How to Bulletproof Walls
Introduction to Bulletproofing Your Walls
Bulletproof walls are not merely under the purview of military bases or presidential motorcades. Our clients – from homeowners to commercial offices – regularly spec some or all of their walls to be easily capable of stopping bullets even from high-powered rifles.
With proper know-how and access to the right bullet-resistant products, you can bulletproof your wall and achieve this level of protection in your own home or building.
List of Steps
- Select a ballistic level for your wall
- Carefully calculate sizes
- Select a bullet resistant material to use
- Install your material
Select a Ballistics Level for Your Bulletproof Wall
With more than one gun per capita in the USA, there is a wide range of firearms to protect one’s family from. Firearms can generally be categorized as the following:
Small handguns are the easiest to conceal and to carry, so these are by far the most common firearms threat. They are also easier to fire single-handedly, though due to Newton’s Law, the recoil may be the strongest.
This category includes an array of weapons firing smaller ammunition such as a 9 mm. Dozens of makes and models fall into this category, with familiar brands including Glock. Generally, the lowest level ballistic panels for bulletproof walls are capable of stopping these types of weapons.
The .357 and .44 Magnum are examples of high-powered handguns that pack a massive punch. Though vastly smaller than a rifle, these weapons generally require two hands to fire and produce hard-to-miss acoustics. This balance makes them an occasional weapon of choice. This weapon is stopped by moderate-to-low ballistic levels, such as UL level 3, which is one of our clients’ top choices for bulletproofing their walls.
“Assault” rifles is a somewhat pejorative term used to refer to well-known high-capacity, high-powered rifles. This includes rifles firing 5.56 rounds, such as the AR-15 and M-16. The range of this rifle far exceeds that of a handgun, and likewise produces an incredible impact on its target. However, the large nature of this weapon class makes it impractical in many home and commercial invasions, as assailants are aware they may be spotted by passersby and reported.
Thirty-to-forty percent of our clients opt for the protection of this ballistic level or higher. This can be important for individuals of well-known status (i.e., they may be a ransom target) and other places where there is an increased probability of mob-type mentality (e.g., a public-facing governmental building). With this weapon’s high capacity and semi-automatic firing features, the ballistic material used and bulletproof walls must be able to withstand several rounds.
Similar to assault rifles, hunting rifles often fire the largest projectiles. Level 8 of the UL 752 ballistic ratings stops multiple rounds of 7.62mm ammunition, such as from an M-14. Thick ballistic material is needed to build a bulletproof wall and protect from an attack of this strength. Many modern firearms in this category may be semi-automatic and use high-capacity rounds. Others, such as bolt action rifles, may fire more slowly, with the operator aiming for accuracy over volume.
Calculate Room Size
When clients create a bulletproof wall, it is typically for one or several key safe rooms, not an entire building’s exterior, although this is also possible. For a safe room, the first step is to measure the wall’s size.
We recommend carefully measuring each wall, from side to side and top to bottom. If the ballistics are to be placed inside of a wall, consider the dimensions based on the wall stud perimeter. Generally, clients cover their walls up to the ceiling; however, of primary importance is the protection to human height. For example, 7 feet would be a reasonable minimum. Some walls can be excluded: an example may be a foundational wall in the basement or one that is on the other side of a secure room.
The ceiling and floor are also considerations. Approximately 25% of our clients cover one or both of these in their panic rooms with bulletproof materials. In the cases where someone does want to cover their floor, it is usually only when the room is not on the lowest level. Since ceilings and floors are less of a target than walls, they may be of lower protection levels than bulletproof walls, whether for budgetary or installation convenience purposes.
Select Your Ballistic Material For Your Bulletproof Wall
Kevlar is a para-aramid material well-known due to its strong branding and wide variety of uses. However, it is rarely used for bulletproof walls. Its ultra-lightweight nature comes with a high price tag, which is unnecessary for a fixed bulletproof wall installation. Further, it only achieves handgun-level protection.
Ballisticrete is a branded material that is applied to a wall with similarity to painting. It requires special tools and skills for installation. Therefore, its use is rare. It also does not provide inherent load-bearing strength due to being applied on the surface of existing walls.
Bullet-resistant fiberglass panels are what we recommend and use in 95% of our clients’ projects. It is the most cost-effective and convenient option for bulletproofing walls. It can be rated to all eight UL levels, can be adjusted on-site, and provides convenient features, such as non-ricochet and no signal interference. It is rigid and can be rated for blunt and bladed attacks as well. Its downsides are that it is on the heavier side (though much less than steel) and has limited flexibility for application for non-flat surfaces. Generally, for walls, neither is an issue.
Ballistic Steel / AR 500
Ballistic steel is often used for ballistic targets and in some body armor. AR 500 formulation has significantly brought down the weight of ballistic steel. However, there are some significant challenges with using AR 500 steel to clad a room’s walls. Ballistic steel installation is a nightmare: the steel can not be adjusted on-site, so a minor measuring or attachment point error could throw off the installation significantly. On a long-term basis, cellular and wifi blockage is frustrating and at times, dangerous. In addition, steel is likely to ricochet and create shrapnel when fired upon.
Cement and Masonry
For new home builds, cement or other types of masonry may be an effective way to bulletproof walls. It is hard to definitively know how protective each substance is as neither cement nor masonry is a specific, rated ballistic material. Location is also limited as a cement room, for example, generally must be at ground level. However, if building a new home and a full ballistic perimeter is desired, it may be more practical, budget-wise, to use items like pour-in-place cement or ICF to provide a relatively high protection level compared to a wood-framed home.
Bulletproof Walls Installation
Our team can help you with a detailed installation plan when working with bulletproof walls. In general, when using modular ballistic sheets, the installation process is as follows.
- Consider which side of the room’s wall studs you will attach the bulletproof panels to. Generally, clients install on the inside of the walls, as this is much easier to access, especially for an existing structure. The protection is nearly identical on either side. If you also want protection from strong storms, such as a hurricane, it is considered ideal to install ballistic panels on the outside of the room.
- Ideally, have your panels pre-cut at the factory to fit your room based on the measurements provided. Some suppliers, including Fortified Estate, can do this.
- For other cuts, cut on-site. These may be larger cuts to resize a panel or cut-outs for space for penetrations like electrical boxes and ventilation openings. Different bulletproof materials have different recommended cutting tools. Use protective clothing when dealing with abrasive materials.
- Install your ballistic panels directly into a new wall or over an existing wall. Self-tapping drywall screws should be driven through the material into the wall studs, as you would for attaching drywall.
- If feasible, cover the joints where two panels meet with an additional piece of material (a batten strip). For right angles, overlap the panel edges so that a batten strip is not needed.
- Now that the bulletproof panels are secured to your wall it is time to cover them. From a functional perspective, they could be left bare, if desired. It is preferable to have some covering though, even just paint or a clear coat, so that the rough particles of the material – such as fiberglass – are not abrasive if touched. Many clients conceal the ballistic panels completely, either by placing drywall over them or adhering veneer.
Creating a bullet-resistant wall in one’s home or office is entirely practical for both new and existing construction. Numerous material options are available, some more well-known than others. Selecting a cost-effective, modern material along with expert guidance is the best strategy to achieve a convenient installation, a high-value option, and a certified level of protection.