The modern survival house does not have to look like a mountain man camp. This home is comfortable yet ready for a wide range of emergencies.
Sofee Fears and builder Keith Dalton check plans as the foundation goes in and the safe room goes up.
The land selected after a long search. End of road, minimum danger from flash flood or wildfire, several acres of woodlands, and a year-round creek on the back of the property.
The author uses his farm tractor to establish the permanent drive to the house site.
The E-5-tornado-rated safe room is actually built right into the home’s foundation.
The house is located where the road ends, yet it is a secure location due to the community layout. Also, the house is safe from flash flooding and wildfires due to its location.
Exterior materials were selected to be non-combustible, low maintenance, and energy efficient.
For extremely hot summers with the potential for long blackouts, many of the ceilings are tall and fan-equipped.
Whole-house heating is possible with the mammoth fireplace.
The home’s heavy steel security main-entry door.
“Our house was wired for and has a 20 KW Generac Guardian 20 KW standby generator that runs off propane gas.”
A large pantry was included in the house for organized food storage and to save on trips to town.
“This is not a home built for survival,” a disappointed friend in the survival writing community exclaimed as we drove into the driveway of my new safe house. “It’s a nice modern home in a beautiful rural area,” he continued, “but no bunker, no solar panels, no cistern barrels, and it’s not hidden away in the woods.” I could sense his disappointment that I didn’t live in a fort, miles from the nearest pavement.
Far too many people new to living the preparedness lifestyle think that the modern safe house designed for survival has to be a remote fortified mountain man’s lair that looks like a junk yard. When my wife, Sofee, and I decided to build our new home in a rural area with the design being weighted towards surviving our local threats—long hot summers, winter ice storms, tornadoes, long power outages, and possible long periods without going to the supermarket; we also wanted comfort and modern conveniences as long as they were available. We desired a secure homestead, room to grow our own food, have a small private shooting range and be able to entertain outdoors. Sofee, the chief designer, created a home that accomplished all this and more.
Our first concern was to locate in a rural community where neighbors have the same logical survival mentality as us, who look after one another and the community, who have skills for self-sufficient living when necessary and experienced with firearms.
We desired our property and home to be at the end of the road but not where we had to plow out after every storm and not where the local near-do-wells went to drink beer and dump their garbage. We also wanted property to be on a year-around stream for recreation as well as for a water source if it ever became necessary. We wanted to be within a 20-minute drive to a large town with a quality health care system yet we wanted to be adjacent to large tracts of forestland for hunting as well as scenic value with little chance of future development.
After an extensive search, we found just such a place in a small rural “subdivision” that has lots ranging from 5 to 20 acres that is located at the end of a county road adjacent to a large mountain. The road is paved with all utilities underground, safe from storms. There is one way in and one way out, with no quick getaway after breaking into a house. There will only be about eight to 10 homes in the community and most are already built with storms and general survival in mind. Most owners chose to live on acreage due to their somewhat self-sufficient lifestyle and desire for privacy and security. Most have shooting experience, and several have military experience with three being retired Army officers. If, due to civil unrest spilling over into the countryside, it became necessary to block off this little community; it would be easy to do. With the training and home defense equipment on hand it would take a lot to breach the area. Since this is a rural area dotted with farms, bartering for meat, vegetables, eggs, skilled farm labor, etc. is easy and farming families make good neighbors.
The acreage we chose is at the end of a dead-end road that runs through the subdivision. It has a bold creek along the back property line with a wooded area sufficient to supply wood to keep us warm, a home site on a hill high enough to be worry-free of flood threats and free of trees keeping the wildfire threat to a minimum. It turned out to be an ideal building site.
Our Safe Room
The area is known as a tornado prone part of the country. As the foundation of the house was being built, a concrete/steel safe room was poured in place. It was built to withstand an E-5 tornado. Sofee designed it so there was room for survival supplies as well as for sheltering several people in the event of a storm or other emergency. As the house was being completed an E-5 rated vault door was added to the room. The safe room has electricity, HVAC, and is wired for TV, radio, and phone.
The area where we live is known for long hot, humid summers and short but cold, icy winters. We wanted a house that could withstand either of those weather extremes with or without modern HVAC. To help keep the house cool during hot weather, the sheathing on the roof was built from LP Tech Shield Radiant Barrier OSB sheathing. Each sheet of the OSB has a laminate face of breathable foil. It repels as much as 90 percent of the sun’s heat keeping the attic much cooler. Houses built with this material can go with less AC and it is said to save up to 17 percent on summer power bills.
The exterior walls of the house were insulated with spray polyurethane foam for greater insulating value and to reduce air leakage. Also, interior walls were insulated so that the house during power outages could be closed off to keep heating and cooling efficiencies to smaller spaces.
Sofee took great care in choosing windows for our modern survival home. To get the most value for keeping the inside of the house comfortable and energy efficient during the entire year she chose Andersen E-series Eagle metal windows with Low E and Argon gas with upgraded spacers. Even during long term power outages these windows do a lot to keep the house interior tolerable where much heat or cooling does not escape.
While the house has the most modern HVAC system we could find, we had a Model 44 Elite Xtrodinair catalytic wood burning fireplace built into the great room. This fireplace will heat the entire house due to its blowers. If necessary, due to its wide hearth, we can use if for hearth cooking.
Two rooms of the house have cathedral ceilings to help keep them cool in the summer. The bedrooms and the great room have highly efficient ceiling fans that are reversible for summer or winter use. Also, there is a large screened back porch that can serve as a sleeping porch in the summer if ever needed due to prolonged power outages.
Power outages are a way of life when you live at the end of the line for public utilities and in an area subject to a variety of storms. Our house was wired for and has a 20 KW Generac Guardian 20 KW standby generator that runs off propane gas. It comes on automatically when there is a power outage and most of the house was designed to be on the system. It will run as long as there is propane in our 500-gallon underground tank, underground to keep it from becoming a bomb if shot during civil unrest.
To be able to cook during power outages, our kitchen cooking range is propane fueled and can be ignited with matches without power. Also the Rinnai tankless hot water heater is on propane as well, giving us endless hot water even during power outages.
Short- and long-term survival depends, in part, on having a good supply of food. In the new house, a large pantry has been built to carry an extensive supply of food stuffs in easy to see shelves so that rotation to keep canned goods fresh by date is easy. Also, in a large general purpose storage closet off the kitchen is a six month’s supply of freeze-dried foods. The house is equipped with two refrigerators and a freezer that are included on the generator circuit.
In the back of the house just off the patio there are raised-bed gardens and hunting/trapping for wild game is within walking distance. Since we enjoy outdoor cooking there are several options for cooking short or long term beyond the gas range. The patio fire ring can quickly cease to be for entertainment purposes and become a cooking center for Dutch ovens, reflector oven or general open fire cooking. Near the shop and woodshed is a new bean hole for outdoor baking. In the shop is an extensive outdoor cooking setup complete with gas and charcoal grills. A complete butcher setup is also on hand as we butcher our own game and sometimes a bartered pig or goat.
Everyone knows that survival is very short without a supply of potable water. Our house is on a rural water system that gets its water from an isolated mountain stream just two hollows up the road. At the intake, the generator backed treatment plant is located so that pumping water to our community is just a short distance, reducing many potential problems. Just up from the entrance of our drive is a fire hydrant with plenty of pressure and the area has several very active volunteer fire departments.
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To have water for watering the lawn and garden, we are drilling a deep well in the back yard and having it plumbed so that, if necessary, we can cut off the public water system and use the well with a pump that is tied into our power system. Also, the new well will be equipped with a Bison deep well hand pump. This will give us good water regardless of power options or none at all. The creek down the hill from the house is also an emergency water supply and we have filtration pumps to use that water if necessary. To keep the water entering the house as pure as possible, a whole house water filtration system was installed in the house with an easy to access filter located in the laundry room.
The safe house was designed with a high degree of security in mind. Only three doors gain entrance to the interior and the best locking systems were chosen. A whole-house, and shop, security system was built-in during construction that includes door/window sensors, glass breaking detectors, movement sensors and a siren that will let the entire community, and beyond, know while law enforcement is on the way. Also, there is a planned lighting system for illuminating the entire house site at night and a security camera system for the exterior and interior of the house and shop.
Being a rural area we know that law enforcement may be a while in getting to our house in a home defense situation. Safe and hidden, quick and easy to reach gun storage was built into the house. The shooting range on the property is used often to keep shooting skills honed as well as to test reloads. However, perhaps the best security we have are great neighbors who observe what is happening in our little community and are not afraid to get involved if necessary.
No, our safe house is not a typical survival retreat complete with a bunker for a home, as has been popularized by TV. It is a comfortable modern home that was designed using the most likely survival situations to set up priorities for construction. Barring a war, or direct hit from a tornado, it will get us through most short or long term emergency crisis and we can do it without too much discomfort. Even with a direct hit from a tornado we should emerge safe to start over again.
Preparedness doesn’t have to be isolation or discomfort for most of today’s likely survival situations, whether short or long term, it just takes a little planning based on local threats when building a home.
Safe House Shopping
LP Tech Shield Radiant Barrier
Model 44 Elite Xtrodinair catalytic fireplace
Generac Guardian 20 KW standby generator
Bison Well hand pumps
Anderson E-series Eagle Windows
This article was originally published in “Survivor’s Edge” Fall 2017. To order a copy, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.
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