Mudrooms are the ugly ducklings of the home. Purely functional, the dirt and sloppiness are so integrated and expected in this room that “mud” is a part of its very name.
While the romance of a grand, sweeping foyer is undeniable, equally undeniable is the reality of boots, snow gear and trudging children with backpacks, eventually necessitating an offset area or “secondary” (we all know it’s really the primary) entrance. For so long, mudrooms were hidden behind closed doors, full of dirt, disorganization and shame; but the ugly duckling has grown up, and this swan is ready to dazzle with everything it can do.
During the past hundred years, the scale, purpose and design of rooms across the home have changed. Similar to kitchens and bathrooms, mudrooms started out simply fulfilling an unglamorous need. But now they are one of the most egressed, dual-function rooms in a household, and rapidly increasing in popularity, according to the American Institute of Architects. Though smaller than most other occupied areas of the home, the mudroom is the ultimate multipurpose room, often designed to double as an activity landing zone, specialized storage space and even natural disaster shelter.
Most of my clients, if they are renovating their existing home, are seeking the most popular mudroom combo: the mudroom+laundry room. It is a natural combination, since dirty clothes are dropped off for both, and thus helps contain the mess to just one area.
The second most popular choice is to double-purpose (or, if in combination with a laundry room, even triple-purpose) this area for storage. Bulk food storage in the mudroom can be especially helpful if it is near the kitchen; storage for sports, school, and seasonal activities gear can easily be accommodated and integrated as you work with your designer. I love giving a defined broom closet or enclosed storage area for vacuums and cleaning products — those unsightly buckets and heavy-duty sponges — that is easily accessible and organized behind cabinetry intended for that very purpose. Coordinated with drawer-base bench seating and open, upper-bin storage, your designer can give you function equally balanced with form that will have you showing off (and renaming!) your mudroom to guests.
But mudrooms are starting to serve specialized secondary purposes, too. One particularly specialized, dual-function for the mudroom is slowly gaining traction across the country, and it could be the most compelling and architecturally significant trend yet: designing your mudroom to be a fortified safe room. In a time of increasing extreme weather, working with an architect to fortify against natural disasters — and/or home invasions — could be a lifesaving decision for you and your family.
Whether you are interested in protection from natural disasters or home invasions, assessing your risk is the first step. The advantages of architecturally fortifying your mudroom are especially great if you are in a high tornado, hurricane or crime region. Then consider what your available options are: Researching if you are in a flood hazard zone, if there is a high water table, or if you are in a storm surge area will define what type of emergency shelter you should consider — or if it is safe to have one at all.
Next is the planning phase: Are you building a new home and integrating this into the design with your architect? Or are you retrofitting an existing mudroom to accommodate this new and secure space? It is easier to start from new construction, but both options are possible, as long as your mudroom sits on a slab on grade or has a crawl space.
As your architect will guide you, the building requirements for natural disaster home shelters are specific and proper material selection is imperative. Materials must have tested strength and durability against debris impact and wind pressure: All vertical surfaces (doors and walls — no windows allowed) have to be able to sustain impact from a 15-pound 2 x 4 wood board traveling at 100 mph; horizontal surfaces (the ceiling/roof) have to be able to endure the same at 67 mph. “Storm doors” available off the shelf are very rarely missile impact tested or pressure tested, but the proper doors can be specified by your architect or purchased through a commercial building product supplier.
Needing much greater strength than typical building codes require, your architect will likely specify concrete (or, alternatively, or wood framing with steel sheathing) for the structure of your mudroom emergency shelter walls. The walls will need to be bolted into a reinforced concrete slab, the ceiling will also need to be reinforced concrete, and all connecting corners — you may have guessed — will need extra reinforcement. The structure of your mudroom itself will actually be completely separate from the rest of your house’s structure — even on shared walls and the ceiling — so that any damage to the rest of your home does not affect the integrity of your fortified safe room.
For a full list of requirements, suggestions, guidelines and building specifications, you will need to talk with your architect and can refer to “FEMA P-320, Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business.” This informative, online booklet thoroughly details all aspects of natural disaster shelters for homes.
Mudrooms are multipurpose facilities: Beyond kicking off your shoes and hanging your hat, they can be designed to store everything from bulk overflow to kids’ gear to pet food, and, if designed properly, help protect you and your family during worst-case scenarios.
Stephanie Brick is senior designer at Sustainable Design Group in Gaithersburg, Md.