Intruders, like anyone else, tend to take the path of least resistance to enter your home. In the case of an intruder, it’s always safest to avoid a confrontation. But what is a safe room, exactly?
A safe room is a room in your home where you can keep your family safe during a crisis until help arrives, such as a second bathroom, pantry, or basement.
A safe room is a temporary retreat until help arrives, while a bunker is intended as a long-term alternative shelter when your entire home is unsafe.
An intruder stealing your valuables will likely leave quickly and without violence if they get what they came for. Get out if you can, leave your valuables, rather than risk your life trying to save them.
Barricading yourself in a safe room is the last ditch effort but also leaves little doubt for a self-defense claim if you are forced to shoot.
Obviously plans for a newly constructed home can include a specially constructed safe room. But in most cases, you will need to identify an already existing room in your home as your safe room.
Guest bathrooms, a pantry, walk-in closet, or basement rooms can all double as ideal safe rooms with some simple modifications.
In this article, I’ll teach you how to designate, fortify and stock your safe room!
Table of Contents
Safe Rooms for Comprehensive Home Security
If you are anything like me, and like most other preppers for that matter, chances are probably pretty good that you have taken it upon yourself to beef up your home’s exterior as a priority when it comes to home defense.
On this site and others you will find plenty of articles that will teach you how to increase the security of your home:
- by making it a less appealing target,
- by improving the visibility of any potential intruders on the outside of the home,
- and also by hardening the entryways into the home itself.
More durable doors, better locks on windows, stronger hardware, all of that stuff. You might even have gone so far as to install a security camera system.
These are all entirely valuable and worthwhile enhancements to your home’s security plan, and you’ll get no protest from me, but if you stopped there you are only playing with half a deck.
Many people will tell you all about how to improve your home’s defensibility on the outside, but very few will tell you about how to improve it on the inside.
That seems crazy to me! How are you going to go through all of the effort and expense of improving your home security and then sleep soundly at night assuming that the baddies will never get in?
What will you do when, not if, the intruders make their way inside?
Obviously, any prepper worth the name is going to be prepared to fight off home invaders.
With a gun, a machete, or with a trusty ball bat – anybody I know is going to fight to protect their family and to protect what is theirs.
But let’s tap the brakes for a minute: what are we really trying to accomplish with our defense? Again, if you are anything like me your sole consideration is to protect your family and yourself. Every material good can be replaced.
Why would you risk a confrontation with people that are without doubt violent (and probably much better at employing violence than you are!) if you don’t have to? Is any material good truly worth placing your life and the life of your family at risk?
If you answered “no” most of the time then chances are designating, constructing, and supplying a safe room is a smart choice when it comes to home security, and it is an important component of any internal security plan.
After all, you might not want to fight if you don’t have to, but escape will probably be impossible if you have family members scattered throughout the house.
You aren’t going to leave them behind, but you can all make your stand in a fortified safe room.
Safe Room Pros, and Cons
A safe room can afford you and your family many advantages when on defense against home intruders and even some natural disasters.
An ideal safe room will be easily defensible and stocked with every conceivable supply you will need to survive a short- or intermediate-term stay within its confines.
The entrance door and all of its hardware will be hardened against intrusion, proof against attempts to break in.
Even in the case of a simpler safe room that is not truly impregnable, it will buy you a considerable time to summon help or to ready a meaningful defense that will funnel the attackers into a tight space to make them easier to dispatch.
A good safe room will have the doors, walls, floor, and ceiling reinforced to prevent alternative methods of entry and impede gunfire.
Even without high-tech upgrades like real armor, most common rooms can be meaningfully fortified by a homeowner to provide increased protection over the rest of the dwelling.
But one must be careful when employing a safe room, so that it does not become a trap you cannot get out of.
A safe room must be carefully sited within the home to achieve the best possible blend of protection, accessibility and also escapeability in case of something like a fire or a prolonged siege.
A safe room that has no alternative exit might well become a tomb!
Additionally, any fortified defensive position must have a provision for summoning help in some way.
This could be a phone, radio, or something else depending on where you live. These are serious concerns but with just a little bit of foresight are easy enough to manage.
The following considerations are all crucial for creating a successful safe room:
- Location, Ingress, and Egress
- Communications Systems
- Supplies and Defenses
We will talk about all of them just below!
Location, Ingress and Egress
Consider the following locations for a potential safe room installation:
- Master Bedroom: Convenient, fast and accessible if all family members close by in home.
- Bathroom: Often centrally located. Has needed facilities and running water. Might be easier to fortify.
- Closet: A large walk-in closet can work well as a compact safe room when space is at a premium. Will be crowded and leave less room for supplies. Escape route must be accounted for!
- 2nd Floor: Any safe room on the second floor must have an escape route that connects to the ground floor or exterior for safety! Floor/attic will need to be reinforced against intrusion. Consider fire ladders.
- Basement: Basement safe rooms often work great as tornado and fallout shelters, but fire escape access must be assured. Locate room in corner of basement against earthen wall for best protection.
Correctly locating your safe room inside your home is crucial if you are going to make use of it when seconds count and the lives of yourself and your family may be on the line.
If your safe room is going to be up to the task you must be able to reach the safe room in a matter of seconds, and that goes for everyone inside the home.
You have to be able to do this and have time to spare in order to secure the entryway against the intruders.
This requires careful thought, as locating the safe room in a part of the home that will likely take certain residence through a room or hallway that is already occupied by the intruders is not going to be a winning strategy.
Many homeowners simply treat the master bedroom or a room directly off of the master bedroom as the safe room for convenience.
For homes that have all the bedrooms on one wing or one floor this works great. In this case, it will be easy to teach and drill all members of the family and residents of the home to head for the safe room when something goes bump in the night.
This strategy can also work wonders if you live alone or if it is just you and your significant other.
If you hear a crash in the living room all you need to do is pop out of bed, close and bolt the bedroom door and you are in business.
Any time you can reduce complexity and reduce stress in an emergency you are well advised to do that.
Let us consider a different scenario though. What if your home has the master bedroom on one wing or floor and the rest of the bedrooms for children or other residents elsewhere?
This isn’t ideal, but is still entirely workable in other emergency situations, just not necessarily a home invasion.
Remember that a safe room can be a multi-purpose shelter, including a fallout shelter, tornado shelter or safe place during a riot or some other similar event.
Setting aside the family layout considerations for a moment, you ideally want your safe room to be on the ground floor, or even below ground if at all possible.
An above-ground safe room can also work but has additional considerations and services that will need protecting.
Keeping the room centrally located towards the center of the structure will give it additional efficacy as a tornado shelter, while below ground is even better than that.
A second-floor safe room loses some effectiveness as a tornado shelter and will also need its floor reinforced to protect against gunfire or intrusion in case of a prolonged siege
Also, just as important as the accessibility of the safe room is the escapeability. Don’t allow yourself to be cornered.
Even a small window that you can jump out of in case of a simple safe room might be life-saving in case the structure catches or is set on fire.
If your safe room is off the ground level you might need to invest in an escape ladder. Below-ground safe rooms might be best served by an escape tunnel that deposits you through a hidden hatch somewhere else on your property.
The primary purpose of a safe room is protect your family by keeping danger at bay until help arrives. Over 80% of intruders gain entry from the ground floor and 34% of those come right in your front door.
The key to keeping danger out is to fortify all entry points to your home, and fortify any entry point to your safe room. This includes the doors, any windows, and even walls, floors, and ceilings that could be breached.
Our first recommendation is to replace all exterior wood doors and frames with reinforced steel. Invest in reinforced locks to stop a burglar from merely smashing in the door.
Do this for your safe room door also. Fox Police Locks are dependable, require little maintenance, and won’t make your home look like a prison.
A window in your safe room is only ideal if it’s impenetrable from the outside and doubles as an escape route.
Ground-floor windows need window bars more than upper floor windows unless a fire escape or nearby tree makes outside access easier. A rope ladder in your safe room will help you climb down from upper windows.
Any doorway for other entry to your safe room must be made of the strongest possible door, casing, frame and hardware material that you can afford. It has to be resistant to all attempts to pry it, kick it, ram it, or shoot it.
In addition to the door all walls, floors, ceilings, and any other services that might be vulnerable to direct attack with gunfire or mechanical tools should be reinforced, even if they are only overbuilt by conventional residential standards.
You might be surprised to learn that it does not take much work at all with a heavy hammer or saw to open up a wall in a typical home and waltz right in!
There is no other way around: proper fortification costs a considerable amount of money and time even if you are doing it yourself.
Only the most rudimentary upgrades like strengthened door screws and hardware are low-cost items in the grand scheme of things.
As soon as you start opening up walls and floors and ceilings to bulk up or even armor the structure of the home the costs are going to climb rapidly.
But take heart even if you are prepping like a pauper; many common construction materials can prove to be highly resistant to mechanical entry and even significant impediments to gunfire.
Brick, stone, thick hardwood, concrete, and rebar are all very tough materials that you can employ in and around the perimeter of your safe room to furnish yourself with some cover.
Even a bookcase packed tightly with books is a significant barrier to small-caliber gunfire!
Additional cost-saving fortifications are anti-kick door frames that can install on any door, and radically improve its resistance to ramming and kicking.
Regarding windows, a window in your safe room is only ideal if it’s impenetrable from the outside and doubles as an escape route.
A window is an obvious weak point that must be dealt with intelligently. Glass is not much of an impediment for people or bullets, though windows do make for handy alternate escape routes.
The first thing you should do to any window in your safe room, at the very least a safe room that is not on the second floor, is to reinforce the frame with a heavy-duty bash-resistant locking mechanism and then treat the glass itself with an appropriate mylar ballistic applique.
Ballistic window films have been around for a long time, and are actually most commonly employed in areas that are tornado or hurricane prone. These appliques prevent the glass from breaking and shattering at their most basic, and when combined with a reinforced frame can drastically slow down entry attempts.
Thicker, more advanced varieties actually afford a considerable amount of bullet resistance and if combined with an equally high-end frame can stymie all but the most brutally destructive efforts to break the window.
If you really want to do the job right and can afford it, you should consider installing dedicated bulletproof glass in an armored frame for maximum protection.
Alternatively, you might equip the window in your safe room with window bars that prevent entry entirely from the outside until they are defeated. Combined with mylar or a similar ballistic window film this can keep you safe and sound even if someone is trying to get in from outside the house.
But no matter what kind of entry protection system you have on your window it must be capable of being disabled and jettisoned in an instant in case you need to get out of your safe room via the window. And just a reminder, any window access on a second floor safe room must have a fire ladder or something similar to facilitate escape.
Also consider the use of black-out curtains where possible. It’s more difficult for an intruder to shoot you if they can’t see you.
If cost and structural concerns are no object, invest in steel stud walls or Kevlar disguised with drywall or other wall coverings if the budget allows. Remember to reinforce any other access points to the room such as for plumbing, light fixtures, or ductwork.
For basement safe rooms, choose the room where solid earth surrounds at least two walls, and reinforce others.
Remember to consider the possibility of an intruder shooting down into the ceiling from the first floor and reinforce at least the area of the ceiling directly over your safe room with steel sheeting.
Consider Fortifying a Closet
For many homeowners, one of the best and most straightforward options for installing a safe room is by fortifying a closet.
This technique is exactly what it sounds like: you’ll choose a closet, maybe the master bedroom closet, a conveniently located laundry room or any other small room that is large enough to walk inside and has a door. Then, you just beef it up using the criteria described throughout this article.
This has its own pros and cons, of course, but for most folks, this is an affordable and accessible way to get basic safe room capability quickly and on a limited budget. It’s entirely possible to modify a closet to make it virtually impregnable to common intruders, and also let it serve as an excellent storm shelter.
A Good Door, Frame, and Lockset Can Buy Time
The very first thing you’ll need to do if you’re going to turn your closet into a safe room is to buy a really good door, a solid door frame, high-grade hardware, and an excellent lock set.
As discussed above, the single biggest weak point associated with any safe room is usually the door, and if the door is vulnerable to attack, kicking or ramming the safety of your room will soon be breached.
Even though the above modifications are straightforward and simple, simple enough for almost anyone with some DIY inclination to perform, you should seriously consider upgrading the studs and other framing around the door to better withstand attack.
Strong hinges and other hardware along with long, high-grade screws will keep the door anchored firmly in place. Don’t forget to have the hinges on the inside of the closet so they cannot be attacked!
A safe room of this nature might be just the ticket to keep attackers away from you, by time for police or help to respond or to let you get your act together and ready a firearm or other defenses.
Reinforcing the Closet Can Make a Great Safe Room
The major shortcoming with reinforcing a closet to serve as a safe room using nothing but an upgraded door, door frame and hardware is that it does nothing to provide protection from other directions.
Also as mentioned above, the floor, walls, and ceiling are all vulnerable to direct attack, and if someone is determined to get to you they will unless your walls are brick, cinder block or concrete.
To get maximum performance and certainty from your safe room, you’ll need to upgrade all of them according to the methods we discussed. At the very least, you want to install thicker materials, like another layer of plywood, all around to provide some resistance against gunfire.
But, if you are building a house and what to pre-designate a closet as a safe room, it is a pretty easy thing for your contractor to reinforce and “overbuild” the closet specifically for that purpose.
With the increasing popularity of tornado shelters, bomb shelters, and other emergency protective rooms it is something that any competent home builder should be able to implement for you.
Always Provide an Emergency Exit!
The single biggest shortcoming of the closet as a safe room is the fact that it, in all likelihood, only has one exit, and it’s the same as the entrance. This is obviously a major hazard because you are basically cornering yourself with no way out if the situation turns against you.
If you have intruders right outside the door and no cavalry coming, you’re literally trapped like a rat. If the home is on fire or there’s some other threat your safe room might become your tomb. If at all possible, you must implement an emergency exit from the closet.
For some homes, this might be as simple as a hatch in the floor that drops down to an underhome crawl space. The sky’s the limit concerning intricacy and complexity, but implementing an emergency exit, as expensive as it can be, is necessary.
Building a Safe Room That Isn’t Part of Your House
It is entirely possible to build a safe room that is not a part of your house, though you might argue it is not a safe room at all, at that point.
Whether you call it a bunker or a shelter, these remote safe rooms can still have plenty of value for Preppers if you don’t want a safe room in your home for whatever reason.
In fact, safe rooms of this type might be the ideal solution for dealing with natural disasters, particularly if they are completely below ground.
A purpose-designed or prefabricated tornado shelter or fallout shelter is an ideal solution for dealing with the two eponymous disasters, but might also be a good idea for dealing with severe societal unrest that threatens to embroil your neighborhood.
Thieves, looters, home invaders, and other miscreants will likely concern themselves predominantly with what is going on in and what can be had from inside your home, not necessarily the surrounding property.
If you are away from your home, safely ensconced underground in your subterranean safe room you might likely escape their notice entirely, particularly if the entrance is camouflaged.
In the meantime, your remote safe room might be fully equipped with everything that we have discussed previously throughout this article. Its only disadvantage is accessing it in case of sudden emergency.
If you are suddenly confronted with home invaders, you probably won’t be able to get out of your home and away from them to access a safe room of this type.
Attempting to do so might expose you to more risk of injury.
If you like the idea of this type of safe room, you can consider a dual entrance, one being a connecting tunnel from somewhere in the home and the other being an exterior entrance with either serving as an emergency exit in a time of crisis.
Unless you truly live in the middle of nowhere where you will never be able to count on the cavalry showing up or first responders reaching you you must have some sort of reliable communication system inside your safe room.
Remember what I said about not cornering yourself? You will be stuck like a rat in a trap if the bad guys decide to wait you out and you have no communication system or emergency exit.
Once safe inside, call 911 for help, and give as much detail about your family, safe room location, and the intruders as you can.
Unless you are dealing with a societal collapse or regional disaster that completely knocks out communications infrastructure, your cell phone is probably all you need, so long as you keep it charged and you are double-sure that it has signal from within your safe room.
It is not a bad idea to keep a dedicated phone and charger inside your safe room at all times. You can boost reception by using specialized antennas, routers and signal booster devices.
These might be required if your safe room is centrally located in the home, armored or underground.
A landline is good but can be cut from the basement or outside unless it’s separate or buried.
Conventional telephones are an option but these are typically vulnerable to disruption or destruction from the intruders if they decide they want to play the waiting game.
Many home invaders will target a home’s landline connection as a matter of course before making entry.
If you’re going to go with a conventional landline, make sure you have a hidden and well-shielded line for your safe room telephone. Of course, that does not help you if the entire house loses power.
So long as they are powered and have a functional antenna these are not nearly as easy to disrupt as conventional landline telephones.
Disclosure: This post has links to 3rd party websites, so I may get a commission if you buy through those links. Survival Sullivan is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. See my full disclosure for more.
They are also nowhere near as easy to use, so make sure you and all of your family members who might be in charge learn how to operate the set in case they are the ones that need to call for help.
Consider a walkie-talkie that can be left with a trusted neighbor as the ultimate backup plan to get help and provide situation updates to help police.
For the truly serious or well-to-do prepper, advanced communication systems like satellite phones which are totally self-contained communications devices are the absolute ultimate in mobile, go-anywhere, and disaster-proof comms.
They might need a clear view of the open sky, but this can be mediated similarly to cell phones above.
One old-fashioned but still important system you should consider installing in your safe room is an intercom at the door and at the entry to your home.
A dedicated monitoring station for any security cameras you might have is also a good idea, as the bad guys from luring you out under false pretenses.
Security cameras also give you better situational awareness of the scenario unfolding outside your safe room and home… at least until the bad guys bust the cameras.
Keep in mind police will hesitate to enter your home during an active stand-off unless you make it clear they can do so without putting your family at additional risk.
Additional Safe Room Capability
If you are a person that has turned your home into a so-called smart home, with remote capability on everything from lights to cameras, door locks and appliances, and everything in between, you should absolutely provide redundant access points to the controls of all of those things from within your safe room.
This might take the form of a dedicated console, additional tablet, backup phone or something else.
Hopefully, you don’t need me to tell you that you absolutely must not have the door to your safe room or any of its locking systems controlled by such smart devices.
Although your average criminal generally will not be able to breach even possible security implementation for these systems, it should not be discounted that the criminals of our era are increasingly savvy when it comes to technology, many having grown up with it.
Furthermore, the bigger risk is that some device or controller which stays signed in or has one-touch activation will be left behind somewhere in your home and could potentially be accessed by crooks who have the run of the place.
If this allows them to bust into your safe room on command, it is as good as a worthless, and then you’ll have to fight them.
Another good option for supplementary safe room capability is control over a fire suppression system if you have one installed.
Although modern fire sprinkler or other fire suppression systems are seen as overkill in residential homes, the sky is the limit when it comes to utilize such systems for your own benefit.
Particularly in the case of safe room as a contingency holdout against home invaders who want you dead, they may set your home or the safe room access door on fire to finish you off or smoke you out.
The ability to activate a fire suppression system on command from within your safe room could absolutely stymie such plans and potentially save your life and the lives of your family.
Supplies and Defenses
|flashlight x2||lantern for ambient lighting|
|portable toilet or 5 gallon bucket with lid||toilet paper|
|walkie-talkie||spare phone with charger|
|blankets to keep warm||alternative weapons|
|books and entertainment||first aid kit|
|3 day’s worth supply of bottled water||3 day’s worth supply of food|
|emergency NOAA radio||emergency ladder (if you can evacuate)|
|potassium iodide tablets||gas mask|
|hygiene kit||duct tape|
|duct tape||extra batteries and battery charger|
|extra clothes for warmth||fan to help ventilate air and keep cool|
|safety goggles||N95 respirator masks|
|work gloves||medical kit (Equipped for trauma response)|
|fire extinguisher||Important docs, credit cards, and cash|
You can save the above checklist to print out here.
Once you and your family are barricaded in your safe room, you won’t come out until help arrives or the threat is gone.
This could be several minutes to several hours, or even days in a SHTF scenario. Stock your safe room well so that you and your family have what you need to ride out a dangerous situation.
Chances are you’ll be heading into your safe room during a violent attack, and that means you might have to deal with the aftermath of violence.
You must include a comprehensive medical kit within the confines of your safe room, and inside that kit you should have the supplies and tools you need for treating trauma.
Less critical but no less important supplies include things like Band-Aids, antiseptic, burn cream, and so forth.
Also, take time to consider items that you might not be able to go without in case you are inside the safe room for an extended stay. This could be things like prescription medication or eyewear, feminine hygiene products, even spare clothing.
Maybe everyone ran in there without any shoes on as is probably the case! Having clothes to change into more suitable to the task at hand will not be a bad idea.
And despite all your best efforts and intentions, there is still a decent chance that you will need to fight in order to protect your life and the lives of your family members. This means that you will need weapons in order to “repel boarders”.
The best and obvious choice for most people is a firearm, be it a pistol, rifle or shotgun.
Even if you already have guns for home defense, it is worth keeping additional ammunition at the minimum inside your safe room and potentially even extra guns, so no matter what happens anyone who makes it inside the safe room is armed.
But if you do not or cannot own firearms other weapons still make sense, even if it is just a knife or a club.
One thing you should definitely include despite the presence of firearms is an extra-large can of pepper spray or bear spray.
This less-lethal tool affords you much-needed range compared to a knife or other contact weapon and also potentially lets you season the room outside with pepper spray before attackers Advance into it.
Beyond weaponry and provisions, make sure you include a supply of flashlights and lanterns that are battery-powered, plenty of spare batteries, and fire extinguishers.
If your safe room is not particularly large or well-appointed with an attached bathroom or toilet, a heavy-duty 5-gallon bucket with a sealing lid, can liners, and a bag of kitty litter will serve well as a reasonably functional toilet for the duration of your stay.
Include personal hygiene items as well as some type of mattress and blankets and a couple of chairs if space permits. In case of a radiation event, stock potassium iodide tablets.
Protect against tear gas or other chemical methods to flush you out with a hospital-type ventilation system. Gas masks are a good alternative for the average prepper.
After an intruder invasion, be prepared to recover financially. Keep copies of any important documents, a list and photos of valuable items, and some cash tucked away in your safe room.
Have at least one credit card with open credit as well as a list of any credit card numbers the intruder may have so you can cancel those quickly.
Make sure these items are all completely secure as your safe room is vulnerable to theft while you are away!
What about firing ports?
I sometimes see the notion of firing ports in a safe room brought up as a secondary means of defending the safe room directly and repelling home invaders from the surrounding structure.
The idea is that the firing port can be opened only from within the safe room to allow occupants to shoot out at those who are trying to get in or just in the immediate vicinity.
Though I will not say the idea is completely without merit, I will say upfront that the juice is probably not worth the squeeze when it comes to these defensive installations.
First, without specialized adaptations that will somehow surround the firearm while covering the port itself (akin to the type seen on some armored fighting vehicles) any port that you open in the walls of your safe room will function as a two-way aperture.
This means that you can shoot, or throw, something out but people outside could shoot or throw something in. Is this something that you want to risk?
Furthermore, it is not out of the question that the cover could be jammed in the open position, introducing a potentially deadly weakness in the surrounding shell of the safe room that is supposed to keep you safe and sound.
Furthermore, the additional engineering required for adding this defensive measure properly will entail time and extra expense.
The actual cover of the firing port must be equally as solid as or even more solid than the surrounding material of the walls and ceilings and it also must be capable of latching closed with no risk of tampering from the outside.
In keeping with our other protective concerns, it is also worth pointing out that these firing port covers must be appropriately sealed against smoke or gas if you intend for the safe room to offer any protection at all against these hazards.
In such cases, each and every firing port and cover will be another significant vulnerability for loss of seal integrity.
Safe Rooms Are Worth It
The best way to avoid an attack is to not be there so get out safely whenever possible and use your safe room when there is no other option.
With a little advanced preparation, any average person can have a predetermined safe room to protect their family during a home invasion or other unexpected threat.
Which room of your house will make the best safe room? What’s one thing you can do right now to make sure it’s ready for use?
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.