Highlighted for November: Preparing for Hurricane Survival; A Bird's Eye View of the World Thanks to Google and MSN; A Picture is Worth a Thousand Thank You's

November 01, 2005

As builders pick up the pieces from the 2005 hurricane season, it is probable that they will be giving serious consideration to storm-proof options for their clients. One option that offers homeowners protection from natural as well as man-made disasters is a "safe room."

The Portland Cement Association describes a safe room as a small, windowless room that is completely encapsulated in concrete — walls, ceiling and floor. This room is typically located in a central area of the home for additional protection as well as accessibility, but can also be placed on the outside wall of the home. A safe room can be incorporated into the construction of a new home, or retrofitted into an existing home.

For custom homebuyers willing to spare no expense for greater assurance of safety during future storms, a safe room, which can add thousands of dollars to the cost of a new home, is a feasible option.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration has collaborated with several private sector partners to create a demonstration safe room now on permanent display at the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Md. The PCA, Maryland Ready Mix Concrete Association, Eco-Block, Republic Builders Products and other partners worked with FEMA on the design.

FEMA has also published a 25-page, illustrated publication, "Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room Inside Your House," in collaboration with Texas Tech University's Wind Engineering Research Center. The booklet outlines the basics of in-house safe room shelter design, including construction plans, materials and construction cost estimates. Safe rooms built to these specifications are designed to provide protection from the forces of extreme winds as high as 250 miles-per-hour and the impact of flying debris.

The "Taking Shelter from the Storm" booklet, with construction plans (FEMA Publication 320) is available from FEMA by calling (888) 565-3896. The booklet alone can be downloaded from the FEMA Web site at

A Picture is Worth a Thousand "Thank You's"

Customer satisfaction means going the extra mile for a client. Clients like to know that their home-buying experience means more than money in the builder's pocket.

One way custom builders can imprint this association in the client's mind is with a custom home portrait. It's a unique welcome home keepsake that clients can appreciate long after the typical welcome gift basket contents have been used.

A custom home portrait conveys the specialness of the home — and the custom builder's brand. It shows appreciation, encourages repeat business and generates referrals.

There are several photography and artist studios across the country that offer custom home portraits. Real Estate Graphics, based in Hauppauge, N.Y., offers this service and custom signage at the bottom of the portrait to say, "A Custom Portrait of the Smith Home compliments of John Doe, ABC Company," or any other copy you specify.

Bird's Eye View

Considering building in a different area, but not quite sure of the lay of the land? Technology giants Google and Microsoft now offer products that can provide builders with a bird's eye view of a parcel without having to buy a plane ticket.

Google's Google Earth and Microsoft's MSN Virtual Earth both use satellite photography of the Earth, complete with streets, highways, parks, schools, retail establishments, office buildings and other details that put the proposed land use in context with what's around it.

Builders should know that not all of the images are recent; in fact, Google Earth's Web site says some of its images are as much as three years old. The images do, however, offer a realistic viewpoint for builders in the early stages of land research.

Google Earth is a free software download, while MSN Virtual Earth is a freely accessible Web site. Both allow users to search by city, address, or with a simple point and click of a computer mouse to get an overhead view of their desired location. Google Earth offers additional functionality for an extra fee.

For more information on MSN Virtual Earth, visit For Google Earth, go to

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