How Much Does a Tornado Shelter Cost to Build?

Normal range: $2,604 - $11,400

The average tornado shelter costs $6,955, but it can range between $2,604 and $11,400, depending on the size, installation complexity, the type of storm shelter, and your location.

How we get this data
Allie Ogletree
Written by Allie Ogletree
Updated December 9, 2022
basement serving as a storm shelter
Photo: Anatoli / Adobe Stock

A tornado shelter costs $6,955, with most homeowners paying between $2,604 and $11,400 on average. The final storm shelter cost depends on its size, installation complexity, the type of storm shelter, and your geographic location. If you live in the Midwest or southern parts of the U.S., you’ve probably experienced your fair share of tornado warnings and sightings. Or maybe you’re in an area that sees strong hurricanes. If so, a storm shelter can be a valuable addition to your home. Here’s everything you need to know about tornado shelter costs.

See the price range for tornado shelters in

your area
How we get this data
Normal range for U.S.
$2,604 - $11,400
  • Average
  • $6,955
  • Low end
  • $500
  • high end
  • $25,000
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Tornado Shelter Cost Breakdown

Tornado and hurricane shelters compared by capacity and average cost, with hurricane shelters being more expensive

Where you put your storm shelter, how many people it holds, and if you opt to install it underground or above-ground are the main factors that impact the overall price of your project.

Size

According to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), homeowners should plan on having at least 6 square feet per person for a tornado shelter and 10 square feet per person for a hurricane shelter. To fit six people comfortably inside, expect to pay between $3,000 to $8,000, and if you need a large shelter for 15 or more people, expect to pay as much as $30,000.

Tornado Shelter Material

The type of material for your shelter can impact your total price, with steel and Kevlar coming in higher in the price range than fiberglass and concrete.

  • Steel: $4,000 – $30,000

  • Fiberglass: $3,000 – $10,000

  • Concrete: $3,000 – $7,000

  • Kevlar: $5,000 – $30,000

The most affordable and weather-resistant tornado shelter material is concrete, but it’s brittle and can crumble in the face of extreme weather. Though costlier, steel is a lightweight and durable option best for protecting you from flying debris. Fiberglass tornado shelters only can be installed underground, limiting who can install them. For shelters that are antiballistic—resistant to bullets and knives—Kevlar is a pricier yet more secure option.

Above-Ground vs. Underground

The type of tornado shelter makes a huge difference in what you’ll pay. Above-ground shelters are typically located in a basement or garage or can be installed on top of a concrete slab on your property. These types of shelters are better suited for areas with higher water tables or flooding risks.

Underground storm shelters are generally more expensive than above-ground since they require excavation, concrete, and waterproofing to address excess moisture that can accumulate underground. 

Location

Living in an area where the cost of building materials and construction is high may mean adding a storm shelter to your home will be at the higher end of the price range. Also, if you live in an area that experiences lots of storms, contractors may charge more due to higher demand. 

Prefabricated Storm Shelter vs. Custom-Built

You can buy a pre-built storm shelter online or at a home improvement store for around $8,000 for a smaller structure—the price increases with the size requirements. 

If you are considering adding a storm shelter to your new house build, you can save money by adding the space into your basement floor plan rather than adding a storm shelter later.

Delivery and Installation

If you order a prefab storm shelter, you may get away with having the cost of the delivery and installation included in your total price. However, if not, anticipate spending an additional $1,000 to $3,000 extra on your tornado shelter. It’s always a good idea to check with the installer ahead of time to avoid costly surprises.

Site Prep 

Preparing your site can be a huge pitfall to anyone’s tornado shelter budget. This is especially true for underground storm shelters or properties with many obstacles or uneven land. Land excavation costs around $3,200 while yard leveling costs approximately $2,000 on average. 

Labor 

It costs anywhere from $50 to $100 per hour to hire a general contractor to install your tornado shelter. Therefore, the more in-depth and time-consuming your project, the more you’ll spend. Most basic storm shelters will take anywhere from two to three hours to complete. You can avoid these expenses with a prefab storm shelter if you have a knack for labor-intense DIY projects.

Permits

Most municipalities require you to possess a building permit for installing your tornado shelter. Expect starting costs for permits to be around $50 to $100, but if you plan on adding electricity, plumbing, or other structural features to your project, you might need to pay more to obtain the permits.

Cost of Tornado Shelter By Type

4 storm shelter types compared by costs, with safe rooms ranging from $3,000 to $10,000

The type of tornado shelter can drastically change your project’s estimated costs, with indoor shelters in an already-designated space costing far less than shelters that must be built from scratch. 

In-Ground Shelter

In-ground or underground shelters cost between $4,200 and $30,000. The wide range in price comes down to the size of the excavation. You’ll also pay more for waterproofing your shelter. Many homeowners opt for in-ground shelters either in their yards or inside their homes, underneath the garage. Installing a shelter below the garage makes it easier to access the shelter during dangerous storms—all without compromising space inside your home.

Above-Ground Storm Shelter

Above-ground shelters cost anywhere from $2,600 to $15,000 on average. You’ll find that above-ground shelters are far more common in garages and basements, but they also take up usable space within your house. For some homeowners, however, above-ground shelters are the only option—especially if installing a below-ground shelter presents a flood risk.

Garage Shelter

The average cost to install a garage storm shelter falls between $3,000 and $9,000. However, you don’t necessarily need to build an above-ground shelter—especially if you don’t want to sacrifice space in your garage. You can also consider installing an in-ground storm shelter underneath the floor of your garage—depending on your region and water table level. These shelters tend to cost a bit more, coming in at around $10,000 to $15,000

Basement Storm Shelter

Expect to pay anywhere from $6,000 and $15,000 for a basement storm shelter. A basement storm shelter is another type of above-ground shelter that is ideal for homeowners who aren’t utilizing their basements and can afford to have a decrease in space.

Safe Rooms

The average price for a safe room shelter is between $3,000 and $10,000. While safe rooms are designed more as an above-ground shelter for protecting you and your family from home invasions, you can also use it as a storm shelter if you use a storm shelter design and materials. Closet-safe rooms will cost you about $4,500 to $6,000, while a safe room under your stairs will cost a little less, at around $3,000 to $5,000.

Bed Shelter 

For a more budget-friendly tornado shelter, bed shelters come in around $2,100 to $4,500 on average. This option is also a great choice for homeowners who don’t have the space for a typical storm shelter. These shelters come with a major downside, however—they only fit around two people.

Additional Costs to Consider

blue storm cellar doors in backyard
Photo: Michael Moloney / Adobe Stock

On top of all the information above, there are a few more cost factors that may feel like information overload. But you’ll want to keep these in mind if you’re hoping for all the bells and whistles in your storm shelter.

Customizations

Again, prefab storm shelters cost noticeably less than custom builds. If your family has specific needs, such as wheelchair accessibility, a unique storm shelter layout, or a larger-than-average household, you may want to consider working with a company that specializes in storm shelter builds rather than order a standard prefab shelter.

Add Ons

If you want to have a storm shelter that can keep you safe for days at a time, you’ll probably want to add features that provide everything you and your family need to outlast weather extremes. This could include:

  • Portable backup battery: $150 – $2,000

  • Plumbing: $100 – $5,000

  • Upgraded ventilation: $100 – $3,000

  • Beds and mattresses: $300 – $400

  • Emergency exit: $500 – $2,000

Cost to Build a Storm Shelter Yourself vs. Hiring a Pro

A storm shelter, especially the underground kind, takes a fair amount of materials and knowledge to build. An underground storm shelter requires excavation in order to lay the foundation and construct walls. Shelters are made of strong materials—like steel, concrete, and fiberglass—which are more complex to work with than other typical building materials.

Hiring a licensed professional storm shelter builder near you is safer than trying to dig out and build a homemade storm shelter. You don’t want to take any chances with your family’s safety, so hiring a pro can ensure the job is done correctly. General contractors typically charge between 10 to 20% of your overall project cost, so expect to pay at least $250 to $2,000 for labor.

6 Ways to Save on Tornado Shelter Costs 

If you want a tornado shelter but your budget says otherwise, you might be able to get away with having the shelter you need without breaking the bank. Check out these tips on how to save money on your storm shelter:

  1. Check FEMA to see if you qualify for federal funding for building a safe room. You may be able to receive up to 75% funding on your project.

  2. Opt for a bed shelter, which costs thousands less in some cases.

  3. Check with your local or state government for rebate programs.

  4. Choose a prefab storm shelter, which will generally have a lower installation cost.

  5. Build an above-ground shelter in a room you already own, like your garage, closet, or basement.

  6. Choose concrete as your building material.

Frequently Asked Questions

In some cases, FEMA will pay for a portion of the cost to build a storm shelter. FEMA funding may cover up to 75% of storm shelter construction costs, but it’s best to check with your State Hazard Mitigation Officer to see what’s possible for your specific location and situation.

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