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More homes being built with storm shelters as cost falls

Ross Stewart, of Larry Stewart custom homes, says about 40 percent of his customers now ask for safe rooms.
Home being built

Tornadoes in Texas and Oklahoma have spawned a new trend in homebuilding. A growing number of builders are now including storm shelters in new construction.

We checked out one being built into a home in Southlake. It's a 13,000 square foot house few could afford, but the safe room included in the project is no longer a luxury add-on. Russell Mims of Family Safe Texas says safe rooms can now cost as little as $5,000. And he says he has installed them on homes costing as little as $60,000.

"I've been doing this since 2002," he said. "In 2002 I might have sold a dozen. Now we do 200-300 a year. "

The buyers of the Southlake home are moving from south Arlington, where tornadoes ripped through in 2012. Kristen Young rode out the storms in a safe room.

"Threw everybody in and watched the news," she said. "Watched the tornado go right down Sublett. Just a mile-and-a-half away or so."

So there was no question about putting one in their new home.

Ross Stewart, of Larry Stewart custom homes, says about 40 percent of his customers now ask for safe rooms. His firm builds only a few homes each year. But other large scale builders are joining in.

"I see it taking off," Stewart said. "It's a huge market. I see a lot of different people entering the market. There's more and more competition among the safe room guys."

"When you show someone a picture of what an F-5 looks like, and what it looks like with our shelter still on the slab, it's really convincing what we can do for you," said Russell Mims.

Mims said it's now possible to convert virtually any space into a safe room by lining it with custom cut steel panels. When the 400-pound door clangs shut, it sounds like a maximum security cell.

The American Tornado Shelter Association says it has no statistics to quantify the growing popularity of safe rooms.

But Mims said it's definitely happening in homes costing $175,000 - $350,000. He says about 60 percent of his business is for retrofitting existing houses.

But he says a growing percentage is for new homes.