Adirondack Style: What It Is and Why It’s Important

Home of abolitionist John Brown, located high in New York State's Adirondack Mountains

Home of abolitionist John Brown, located high in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains

Adirondack style is a rustic architectural style associated with the Adirondack Mountain area in New York. The original builders in this areas built housing for the wealthy, but they used native building materials because of the problems they would incur in trying to ship in or transport conventional building materials to their remote location. In the 1800s the Adirondacks were mainly rugged wilderness until transportation routes became established in the 19th century. This is when wealthier individuals began to vacation in the Adirondacks to take a break from city life, and to enjoy the clean air and the beautiful scenery. Many of these individuals built grand lake lodges to house their families and guests.

Timber and stone were the most abundant building materials; whole, split or peeled logs and granite fieldstone were the most often used. Use of these native materials resulted in a primitive, rustic style. Large fireplaces built of stone were also common.

This style reminds us of a simpler time and the peacefulness of mountain living, which is why it has remained popular for many years. You can see influences from the Arts & Crafts movement and Swiss chalets in Adirondack style. But it still has its own style, which some equate to a rustic elegance as the use of native materials, while kept in a natural state, are used in an artful way, with intricate details common.

The Adirondack style is also known to be used to harmonize with its surroundings. When the housing was first established in the Adirondack Mountains because there was no way to bring in large building equipment the builders were forced to make the buildings fit the rugged landscape, making the homes appear as though they are part of the landscape, truly giving them a connection with nature and outdoor living.

Basement with Adirondack lodge look

But Adirondack style doesn’t have to be limited to a house hidden in the mountains. It’s a style we’ve embraced, and through not only our custom home designs, but also through our décor packages we’ve been able to incorporate aspects of the Adirondack style in various styles of homes.

In this hotel Presidential Suite a unique design of barn board paneling runs horizontally along the wall. The back and front bar are also built with the same barn board paneling.


Our Adirondack Retreat décor package – our most popular package – includes a slab wall treatment, wainscoting element, and accent logs. This package includes 1-inch wavy slab siding cut from whitewood boards. Slab pieces are uneven, varying in width, and have a rustic knotty, gnarly appearance with wavy edges. We’ve also found that the rustic elements of Adirondack style can work beautifully when paired with more modern pieces in a varied style blend. Some of our own work blending the modern and rustic can be seen in the custom interior trim and finish (wainscoting, furnishings, cabinets, etc.) work we do in hotels.

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How to Hire an Interior Designer

Interior Designer SketchIn our last blog we told you how to hire an architect. So in this blog we’re going to tell you how to hire an interior designer, another possibly important piece of your project puzzle. While, just as with an architect, an interior designer is not always necessary, some projects will benefit from the expertise of a design professional.

Interior designers combine their creativity and technical knowledge to work with clients and other design professionals (such as architects) to design spaces which are functional, safe, attractive and satisfy the needs of the clients using the space. Part of the responsibility of an interior designer is understanding how people behave so they can create spaces which are truly functional on a day to day basis. Interior design is not the same as interior decorating, as there is much more of an emphasis on planning and functional design in interior design. Designers must have an understanding of technical issues such as acoustics or how door or windows are positioned. They can only create the space though without altering structural components, but this is why architects and designers often work together.

In residential design an interior designer works on the project from as early as the initial planning stage. The process can take months to fine-tune to create the client’s vision.

Interior designers are highly skilled, and usually trained through a college or a design school. Most have a four-year degree but some have master’s or doctoral degrees. After college many aspiring interior designers spend time completing an apprenticeship.

The best interior designer for your project will offer their expertise and insight in a way which shows you how your spaces can work for you. They will tell you honestly how they think a space should be changed even if it conflicts with your own ideas. But together you can formulate a plan which serves your vision and the potential functionality of the space.

Ask family and friends first for interior designer referrals. Look to a reputable resource such as the American Society of Interior Designers for a list of interior designers. If you are already working with an architect or another building professional they will often have a list of designers they recommend their clients use.

Once you’ve compiled a list of potential interior designers for your project set up interviews. Interview several designers so you can become familiar with their differences including how they deal with clients, what their style preferences are, and how they conduct business. You’ll be working closely with this individual and you want someone who you think will make the right choices for your project.

Here are some questions to start with when interviewing your potential interior designer:

  • What kinds of design services do you offer?
  • Are you available to take on our project?
  • What is your design style? Make sure you ask to view their portfolio.
  • Can you show me examples other projects you’ve done which are similar to my style and within the same budget as my project?
  • What type of education and training have you completed? Do you have any professional affiliations?
  • How will you communicate the ideas and plans you have for our project?
  • How will you provide updates on the progress of our project?
  • Can you work within our budget?
  • How do you charge, and when is payment due?
  • Can you provide professional references?

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How to Hire an Architect

blueprint-964629_640In a previous blog we wrote about if a architect is a useful hire, and who specifically may want to consider hiring an architect. You can read more about that here in our blog Should You Hire An Architect?

Once you decide your project requires the skills of an architect, your next dilemma may be “how” to hire one.

Architects usually have a degree from an accredited college, but they also must complete a certain number of intern hours under a licensed professional, as well as take a series of exams.

Ask family and friends first for referrals, and if you see a house you like you may even want to ask the homeowner if they used an architect.

Next, look to a reputable resource such as The American Institute of Architects for a list of architects.

Architects are usually generalists, yet some firms specialize in certain project types. Each project offers distinct different sets of challenges, and each architectural firm offers a blend of skills and experience.

The most successful architect and client relationships are born out of compatibility. Patience in taking time to select the right architect for you and your project will guarantee the project runs as smoothly as possible with the outcome as close as possible to your vision. Keep in mind you’ll spend a great amount of time working with your architect, and you want to enjoy the relationship.

Once you’ve compiled a list of potential architects for your project set up interviews.

Here are some questions to start with when interviewing your potential architect:

  • What is your design philosophy?
  • How do you plan to handle my project? What will you expect from me in order to insure my needs and goals are met?
  • What is your fee structure and how will you handle price adjustments if the scope of the project changes?
  • How will you make decisions about the project and how will you involve me in the decision making?
  • How will you explain the project to me as the project proceeds? Will you show me models or use other visual aids to make sure we are all clear that the project is accomplishing the vision we hope to achieve?
  • What is your process for designing and finishing the project?
  • What other projects are you currently working on (i.e. how busy is the architect, and will they have the time to devote to your project?)?
  • What are the services you provide, including what role and tasks you will be responsible for during construction?
  • How long do you expect the project will take?
  • Can you offer a list of past clients, as well as photos and drawings of your past projects?

Bottom line: As with anything it often comes down to a gut feeling, knowing if the architect is the right fit for you and your project.

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Reclaimed Wood: What It Is and What You Should Know About It

Our collections of reclaimed wood boards are organized into groupings in our shop

Our collections of reclaimed wood boards are organized into groupings in our shop

What Is Reclaimed Wood

Reclaimed wood is a sustainable material used in new construction or in remodeling projects. It’s a processed wood retrieved from an original application with the intent for it to be reused. Simply put it’s old wood used for a new purpose. Reclaimed wood is often rescued from old houses, old barns, factories and warehouses. Or it may come from other sources including box cars, shipping crates and wine barrels.

Using reclaimed wood is not a new concept, but we’ve seen a surge in its popularity with the focus on green building.

What You Should Know About Reclaimed Wood

When you use reclaimed wood you give old wood new life, and preserve forests by not using virgin woods. Instead you use older wood that is perfectly usable.

Reclaimed wood has a story and offers a slice of history. The reclaimed pieces you see in a home, hotel, bar or other building may have came from a dismantled distillery or a farmer’s barn. The use of historical wood gives the designer a range of colors and grains to work with in creating a unique look. When you see reclaimed wood used in an application you can pick up on clues of its previous use by the holes, bumps or variations in the grain and colors. Hand-hewn beams may still bear the saw marks from when it was originally cut. Other pieces of reclaimed wood may have a color or patina created from weathering over many years.

How Reclaimed Wood is Acquired and Processed

When salvaging wood part of the process is finding it before it is taken to a landfill. This can mean scouting for demolitions or building renovation sites. Some sorting must occur to find the high quality pieces of wood, and this may mean sorting wood by hand, and removing nails and bolts.


While reclaimed wood is used it’s not the typical used wood you might find leftover from a project. It’s aged, and recycled, and was harvested many years ago. Sometimes the wood is even mostly intact, such as with large beams. Other times it may be re-milled and sawn into planks. But regardless it’s of a higher quality you won’t find today. Most reclaimed wood is from an era before today’s construction and milling methods. The wood was taken from mature trees that grew slowly over hundreds of years. It grew in a natural environment for many years where it became stronger and more durable; aging also brings out colors in the wood. Planks and beams created from old growth wood is larger and wider than the lumber of today. The age and character of reclaimed wood can’t be duplicated as old-growth wood is mostly no longer available.

How We Use Reclaimed Wood

Take a look at our website, and you’ll notice several projects where we use reclaimed wood. Here are a few:

Colorado Cottage Decor Package

Colorado Cottage reclaimed wood wainscot option

Colorado Cottage reclaimed wood wainscot option

Our Colorado Cottage decor package is a floor to ceiling log siding treatment along with wainscoting and accent logs you can use to change the style of the interior of your home. We use reclaimed wood or barn boards for the wainscoting in this package.



Custom Countertops and Bar Tops

Cleaned reclaimed wood countertop in a raw, pre-pour state in our shop

Cleaned reclaimed wood countertop in a raw, pre-pour state in our shop

We make custom countertops and bar tops which are made from reclaimed wood from old barns and factories. We finish them with a durable high gloss resin to make them long-lasting and resistant to stains and wear and tear. Their durability is proven after years of high use in many of the hotels and restaurants we’ve installed them in.



Stoney Creek Inn in Independence, MO

Real barn board paneling is used behind the desk in this hotel room

Real barn board paneling is used behind the desk in this hotel room.

J. Thompson Builders has helped in the building of the Stoney Creek line of hotels since 1997. In 2009 when we opened our custom fabrication shop we were able to take over engineering all of the interior trim and finish work for the hotel line. Their newest hotel is located in Independence, MO. We used reclaimed wood throughout much of the building. You can see examples of that in this piece about our involvement in building the hotel.




Reclaimed Wood Bar Top

The reclaimed wood countertop immediately after installation in the hotel

The reclaimed wood countertop immediately after installation in the hotel

Stoney Creek Inn commissioned us to create a bar top to match an upper bar already installed in their hotel. We made the bar top from 100+ year old reclaimed wood. By using reclaimed wood we matched the style of the other bar top while also using a product which is hardier than newer woods.



Buyer Beware

Some may try to make a quick buck off the reclaimed wood trend by selling lower quality or fake products. Make sure the wood has been properly treated. Do your research to ensure you are buying from a reputable resource.

Bottom Line

When choosing whether or whether not to use reclaimed wood, the choice is as simple as knowing with reclaimed wood you are acquiring strong, old-growth wood, and you are also taking care of the planet while giving your home or business a unique, beautiful style.

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Chinking: What It Is and What You Should Know About It

Chinking-refillable-follow-plate-applicationThe J.T. Unique/Cozy Cabin Outfitters section of our website shows not only are we a builder/remodeler, but we also offer a unique product called themed décor packages.

Basically our themed décor packages offer a blend of rustic log, timber and trim materials which give you the materials to turn any room into a cabin look. The three package styles we offer allow you to customize the look to suit your individual décor tastes.
But within those package descriptions we also mention something our readers may be unfamiliar with called “chinking.”

Chinking before and after

Chinking before and after

What is Chinking?

Simply put chinking is a a water-based, flexible and durable sealant used to seal the joints between the logs of log homes. Historically chinking was a mix of a variety of materials which included clay, sand, mud or lime, and it was applied to keep the wind from coming in between the logs.

Visually speaking chinking is the broad white band you see between logs on a log home. It makes the walls look as though they are striped.

These days chinking is used to create a seal to prevent dust, wind or water from penetrating the logs. It also improves a home’s energy efficiency by reducing heat loss.

Chinking’s elasticity allows it to contract and stretch when the logs move, preventing the chinking from cracking, peeling or pulling away from the logs.

On exterior applications chinking ensures the logs remain protected with little need for maintenance.

But you may be asking why it’s used on interior decor packages, such as ours…

Chinking color options

Chinking color options

Why Use Chinking On Interior Decor Packages?

An authentic log cabin look has a space between each log. Chinking is one of the hallmarks of a handcrafted log home.

On interior applications, such as our themed décor packages, chinking is used for aesthetic purposes to retain the authentic look of a traditional log home. Our interior applications require no sealing from water or weather, but we still offer the service (mind you it’s included free with our décor packages) to retain the authentic appearance.

Note: While chinking is included in the price of our Cozy Cabin themed décor packages, we can also provide chinking services for other applications.

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How to Conduct Your Own Energy Audit

Wind energyFall-ish temps have moved into Iowa the last few weeks, which means winter is not all that far behind. What else does it mean?…..It’s time for an energy audit so you can save energy yet still stay warm throughout the colder months.

While some energy companies may perform an energy audit free of charge we recommend a DIY energy audit as a great place to start.

The main reasons to conduct an energy audit yourself is to save money, but also to give you a hands-on experience in your energy usage so even if you do hire a company for an audit you’ll better understand the auditor’s evaluation and recommendations. As well once you’ve conducted your own audit, you’ll be more prepared to talk to a professional so you can ensure your home has a thorough audit.

Things You Must Include in a DIY Home Energy Audit

  • First start with the ENERGY STAR Home Energy Yardstick and compare your home’s energy efficiency to other similar homes and get recommendations from ENERGY STAR.
  • Walk through the home and make a list of potential energy wasting problems (air leaks around windows or doors, insufficient insulation, etc.). Record your findings in a notebook or on a tablet or smartphone. Use this DIY energy audit guide to help you.
  • Evaluate the condition of the home’s furnace. Change the filter, if needed, and make sure it’s cleaned and serviced by a professional once a year. If the furnace is over 15 years old, it may be time to replace it for a newer more energy-efficient model.
  • One of the most important aspects of a DIY energy audit include checking around windows, doors, baseboards, outlets and other areas for air leaks, and verifying that weatherstripping is undamaged. Also don’t skip an inspection of the attic insulation. The Department of Energy has a guide which will help you understand how to inspect it and how to check its depth and R-value.
  • Replace light bulbs, shower heads and old appliances with energy-saving options.

Should You Hire a Professional?

You can pay a professional Home Energy Auditor to conduct an energy audit as well. A professional auditor uses more precise equipment to perform a thorough audit, including using blower doors to measure the extent of leaks or using infrared cameras to better reveal leaks and missing insulation. A professional audit may cost $300 to $500, but contact your local energy utility to see if they offer discounts. To find a certified Home Energy Rater, visit the ENERGY STAR for Homes Partner Locator.

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Is Multigenerational Living Right For Your Family?

for-reading-813666_1280The idea of several generations living in the same home is not a new idea. In fact, in 1900 about 57% of the older population lived with extended family. Historically, it’s actually more unusual for families NOT to live together. The recession, economic hardships and maybe a respect for simpler times has caused a resurgence of multigenerational living. People living in multigenerational housing has doubled since 1980, with a sharper increase after the 2009 recession, according to the Pew Research Center.

A multigenerational home includes several rooms to accommodate sets of adults from different generations living in the same home. Such homes may include an in-law suite or a private apartment. Or the home may contain a converted basement or an attic, or even a separate (often smaller) home – think of a pool house or a carriage house! Some of these spaces may contain their own kitchens or laundry rooms, a separate entrance, yet in other instances the adults may have shared spaces.

While it’s common for elderly parents to move in with their children, it’s just as common for adult children to move back in with their parents. There are financial incentives for all in a multigenerational living situation, but families also benefit by having familial support (i.e. grandparents to help with childcare responsibilities, caring for aging/ill parents, etc.).

Home builders, including J. Thompson Builders, have been increasing the amount of homes they build with multigenerational features. The added cost of additional square footage and rooms is usually less expensive than what one might spend on an assisted living facility or living in another home.

In 2011 we transformed our basement into a mother-in-law suite. You can see more about that project here, including a video showing our work. Parallel to the concept of multigenerational living is accessible living – or aging in place as it’s also called – because it makes it more practical for everyone to live together if the home is accessible to all. We have several custom home plans which offer accessibility features. We’ve also written other blogs on the topic if you’d like to learn more about accessible living. Check out Making Your Home Safer…For Years to Come and Top 5 Home Improvements Your Home Needs to Make It Accessible.

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Things to Know When Buying a Vacation Home

boat-house-vacation-homeWith summer in full swing, and for those of you who enjoy the heat, you may be dreading the impending colder, snowy weather and wondering how you can lengthen your days in the sun. A vacation home is one such way, yet it’s also not limited to those who want a warmer place to retreat during the winter months. Some choose to buy a vacation home based on its remote location, as a place to get away, or because the home’s location offers recreational activities such as hunting or golfing.

Whatever your reasons for considering purchasing a vacation home, consider these things before you make your purchase as it’s a big decision and owning a vacation property does not come without issues.

Consider your goals: Why do you want to buy a vacation home? Will it be an investment property, a place to retire or solely a place to vacation? You may want to use if for all three reasons! With your goals in mind decide what features in a vacation home are important to you.

Spend lots of time in the area: You want to ensure it’s a place you want to visit often. Every place has their cons, and the location of your vacation home will too. Research the area thoroughly to understand the crime rate, history, and natural dangers and disasters (i.e. tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, etc.).

Consider accessibility: Is the vacation home a short drive from your main residence, or does it require you to take a lengthy plane ride? If it’s the latter, it’s unlikely you’ll use the home very often.

Formulate an accurate budget: Understand all the costs of owning the home including property taxes, insurance (and if additional insurance is needed if it’s location in an area prone to natural disasters), utilities, maintenance and association fees.

Research resale value: Determine how the value of the vacation home may increase or decrease over time. Research areas where property values are increasing, and find out who is moving there and what the plans are for new construction.

Determine if you have someone available to watch the home: The home will still need to be cared for and checked on when you are away. You will most likely need to hire a property manager unless you have friends of family who live in the area. Keep in mind that you’ll also want to have a security system installed on a home that is left vacant often for any length of time.

Be prepared to work while on vacation: Some of the time spent at your vacation home will be spent doing maintenance. It’s not all fun.

Consider renting out the home: Vacation homeowners can benefit greatly by renting out the home when they are not using it. Offering the home for rent provides a source of income that can offset a great deal of your expenses, and you may be able to pay off the home quicker too.

Lastly, if any of these factors encourage you to reconsider a vacation home purchase, know that there are alternatives. Research on sites like VRBO or AirBnB. It may make more sense to rent from others and have the option to visit various locations as opposed to sticking to one location and being stuck with all the costs of owning the home. Plus when you rent a vacation home vs buy, your time is spent purely on vacationing as opposed to spending time on the upkeep of the home.

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Photo Credit, nathanmac87


First Time Home Buyer? Advice You Need to Know

House in the countrySummer season brings out more and more potential home buyers for various reasons including families who wish to settle into a new home before the school year starts, or due to a relocation, or just because summer is a better time to move than in the midst of winter.

Some buyers may be first time home buyers, satisfying the American dream of homeownership. While many rush into buying a home, excited at the prospect, it’s wise to slow down and consider what you should know as a first time home buyer. These apply whether you are building or purchasing an existing home.

For example, you should check your credit. An inaccurate credit report or low credit score may affect your financing, and it takes two months for the credit score to improve after you’ve corrected a mistake or paid down on an account. Order a report at least three months in advance of applying for a home loan. Through the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are entitled to receive a free copy of your credit report once a year.

Here are some other things first time home buyers should keep in mind….

Get preapproved: Contact your lender for a preapproval letter. The lender will require you to apply for a loan, and the letter shows the lender has confirmed what type of loan you qualify for, and that they are agreeing to process the loan.

Truly understand what you can afford: Base this on what you earn now, not what you expect to earn at any point in the future, even if a big job offer or a promotion are in the works.

Understand what you have to pay for: While renting requires a flat monthly cost, a mortgage payment includes homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, and sometimes homeowner’s association fees or private mortgage insurance (PMI). Understand these costs because they can raise your monthly payment by hundreds of dollars.

Have a wish list, but don’t expect perfection: There is no perfect home, whether you are purchasing an existing home or building from scratch. Your budget may determine how much you have to compromise on your wish list, but even if you have “all the money in the world” you still won’t get every single thing you would like to have in a home. Start a wish list with this in mind, and decide what you are willing to give up, and what items are absolutes, yet remain flexible.

Invest in an up and coming area: A home is an investment, and one of the best ways to save money yet benefit in the long run is to build or buy a home in an area less developed that is poised to become a hot spot. Your realtor or builder may be able to offer advice on such areas, or you may have to do some research of your own.

Thing long-term: Are you planning to stay in the house long-term, or care for your aging relatives. If so, you’ll want to consider how the home will suit your needs for all life stages. One of the services J. Thompson Builders provides is accessible living building, including home plans, which allow you to stay in your home for much longer as you age, or as you begin to move in and care for your elderly relatives.

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How to Build a Safe Room (aka Panic Room), and an Update to Our Original 2011 Blog About the Topic

A basement is a good spot to build a safe room

A basement is a good spot to build a safe room

Recent storms in the Central Iowa area brought strong winds, tornado threats and massive rain resulting in massive flooding. It’s time to revisit the issue of safe rooms.

A safe room, sometimes also called a panic room (the terms are interchangeable), is a room installed in a private residence or a business to provide safety and shelter in the event of a break-in, home invasion, severe storm (i.e. tornado or hurricane), terrorist attack, nuclear attack or another threat.

Panic Room, the Movie

The concept of safe rooms were brought to the forefront with the 2002 thriller movie Panic Room. The film stars Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart as the mother and daughter who experience a home invasion. The criminal roles are played by Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, and Dwight Yoakam. The story, written by David Koepp, was purportedly inspired by 2000 news coverage about safe rooms.[2] The safe room in Panic Room is a super secure, high-tech hidden room with concrete walls, thick steel doors, a ventilation system, a surveillance system covering every corner of the house and a phone line not connected to the house’s main line.

History of Safe Rooms

But safe rooms have been around for much, much longer. Safe rooms are thought to have originated in the Middle Ages when castles had a room located deep within the building so the lord could hide if there was a siege. Safe rooms were used in the Underground Railroad system in the United States in the 1800s to house slaves, and again they were used to hide Prohibition-banned liquor in the 1920s. Fallout shelters, another form of the safe room, were built in the 1950s due to fear of a nuclear attack. [1]

Across the world safe rooms are found in Mexican housing due to the high number of kidnappings. Bullet/fire-resistant safe rooms are mandated in new construction in Israel. And every U.S. embassy has a safe room. [1]

Our Original Blog

We first published a blog about safe rooms in 2011, and we’ve referenced this blog almost every year since. Severe weather season in Iowa and throughout the country causes major damage each year and even devastation, taking lives and ruining homes. There are ways to minimize how your family is impacted during a severe storm, including building a safe room.

Here’s our original blog followed by some additional commentary:

Tornadoes, hail and wind storms: all provide a need for protection for your family and your valuable documents/possessions. While your home is built to code and should remain safe and secure under normal conditions, it is not built to withstand extreme weather conditions. A safe room is constructed to protect anything in the room from high winds and flying debris in spite of the damage caused to the rest of your home.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers safe room plans as well as information on properly building one. Provide the preferred design to your contractor or work with your contractor to design a customized plan.

Consider these areas when building a safe room:
Interior rooms
Exterior rooms, either below the ground or attached to your home

Our Additional Thoughts in 2015

Weather is the #1 reason we suggest building a safe room as it can provide protection for your family or employees during a tornado, hurricane or other dangerous weather conditions. But as you can see there are other reasons to have a safe room including for protection from a burglar or kidnapper, in case of a nuclear or terrorist attack and even for protection from an abusive spouse.

The movie Panic Room is a dramatic account of the need for a safe room, and features an array of high-tech, expensive features, but most homeowners will find a safe room much simpler in construction is sufficient for their needs.

A safe room can simply be constructed in a basement or garage where concrete walls are already present. Basic emergency items to keep in a safe room include a flashlight, first-aid kit, water, blankets, packaged food, gas mask and a portable toilet.

Watch the trailer for Panic Room:

To get started building your safe room use these resources:
FEMA’s Safe Room Plans »
More about building safe rooms from The Natural Handyman »

1. Safe Rooms (Panic Rooms) by Nick Gromicko, International Association of Certified Home Inspectors,
2. Panic Room, Wikipedia,

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Photo Credit: flickr/slgckgc