a solid upgrade. A commercial steel door is also an option, but it is hard to get those to look “right” in a house, and an interior frame may require reinforcing to support the additional weight.
In a similar vein, all interior doorknobs are, again, crap. Sure, some of them meet ANSI/BHMA Grade 3 standards, but they can also be unlocked with a small screwdriver. The simple answer is to put in an exterior door knob, complete with an actual-key lock, but it would also be wise to supplement that with a deadbolt. Depending on your situation, it could be a “blind” unit – i.e. one that can only be latched from the inside – but, again, that depends on which room you are hardening. And, as with all doors that you really do not want people going through, upgrading the screws is a good idea.
Fourth, if you thought exterior walls were bad, interior walls are worse. They are literally only two layers of drywall separated by very intermittent studs, and drywall is not the most durable of stuff. I am not suggesting tearing down the drywall of your safe room and replacing it with something more durable, because the odds are good that it will never look “right”… but if you are a master of spackle, it may be an option. However, there are other ways of reinforcing the walls in that room that are adjacent to other indoor spaces. Consider placing dressers, bookshelves, filing cabinets, or other large, heavy pieces of furniture against those walls, and then anchoring them to the studs themselves. It may not be equivalent to six inches of rebar-reinforced concrete, but every little bit helps.
I may be reiterating the point from my fire-preparation post, but that is because it is a point worth repeating: all cell phones can call 911 regardless of whether they have active service or not. I frequently lose track of where I last left my phone, but if you leave an old flip phone you do not use any more in the safe room (on a timer, so its charger does not constantly run up your electric bill) you will always have a means of contacting the authorities.
If you have them – and I promise we will get there at some point – ensure you can view your cameras from inside the room. Depending on how they are configured, they will let you keep track of the intruders in your house, which will definitely be of assistance to the emergency responders you hopefully called. In fact, installing a peephole in your room’s door makes a lot of sense as well.
I have been recalcitrant about mentioning weapons at this blog so far because it is a very touchy, personal topic, but, honestly, if you have them and are of the mindset to use them, keeping weapons in your safe room is a good idea. Consider that you are treating this room as your / your family’s last line of defense against intruders. Should that barrier fail, you will probably want some way of directly dealing with the individual(s) who not only broke into a house that we are working on making difficult to break into, but then an additional room that you intentionally made difficult to break into. A person that interested in getting to you is not there for your television or your computer, and fighting them bare-handed is not something I would want to do. Obviously proper storage of those weapons is recommended, but outside the scope of this post.
Additionally, if you are going to use firearms to defend your safe room, it would be wise to consider backstops behind the entryway into that room, from the perspective of inside the room. This may significantly affect the room you choose.
One final point – if you have retreated to your safe room in the face of a home invader, please do not leave that room until the authorities have arrived and secured the area. “Room clearing” – i.e. ensuring that the invader(s) are no longer anywhere in your house – is a highly-specialized set of skills that requires extensive, if not continuous, training to be good at. Obviously if you are a door-kicker and have those skills, you can ignore this warning, but for most people it is well outside their realm of experience. Let the professionals do their thing, and keep your family safe – your stuff can be replaced.
Like I mentioned way back at the beginning, security is like an onion – made up layers, each supporting the other. A hardened room for your family to take shelter in is a worthy addition to that onion, but it will need to be planned and executed carefully.