Canton company has made storm safety their business


The Free Press

It’s humanly impossible to stop a tornado from destroying the average house. But, you can take measures to prevent it from taking the lives of your loved ones-make sure they have a safe shelter.

If your home doesn’t have a basement, Kenny Crouse with Canton Enterprises can offer you the best family insurance you’ve ever considered-a concrete underground storm shelter.

“It’s cheap insurance,” Crouse said. “For a little under $2,500, to have a shelter to keep your family safe, that’s not a lot of money.”

For the past 12 years, Canton Enterprises has been manufacturing pre-cast concrete steel-reinforced storm shelters for homes and businesses in the local area and as far away as Florida.

They are delivered to the site in two sections-a bottom half and top half. These are permanently adhered with bonding tape as they are arranged in a pre-dug hole in the ground.

“The bottom of the shelter weighs almost 9,000 pounds,” Crouse said. “After you set the top with the sealer on it, if you try to take that top off after a week, it will pull that 9,000 bottom with it.”

The shelters measure 6 feet by 8 feet with a height of 6 feet 2 inches. They have four-inch-thick concrete walls reinforced with 3/8-inch rebar.

They are available in standard or handicapped models with a 14-gauge steel door that can be bolted from the inside.

The standard model has a 45-degree angle door and a set of six 6-inch-tread metal steps with two handrails.

The door opens at about ground level, and the seam joining the two sections sits just above ground level.

The above-ground shelter has a 36-inch-wide steel door with no stairs.

Each shelter has a wind-powered 8-inch turbine on top to allow for fresh air and a small amount of light.

Canton Enterprises manufactures three products-storm shelters, septic tanks and concrete storage sheds-in a 40-by-120-foot warehouse in Canton.

The design for the storm shelter came from Arkansas as did the forms into which the concrete is poured. The concrete for each section is completed in one pour, to prevent water seeping through seams.

“The standard model has over 700 feet of rebar in it,” Crouse said. “Which, in a 6 foot by 8 foot area, is quite a bit of rebar. We set them up on 12-inch centers, which means you have a piece of rebar running every 12 inches and in some places, every 10 inches.”

To appreciate the concrete used in these shelters, imagine a typical sidewalk that is made of a five-to-six-sack mix of concrete.

Crouse uses an eight-sack mix on his shelters.

“The state has done tests on my concrete mix, and we usually average about 6,500 pounds per square inch on the strength of the concrete,” he said.

The location for these shelters is left to the discretion of the customer.

“Say 30 years ago, I would have seriously thought where to put that shelter,” Crouse said. “Nowadays, with cell phones and Doppler Radar, the weather people usually know when a tornado is down on a ground. You usually should have a 10-minute warning.”

After meeting with Crouse, the homeowner or business owner will need to contract with a company that excavates dirt.

“We don’t do dirt work,” Crouse said. “In the Hillsboro area, I try to recommend Dalke Construction.”

In other areas, Crouse has a list of people he suggests.

“If they’ve dug one or two of these before for me, it’s so much easier to call somebody who knows how to dig one,” he said.

The hole has to be dug level and deep enough so the bottom half of the shelter sits four feet into the ground.

In case of rain, Crouse recommends digging the hole either the day before or the same day the sections are to be installed.

The underground shelters can be placed on flat ground or on hilly terrain. The above-ground shelter, appropriate for the elderly and handicapped, can fit into a hill or on top of the ground, with dirt banked around the sides and back.

The typical cost in this area to dig the hole for the shelter is about $150, Crouse said.

The cost of a standard shelter is $2,195, and an aboveground shelter costs $2,395.

“We’ve tried to keep our price so it’s affordable to everybody,” Crouse said.

For new homeowners who plan to custom build a home on a slab, Crouse suggests a shelter attached to the garage of the house.

They can arrange to have the shelter delivered and placed in the garage area, and have the foundation poured so the shelter doorway is accessible inside the garage.

“The rest of it will be sticking just outside the garage,” Crouse said. “They can walk out their house, through the garage and down into the shelter without going out into stormy weather.”

The doors of the shelters are primed, but Crouse doesn’t paint them.

“The reason I don’t paint them is I don’t know what color your house is,” Crouse said. “They look nice when you paint the door the color of your trim and the shelter the color of the house. And that way it ties in with everything.”

The maintenance requirements for the shelters are minimal. Crouse recommends cleaning them once a year-right before tornado season-in late February or the first of March.

“You’ll get a few spiders in there,” Crouse said. “But I’ve never seen a snake or any animals in one.”

The above-ground style can handle four to six people in wheelchairs and an additional two to three people standing. The standard shelter can accommodate eight to 12 people comfortably.

But Crouse heard of one situation where 27 people were in one of his standard shelters located in a trailer park in McPherson.

“The lady that put it in saw a tornado coming, and all of her neighbors just kept coming and coming, and she couldn’t say no,” Crouse said.

“They threw the ladder out and handed people down into it. The tornado picked up, went over them, and sat back down about three-fourths mile away from them.”

The company truck that delivers the storm shelter is compact enough to easily accommodate a variety of home sites, Crouse said.

Delivery in Kansas is free of charge. Orders outside the state will incur additional shipping charges.

Crouse sells about 200 shelters in a good year, and his busiest time is from March through August.

To beat the rush of orders, he encourages customers to call before a tornado hits.

“If we get a major tornado, we’re swamped,” Crouse said. “The last tornado in Wichita, Haysville and Oklahoma City, we were telling some people they wouldn’t see their shelter for three months.”

In addition to being insurance protection for the family, a shelter can increase property value, especially with a slab house without existing shelter.

“We had a gentleman who tried selling his house for six months after the Hesston tornado and couldn’t sell it,” Crouse said. “He put a shelter in and a week later, he sold his house for $10,000 more than what he was originally asking for it.”

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