Hardening Your Stick-Built Home, by Jeff G.

Imagine the world is full of looters, in the end of times as we know it, it will be. When grid power goes down everyone else food from the urban and suburban areas find food. You are prepared aren’t you? You have done everything right. You have food stored for you and your family, you have guns, ammo, seeds, batteries, etc.

The closer you are to an urban area the sooner it will happen. Even if you are in a remote area west of the Missouri River they will probably find you. No matter how many safeguards you have in place there is one most people have not thought about, your window area. I have heard people talk about sandbags to make a fighting position inside your house by windows. I will explain to you how to make basically the same fighting position without bulky sandbags in your house. If the sandbags are outside then everyone will know you are fortified.

A little about my background before we get into basics. I am a former special operations NCO with the US Army back in the early to mid-1980s. After leaving the Army I went to school for architecture. I put my way thru school as a Carpenter. For 25 years I was a home builder building small homes to million-dollar homes. My favorites were always those that wanted a secure room or safe built-in. I only built what I designed working with the homeowner for their particular needs. I was not the kind of builder who sub-contracted everything out. I was hands-on on the job with my tools. I can do almost every aspect of building a home except heating and air conditioning.

If you hear a noise outside one of the first things people do is look out the window. Even if you think you are being smart standing beside the window and peeking, a quick shot through the wall beside the window will put you out of action or worse, dead.

Learning urban warfare in the military we were taught when engaged from a building to shoot at both sides of the window and also below it. Those are the places people will be thinking they are safe because they are behind a wall. Now if that wall is solid concrete then it is fairly safe. But in the United States and Canada, ot many homes are solid concrete. Honestly, it is an expensive way to build. But typically the walls in American homes are just wood frame construction. (Commonly called “stick-built” houses.)

Wood Frame = Poor Ballistic Protection

Wood frame construction means there is a hollow space between the outside facing or siding on your home and the inside Sheetrock or wood paneling. That hollow space is usually filled with insulation to help keep your home warm in winter and cool in summer. Now if your home is built in warmer climates or those that don’t get harsh winters your home will be framed with 2×4’s which means that insulated space is 3-1/2 inches thick. But in more northern states your house should be framed in 2X6 which gives you 5-1/2 inches of insulated space.

Imagine if the space just under that window was solid concrete. 3-1/2 inches of solid concrete will stop most projectiles fired from most handguns and rifles. This is better than sandbags and probably less expensive if you can do this yourself. I will say this is not hard to do but I do have the experience doing this to my own home.

The hardest part is going to be getting the insulation out of the wall cavities. There are a couple of ways to do this. The easiest is to cut the Sheetrock at each side of the window. There will be a stud and a jamb leg on each side to give you a total of 3 inches. There will also be more than likely a cripple in the cavity below the window. This is a stud cut to fit from floor to window sill for strength and support. This will be the same whether your house is framed in 2X4 or 2X6 construction.

If you chose this method of removing the Sheetrock to remove the insulation then I recommend lining the whole area in plastic. If there is an electrical wire running thru the cavity make sure the plastic on the wire is intact and in good shape. If the holes drilled on each stud is larger than the wire by a substantial amount then plug the hole with old newspaper or such so the concrete can not flow out. If there is an electrical bow under the window (a plug or receptacle) then make sure it is sealed also to stop the concrete from entering and damaging the plug. Mark the spot where your cripple is and then you will know where you will need to drill holes for filling with concrete.

If there are no plugs beneath the window you can cut holes in Sheetrock near the top big enough to get you hands in and pull the insulation out that way. Not as good but it still works. For pouring the concrete I recommend either Sakrete or Quickrete brands or another good quality concrete. Do not use mortar mix or any similar mixes, as the stones in concrete mix are for strength and also for your ballistic protection. I recommend drilling holes for each of the cavities down thru the window sill if you have a Wooden sill. I use a 2 1/8 hole saw. This is the same size used for cutting holes in doors for locksets. These are usually able to cut thru a nail if you happen to hit one.

Once you get your holes drilled and the Sheetrock is repaired then you can mix your concrete and pour it thru the holes until full. This can be a little messy but well worth the extra effort to clean up. Pay attention to the floor as some of the water will probably leak out on the bottom and be a grey concrete color. Make sure to also clean this area and the top of the sill well. I recommend leaving the holes open for a couple of days or longer in wet climates so the concrete sets or cures properly. The concrete mix is usually around $3 to $5 for a 60 or 80 lb bag. It will take between 3 and 5 bags per window. So your cost will be under $20 per window for ballistic protection. An of course you will also be investing a few hours of your labor for each window.

Once the concrete is set and you are done with that area then you can close it up. During new construction this is easier but still simple with the existing home. Simply cut a piece of 1/4 inch luan or finish plywood the size of the window sill. Attach to the old sill which has the holes in it and paint or stain to match. If your cut is not perfect on a paint-grade sill then some caulk will work to fill the gaps. On stain-grade sill, some stainable wood putty will work.

After this job is complete this will give you a fighting position at each window will good ballistic protection under the window.

The Sides of the Windows

If you desire the same ballistic protection on the sides of the windows the process is almost the same. Since most ceiling heights are 8 feet or more I recommend that you only go no higher than 6 feet which is about the average height of most men. Five feet is actually high enough as you will automatically crouch down some so this should suffice. Again, getting the insulation out is the hardest part. You can cut multiple holes in the sheetrock to accomplish this. I do not recommend taking the whole sheetrock out unless you are an experienced sheetrock finisher as it is difficult to make the joints look good. Your highest hole should be at the height you plan to pour your concrete to. Since this hole will be at a 90° angle it is harder to pour. I recommend making a trough that will fit in hole that you can pour into. This method does take a second set of hands to accomplish.

One thing to take into consideration with these walls next to a window is it will take more concrete and you also need to decide how far out from each window you will go. Remember that most modern houses are framed on sixteen-inch centers which make the cavity only 14 1/2 inches wide. But the framing measurements are pulled from one side of the house to the other so you may have a small cavity right next to the window on either or both sides. The easiest way to find these is to measure off of your cripple under the window and make sure you find a stud. Some codes require a piece of fire blocking, a piece of wood going across the cavity to slow a fire down but often these fire blocks are only required in kitchen areas.

Pour in Slow Stages!

Pouring this concrete must be done in stages as this much concrete this high is too much stress on the Sheetrock and can cause it to bulge or blow out. I recommend pouring just 2 bags high at a time and waiting 2 days before you pour the next two bags. These cavities, depending on the size, should take 6 to 8 bags. If you want to pour all of it at once, then I recommend cutting a piece of plywood to the appropriate height and screwing it into the stud in the wall and leaving it up for at least 3 to 4 days after the pou,r allowing the concrete to set and cure. Then, when you remove the plywood you only have to use some putty to patch the screw holes and paint to match. Your wife may not be happy with the mess you are making in doing this but she will end up with freshly painted rooms when you are all finished so let her pick the new colors if she wants to change things up.

The same process can be used for areas beside doors. This is usually just a little more intrusive as the is always light switches and wires in these areas. Usually only one side of the door will have these switches and wires and that will be the side that the door opens on, the door handle side. If you are changing your door out to a metal door and metal jamb I recommend doing this project at the same time to cut down on mess and such. The process is about the same on these and you must make sure the wires are covered in their plastic and in good shape. Also make sure all electrical boxes are sealed so the concrete does not seep into the boxes and damages switches, plugs, etc. concrete will over time damage copper or aluminum wires if in direct contact.

If you have an older house that is done with metal conduit (rather than plastic) then it would be wise to hire an electrician for where this conduit is and have him disconnect the wires from the boxes and then disconnect the conduit and use a plumbing plastic wrap around conduit and replace. This same plastic wrap is used when copper water lines are underground and have to come up thru a concrete slab to enter the house.

You can do it Yourself

This project can be done over the course of a few weekends and or evenings and with a decent skill for what is needed. I do recommend mixing the concrete in small batches instead of a whole bag at one time. I usually mix in a small 2 gallon bucket so as not to waste any and make the pouring easier. I did get a funnel for transmission fluid and cut it so it fit the whole I am pouring thru with the maximum opening for the concrete to go thru. You must pour slowly so the concrete does not clog the opening or you will have a bigger mess to clean up.

With the concrete mix you could pour it dry into the cavity and then add water to it but I do not recommend this method as not all the concrete will set and these areas are generally dry and do not get much moisture to finish setting the concrete. Also, if you try to add water it can leak out at the bottom and make a bigger mess and your wife will not be happy. Further, the excess water can damage the Sheetrock. If you have removed the Sheetrock to remove the insulation then before reinstalling the Sheetrock remember to use plastic and also to put a layer of plastic across the studs so that the Sheetrock does not come into contact with the concrete. If you are unable to remove Sheetrock but are pouring then pour a drier mixture rather than a wet mixture. Mix the concrete but use less water so it is not soupy. Any method you choose will add considerable ballistic protection.

If done properly, a three-bedroom house with one window per bedroom will have approximately 10 windows and 2 exterior doors to be done. If you are handy and capable of doing all this yourself then your cost should be under $500 for everything. Even if you have to hire someone to come in and finish the Sheetrock you should still get by for under $1,000. Pretty inexpensive to give you ballistic protection and peace of mind.