Daylighting for Storm Shelters


tubular daylighting device

We are painfully aware of the devastating impact that tornadoes can have on buildings and occupants.   Consequently, regulations have been established to construct more secure storm shelters, featuring improved construction techniques and sturdier components. The development of ICC 500 and FEMA P-361 marks a positive step forward in this effort. Furthermore, it has spurred component manufacturers to innovate and offer enhanced solutions for these vital facilities.

In the world of commercial design, storm shelters play a crucial role in ensuring occupant safety during severe weather events; but our hope is that they are rarely called upon to serve as emergency sanctuaries.  Rather, they are much more often used as multi-purpose spaces within buildings. Therefore, the objective is to maximize their functionality and appeal as a multi-purpose space while also providing a secure refuge in times of severe weather. Introducing natural daylight into such a space can serve both functions.  

Tubular daylighting devices (TDDs) are renowned for their capacity to channel natural light into spaces that traditional methods cannot reach. Specific TDDs are also celebrated for their remarkable visual and thermal performance, as well as their durability, enabling them to meet the stringent standards of various testing and certifications. From adhering to Federal Blast test requirements to Factory Mutual assessments and hurricane coastal regulations in regions like Florida and Texas, certain TDDs have demonstrated their ability to withstand the most rigorous tests.

One such TDD is Solatube’s 750 DS-O – the first and only rooftop daylighting product in the world that is both ICC 500 and FEMA P-361 compliant.

The 750 DS-O fared so well in the testing that it doesn’t require any additional costly and bulky penetration protection. This is an enormous benefit for schools and entities as daylighting a shelter no longer has to level the budget, and following the testing and code means that occupants can be assured that Solatube’s tubular daylighting devices can stand up to the forces of nature.

What is ICC 500?

ICC 500, known as the “ICC/NSSA Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters,” is a comprehensive set of construction standards and guidelines jointly developed by the International Code Council (ICC) and the National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA). This standard establishes the criteria for the creation of storm shelters and safe rooms, with a focus on safeguarding people from extreme weather events, particularly tornadoes and hurricanes.

ICC 500 delineates specific requirements for construction materials, structural design, occupant capacity, accessibility, and other aspects of these shelters, ensuring their resilience in the face of severe storms. Adherence to ICC 500 standards is pivotal for upholding the safety and structural integrity of storm shelters, which serve as critical protective spaces during hazardous weather conditions. Typically, ICC 500 is adopted at the state or local level as a component of building codes, making compliance with these standards a legal imperative for new construction or retrofitting of storm shelters. This legal adoption reinforces the importance of designing and building shelters that can potentially save lives and minimize property damage in regions susceptible to natural disasters.

What is FEMA P-361?

FEMA P-361, officially titled “Safe Rooms for Tornadoes and Hurricanes: Guidance for Community and Residential Safe Rooms,” is a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) publication that offers comprehensive guidance for designing, constructing, and operating safe rooms in community and residential settings. These safe rooms are built to strict standards to provide life-saving protection during tornadoes and hurricanes, making them a critical part of disaster preparedness and mitigation efforts. The publication details specifications for structural integrity, wind resistance, and occupant capacity, making it a valuable resource for architects, engineers, builders, and homeowners seeking to create secure and resilient spaces to withstand extreme weather events and reduce the risks associated with these natural disasters.

Solatube’s 750 DS-O delivers safe and cost-effective daylight to storm shelters and secure rooms.

When natural disasters strike, access to adequate illumination is paramount for maintaining order, ensuring safety, and providing a sense of security for occupants. Inadequate lighting can lead to confusion and heightened anxiety during critical moments.

With Solatube’s 750 DS-O, storm shelters and safe rooms now have a viable, effective, and efficient means of introducing natural light securely and affordably.

When it comes to illuminating storm shelters and other multi-purpose spaces within your building, you might wonder why Solatube’s 750 DS-O model, a tubular daylighting device (TDD), is the superior choice over conventional windows or skylights. Let’s explore some of the key benefits:

Arden Hills Readiness Center - Daylight Specialists

Rosewood Elementary School in Broken Arrow, OK. The gym doubles as a FEMA safe room where the entire school population will be safely sheltered in case of a tornado or a disaster. Six Solatube 750 DS-O units were successfully installed and students benefit from natural lighting in the gym year round.

Benefits of Solatube’s 750 DS-O for Storm Shelters

  • Durability & Impact Resistance: When it comes to storm shelters, ensuring durability and impact resistance is paramount. Storm shelters are inherently safer when located in the interior of a building rather than the exterior, adding an extra layer of protection during severe weather events. While the conventional approach to daylighting in storm shelters may be thick glass with shutters, this is typically an expensive alternative and is limited to perimeter daylighting on external walls, which can be vulnerable points of entry for wind, rain, and debris. Moreover, shutters primarily serve the purpose of controlling the external light source rather than actively bringing natural light into the shelter’s interior. This limitation can result in a dim and less comforting atmosphere. In contrast, Solatube’s 750 DS-O model is purposefully designed for interior lighting, ensuring that natural light is efficiently delivered to the heart of the storm shelter without compromising its structural integrity. This model is also engineered to withstand the harshest conditions, including the flying debris and high wind speeds associated with severe weather such as EF 5 tornadoes and category 5 hurricanes. This emphasis on interior-focused design enhances safety, making the 750 DS-O a superior choice over windows, particularly in storm shelter applications where safeguarding occupants is paramount.
  • Sealed Design for Enhanced Safety: Solatube’s 750 DS-O model boasts a sealed design, eliminating gaps or openings that might allow debris and rain to infiltrate. Throughout the test of Hurricane Harvey at Calk-Wilson Elementary in Texas, over 220 Solatube units installed in the building remained intact and leak-free, showcasing the reliability and robustness of the sealed design.
  • Illumination Even in Adverse Conditions: Solatube’s 750 DS-O model excels in capturing and redirecting natural light even on overcast or cloudy days. This ensures consistent illumination, offering optimal visibility during severe weather events. Beyond the practicalities of lighting, the user experience within a storm shelter is crucial for psychological well-being during an emergency. The 750 DS-O’s ability to provide reliable lighting even in severe weather conditions enhances safety and situational awareness within the storm shelter, helping occupants feel safer and more at ease. 
  • Space Efficiency for Optimal Shelter Design: Storm shelters often contend with limited space, making the integration of traditional windows or skylights challenging. The 750 DS-O addresses this concern with its compact design and flexible installation options. By maximizing available space while providing the shelter with abundant natural light, these devices contribute to both functionality and comfort.
  • Low Maintenance for Long-Term Savings: Traditional windows and skylights can be burdensome in terms of maintenance, requiring time and financial investments. In contrast, Solatube’s 750 DS-O model demands minimal upkeep, reducing the workload for facility managers and ensuring long-term cost savings for the shelter.
  • Energy Efficiency and Sustainability: Beyond their role in providing natural light, Solatube’s TDDs contribute to energy efficiency by reducing the reliance on artificial lighting. This eco-friendly approach not only lowers utility costs but also aligns with sustainability goals, making storm shelters more environmentally responsible. Solatube’s commitment to both safety and sustainability makes its 750 DS-O model a compelling choice for storm shelter design and construction.

Transform Your Storm Shelter with Solatube’s 750 DS-O

At Daylight Specialists, we understand the importance of safety, versatility, and efficiency in commercial building design. Solatube’s 750 DS-O model offers the best of both worlds: compliance with storm shelter standards and enhanced everyday functionality.

Daylight Specialists proudly offers top-notch daylighting solutions for storm shelters. Our proficiency in Solatube systems ensures that your storm shelter is equipped with the highest quality lighting, even in the most challenging circumstances. With our tailored approach, we prioritize both safety and functionality, guaranteeing that your shelter not only meets regulatory standards but also provides a well-lit, comfortable environment for occupants during emergencies. Partnering with Daylight Specialists means investing in the safety and well-being of your community, as we strive to illuminate a path to a safer future.

Contact us to learn more about daylighting for storm shelters or for detailed cut sheets and technical specifications. 

If you would like more information about Solatube’s daylight products suitable for storm shelters, Daylight Specialists can provide an AIA-accredited presentation. Get in touch today and one of our experienced professionals can answer all your questions.