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Architecture/Root/Storm Cellar DIY


Would it be possible to build an in-ground cellar using only cinder blocks? This would include the floor and the roof. If so, how would it be done, and would it stand up as a storm shelter? We live in the Texas panhandle, so this is a concern. The hole will be approximately 12 feet on all sides.

CMU Storm Shelter
CMU Storm Shelter  
Yes.  I also live in an area frequented by tornadoes and I can appreciate a good storm shelter.

The attached illustration shows a center column to support the middle of a cast-in-place concrete key or beam.  That center column could be eliminated if you hire any structural engineer licensed in the state of Texas.  The added value provided by the structural engineer is an analysis of your soil conditions, specific depth below grade, general notes and specifications. With the exception of this concrete beam, everything else could be concrete masonry block - provided that you reinforce the cores with rebar and slug all of the cores full of concrete.  Special attention needs to be given to the size and spacing of steel rebar and waterproofing the outside of the shelter.

The parts of the shelter that are cast-in-place concrete have been highlighted in yellow.

Let me know how it turns out for ya.

Richard Burton AIA
Registered Architect
ICC Certified Plan Reviewer


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Richard Burton AIA


A combined total of 25 years experience with construction, architecture, and building code enforcement. Ask me about residential and commercial design. Ask me about design aesthetics, structural methods, and building something that will withstand severe weather conditions. Ask me my opinion about YOUR design ideas and I will tell you the merits of good design and challenge your thinking about practical issues. Ask me how to best find and work with your local architect and approach general contractors to get the most value for the least amount of headaches. You can ask me about improving your energy efficiency and things that are both green and practical. But don't ask me about solar panels and wind turbines unless you are currently paying your utility company 35 cents per Kilowatt. Otherwise the math does not justify the initial cost and return on investment. Ask me any building code question and how to get a building permit from the most difficult enforcement agencies.


Here in the midwest, we design and build "green" in ways that make sense. My construction methods prioritize weather resistance, ease of maintenance and durability. While a graduate student in San Diego, I taught drafting and history of architecture. After working ten years for other architecture firms, I have started my firm Arrow Architecture in 2008. More than half of my work involves commercial office buildings. But my portfolio of work also includes custom homes, residential additions, home remodels, and second story additions.

President-Elect of American Institute of Architects - Lincoln, NE

B.S. Architecture - (Interior Design) University of Nebraska Lincoln 1997 Master of Architecture - (Urban Design and Professional Practice) NewSchool of Architecture - San Diego 2004 Graduated Summa Cum Laude ICC Certified Building Plans Examiner

Awards and Honors
AIA Henry Adams Medal and Certificate

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