Yep, the zombies are back. And while we’re talking about the TV shamblers of “The Walking Dead” midseason premiere this Sunday, and not actual voodoo undead, it’s natural to make hypothetical plans for fortifying your home—just in case the human dead rise from their graves and wander the earth, feasting on the flesh of the living. Totally normal.
OK, it’s not all that normal, but it’s fun. But of course your spouse is freaking out when he or she sees you drawing up blueprints for a moat surrounding your house. And he or she has a good point: How much would zombie fortifications cost? And what would they do for the value of your home?
Well, let’s take a look. We’ll consider the most critical zombie-proofing improvements you can make for your home, keeping in mind that CONOP 8888, the Pentagon’s zombie-invasion plan (seriously, it made a zombie-invasion plan—don’t worry, more as a thought exercise than for fear of an actual undead uprising … we hope), estimates that any zombie outbreak wouldn’t last more than 40 days. We’re also assuming that we’re dealing with slow, dumb “classic” George Romero-type zombies, rather than fast Danny Boyle-style zombies.
The first thing you’re going to want to do to shore up your zombie defenses is to strengthen the most obvious points of entry: outside doors. At the lowest end of the scale, you can follow the lead of 99% of your zombie-movie victims and board up your doors with a series of two-by-fours, four-by-eight sheets of plywood, and long nails, essentially barricading yourself inside your home till the cavalry comes. That’ll set you back little more than the cost of a nail gun, wood, and nails ($200–$300), and it’s not a permanent addition to the house, so you won’t affect the price of the home—unless you’re really horrible at using a nail gun. The downside is that your defenses will be as strong as your carpentry, and as soon as that first zombie gets its fingers into a weak point, your entire home is compromised.
An intermediate step is a security bar or security gate on the doors, which is a permanent addition to the home that frees you up to spend your first zombie-outbreak hours on quickie weapons training and other pressing needs instead of noisily hammering a bunch of wood planks to the walls. Security bars and security gates can run anywhere from $100 to several thousand dollars before installation costs (you’ll want to get them professionally installed, so that they’re anchored securely), and they probably won’t affect the value of your home for good or ill. But, as the inimitable zombie expert Max Brooks points out in “The Zombie Survival Guide,” “Experience has shown that as few as three walking dead can tear them down in less than twenty-four hours.”
Your best bet, and not necessarily your most expensive, is installing high-end steel doors at entry points, with steel frames and heavy-duty locks (remember to get secure bolt-style locks for the bottom of the door, too). A big plus is that steel doors generally run cheaper than wooden doors. But they tend to show more wear and need to be replaced more often, because they don’t weather the elements well (the salt air of homes near the oceans, for example, can quickly corrode steel doors). Expect the cost of an exterior steel door, with installation fees, to start at about $500 at the lowest end. But this may be the easiest zombie-proofing improvement to sell to a more practical-minded spouse: According to remodeling.hw.net, which tracks the cost of home improvements vs. their resale value, replacing an existing front door with a midrange 20-gauge steel door is worth 117% more than the money you put into it (an average cost of $1,230 vs. an average value of $1,446).
For some reason, Hollywood zombies seem to prefer trying to get to living people through the windows rather than the front door. Hollywood heroes tend to respond by dragging flimsy furniture in front of the bay windows and then hoping for the best. But you can do better!
If you want to keep things as cheap as possible, go the two-by-four route again. Assuming you already bought a nail gun for the door and still have a bucket of nails to dig into, you’ll have only to shell out for a few more two-by-fours for first-floor and basement windows—a couple of bucks per plank, or $15 or so for a four-by-eight sheet of 5/8-inch plywood. Reinforcing all the windows of, say a six-window first floor might run as little as $100.
A better, but vastly more expensive, bet would be to install hurricane shutters on all your first-floor windows—essentially the same kind of roll-down steel gates that city shopkeepers pull down to secure their stores at the end of the night. They’re easy to operate, offer the best protection for existing windows against both zombies and storms, and, depending on where you live, could greatly increase the value of your home.
“In a place like Florida, which sees a lot of storms, hurricane shutters would be very positive,” says Bill Lublin, CEO of Century 21 Advantage Gold. “And they roll up and go out of the way, so even in the Northeast, you’d probably see some slight improvement, or they’d be revenue-neutral.”
The downside? Price. Hurricane shutters cost a pretty penny—around $55 per square foot.
Rooftop and basement defenses
If you’ve watched any zombie movie, you know you’ll be spending a lot of your time waiting out the undead apocalypse on rooftops and in basements. So it makes sense that you prepare by getting those two locations shipshape now.
Rooftops are an ideal location to serve as a lookout for incoming zombie hordes, as a sniper’s nest for reanimated attackers, and to enjoy sunshine in relative safety—classic zombies aren’t big climbers, after all. The roof could easily end up being your command-and-control headquarters. All you really need to make your roof a usable perch is some cushions from the couch, a thermos of coffee, and an extra ladder that you can use to escape in case the house itself is compromised (a two-story escape ladder runs about $60).
But, if you don’t already have one, a roof deck could be a much more comfortable and functional space. First, check with your local zoning laws about whether you’re allowed to put up a roof deck. Then make sure your house can actually support a deck up there—a deck isn’t going to do much good if all it does is add a gaping hole to your roof. From that point, you should count on a roof deck running you at least $3,000 (depending on the materials you use, size, and circumstances of your home) and likely more in the $10,000 range or higher (keep in mind that you might have to put in stairs and pay for an additional safety assessment). The great thing about roof decks, though, is that they can be great for property value.
“If you’re down the Jersey shore and you’ve got a rooftop view of the ocean, or a skyline view of Center City, Philadelphia, a rooftop deck provides good value,” Lublin says. “If there’s good interior egress to it, it’s a great place to drop that deck.”
Though Brooks advises strongly against relying on basements (his primary advice for people besieged in houses is to get to the second floor and destroy the staircase), 40 days is a long time to spend hanging out in your sister’s bedroom. If you’re confident the windows and doors are secure, it might be worthwhile turning the basement into a place to keep not just necessary supplies but also recreational material—as long as the undead outside can’t see or hear you, of course. With a home generator and a decent library of DVDs, a finished basement can help survivors fend off cabin fever or worse till help comes—and as we all know from watching “The Walking Dead,” living human beings are their own worst enemies. Plus: excellent excuse to finally get that man cave you wanted!
“A finished basement, maybe with a nice kitchen or alternative food-preparation area and home theater with recliners and good video or audio media, would be beneficial for the zombie apocalypse and add to value,” Lublin says.
What about keeping the zombies away from your home in the first place? If you want to go full medieval, you could rent a backhoe and dig a moat that’s at least six feet deep and 10 feet wide around your home, then fill it with water. (You’d want to make sure it’s deep and steep enough that zombies can’t simply walk over one another to get to you.) Renting a full-size backhoe can cost between $200 and $350 a day, but you might consider just buying a used backhoe starting at around $7,000. That all, of course, is assuming that your town allows you to build a moat (it’s a good bet no), and not factoring in any additional costs for water bills, maintenance, the inevitable cleanup for when everyone in your area starts using it as a trash dump, and the permanent ill will of your neighbors. As for how much value a moat adds to your home, well…
Common sense, of course, says that a gaping ring of stagnant water around your home is going to turn more home buyers off than on. Lublin says the best analogy might be with swimming pools in the North.
“Swimming pools sometimes have a negative impact on the value of a property, especially if the next person isn’t looking for one, and the geography means it’s only used so much for the year,” he says.
And remember, a moat is basically a giant, dirty swimming pool that no one wants and that no one gets to swim in, ever.
A better choice might be a much more conventional chain-link fence, as Brooks suggests: “A good ten-foot, chain-link fence can hold dozens of zombies for weeks, even months, provided their numbers remain at Class 1.” A commercial-grade chain-link fence can run around $40 a foot, which can quickly add up if you’re trying to enclose your entire home. (That’s $100,000 off the bat to cover a lot that’s 100 feet by 25 feet, for example.) And 10-foot-high chain-link fences around a house make home buyers immediately assume that there are serious security concerns in the area, making the house that much harder to sell.
Brooks recommends a steel-rod-reinforced, concrete-filled cinder-block wall if you’re concerned about more serious “Class 2″ zombie outbreaks, but it’s much pricier, and walls topping eight feet require specialized machinery—don’t be surprised if your contractor quotes you a price of at least $200 per linear foot for a wall of 10 feet or higher. Your town officials and neighbors are almost certainly going to have a problem with this, and if you think a chain-link fence is going to put off potential home buyers, imagine what a 10-foot concrete wall will make them think.
A backup home generator could keep food and medical supplies from perishing, keep the lights, heat, and radios on, and help maintain sanity by letting everyone watch back seasons of “Mad Men.” And because it actually serves a genuine purpose in the real world, Lublin says it’s “a real plus” in any part of the country that’s ever experienced a blackout—which is probably all of them. Expect to pay between $3,000 and $7,000 for a natural-gas-powered backup generator for whole-home use, not including fuel and installation costs.
Inexpensive security-camera systems are now also available that can help you keep tabs on zombie lurkers at blind points around the house—or errant kids and pets when there isn’t an undead uprising going on—Nest’s Dropcams run $150 a pop and stream wirelessly to your generator-powered computer.
Ultimately, though, Lublin recommends making the improvements you want for your home regardless of the zombie situation.
“I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about zombies, though it never does hurt to be prepared,” he says. “Consulting a Real Estate Broker is always a good idea to ensure that an improvement is actually going to add to the value of your home. … We don’t know if there will be any zombie mortgage brokers.”
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