How to Protect Your Windows During a Hurricane — Storm Shutters and Other Strategies

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The high wind speeds of some hurricanes can literally blow a house off its foundation, and while that is an extreme situation, hurricanes routinely cause enough damage to injure people and leave their homes uninhabitable and in need of extensive repair. One hurricane-proofing strategy is to protect the vulnerable windows and doors with storm shutters and high-impact glass.

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Hurricane winds can damage all types of glass windows, including roof windows and skylights, with wind speeds that can smash regular glass with airborne objects. Doors that contain a lot of glass, especially sliders, are also susceptible to damage.

Why Use Storm Shutters?

Storm shutters protect the glass in windows and doors. Most people are familiar with the hurricane rating system. A category one storm has wind speeds of 75 to 95 mph. A category five hurricane, the highest on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale, can have winds over 155 mph. But even a storm with 90 or 95 mph winds can break windows with flying debris, bring down tree limbs and cause power outages that can last several days or weeks.

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Hurricane winds can cause damage in a number of ways. In addition to making heavy objects airborne, high winds exert a tremendous amount of pressure on a building. The side of the house facing the wind bears the brunt of the increased pressure, but as the wind flows over the roof, the pressure on the leeward side of the house decreases. This creates a push/pull effect on the building, which could cause roof shingles to fly off and wall components to collapse.

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A broken window allows wind to enter the house, which is a situation that could pressurize the inside, forcing the walls and roof outward and leading to building failure. In addition, a broken window leads to extensive water damage due to the heavy rains that accompany hurricanes.

Limiting Hurricane Damage

You can get your property ready for a hurricane and other types of high-wind storms by keeping trees pruned of dead branches and limbs. Weak limbs can break off and become flying projectiles. When the storm warning does sound, make sure that anything that isn't staked to the ground, such as patio furniture, kids' toys, barbecue grills and the like, are tied down or brought inside.

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Many people think of hurricanes as coastal phenomena. While it is true that hurricanes start over water and lose some of their power when they hit land, their destruction can be felt well inland. In 1989, Charlotte, North Carolina, which is 175 miles inland, was buffeted by 100 mph winds from Hurricane Hugo. So, it is important to heed the warnings of approaching storms. Batten down the hatches and even evacuate the area if that is necessary.

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Tip

Although it's commonly thought to protect windows from hurricane damage, you can skip the practice of taping windows with masking tape or painters' tape. It doesn’t work, and it could lead to large glass shards flying through the house.

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Types of Storm Shutters

The term "storm shutters" or "hurricane shutters" cover a lot of territory. It can mean anything from roll-down metal shutters you often see on storefronts to traditional-looking house shutters that are designed for hurricane conditions to makeshift shutters that are nothing more than sheets of plywood. The term also includes such things as window films, impact-resistant glass, hurricane screens and fabrics.

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Storm shutters and other window protection are installed before you actually need them, which means before hurricane season begins in June. This is even true for installing sheets of plywood. Video footage showing people attaching plywood to their houses just before a storm implies it is a last-minute operation — but that's not exactly accurate. Sometimes homeowners attach the plywood right before it hits, but usually, the plywood is already cut to the size of the windows.

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Ultimately, it is important to plan ahead. The installation of some types of storm shutters may be DIY projects, but in many cases, you will need a professional for installation.

Pull-Down and Accordion Shutters

Pull-down storm shutters are the metal curtainlike shutters that are often used to protect large windows on storefronts. They are also used on homes, especially in hurricane-prone areas along the coasts. The units are installed on tracks at the top and sides of the windows.

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Most pull-down shutters are made of aluminum and consist of individual slightly curved slats that are connected to one another, which enables them to form a tight roll that is stored in a housing at the top of the window. The most common types are manually operated by a crank, but motorized units are available that are operated by a switch or controlled by a remote. Battery-powered units will keep operating if the power goes out.

Pull-down shutters are a permanent addition to the facade of the house, so they will change the home's appearance. Some manufacturers offer products with small storage boxes so that they interfere less with the look of window trim work on the exterior of the house.

Accordion shutters are similar to pull-down units except they fold back into housing located on the side of the opening. They are good choices for curved openings, such as balconies or large bow windows. Like pull-down shutters, they can be manually operated or motorized.

Both types are available in limited colors, usually some form of tan or brown. Pull-down shutters can run $40 to $60 per square foot, and accordion shutters will cost about $25 to $30 per square foot. Plan on spending another $40 to $50 per hour for installation.

Pull-down and accordion shutters are marketed as hurricane tested or hurricane approved. The gold standard for hurricane-approved products are those accepted by the Florida Building Commission and those approved by the Miami-Dade HVHZ (High Velocity Hurricane Zone) Building Code, which is more stringent than the code in the rest of the state. Those products approved by the Texas Department of Insurance have also been hurricane tested.

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Traditional-Looking Storm Shutters

To help your storm protection complement the design of the house, both traditional colonial-style shutters — the type that flank the sides of a window — and Bahama-style shutters — those that are hinged at the top — are also available. Rather than being made of wood or vinyl, these types of storm shutters are made of powder-coated aluminum. They are available in a variety of colors, giving them better curb appeal than pull-down and accordion shutters.

When these shutters are in the open position, they look like a typical window shutter, and they hide the heavy-duty hinges that keep them in place. The hinges are attached to the exterior wall of the house. When bad weather approaches, they can be closed to protect the window from flying debris. Colonial-style shutters are available in bifold models to cover large window openings.

Both types will cost about $20 to $35 per square foot plus installation. You can find these types of shutters with the same building code approvals as pull-down and accordion shutters.

Impact-Resistant Windows

Many building codes in hurricane-prone areas require impact-resistant windows. Unlike standard window glass that can shatter into a thousand pieces if struck by a flying object, impact-resistant windows contain a layer of plastic material (polyvinyl butyral) that is bonded between two layers of glass. The result is window glass that will not shatter. Even when struck by a flying object, the glass stays within the window frame.

Impact-resistant windows not only have stronger glass but they also have beefed-up frames to withstand high winds. Most of the major window manufacturers offer these products, but they tend to limit their marketing to coastal regions and other high-wind areas. Windows with impact glass are also touted as home security devices because they can stop or slow down intruders from breaking a window to gain entry.

Manufacturers of quality products will have their impact-resistant windows certified by an independent organization, such as the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, or approved by the Florida building codes. There are a few ways manufacturers rate the effectiveness of their products. One is the performance grade rating, which tests for water infiltration, air infiltration and structural load. The ratings correspond to the different hurricane types. So, a PG of 10 can withstand a category one hurricane, a rating of 20 can withstand a category two and so on.

Expect to pay $55 to $65 per square foot of window area. A typical double-hung window might cost $1,000 to install, and a sliding glass door can be close to $2,500.

Window Films, Meshes and Fabrics

Window films that can be applied to existing windows can protect against flying glass should the window be struck by an object and can also stop intruders. They do not offer the protection of impact-resistant windows, but they can help limit the damage should a window be hit by a flying object. These polyester films often come with a self-adhesive backing for installation. The films cost under $2 per square foot.

Stainless steel screens are another home security product that can offer some protection against high winds. Many people have these installed on tracks that allow them to screen in a covered patio. Individual window units are also available. Like any other screen, these products provide views and fresh air, but they are tough enough to resist hurricane-force winds. Expect to pay $20 to $30 per square foot plus installation.

Hurricane fabrics offer protection against strong winds. The fabric is a nylon hybrid material that is held in place by clips that attach to the exterior wall. You put the fabric in place as a storm approaches and then remove it when the storm passes. The fabric folds for storage. The clips stay in place and can be painted to match the siding of the house.

According to the manufacturer of AstroGuard, the company's fabric system has code approval from every state along the East and Gulf Coast, including the stringent codes of Florida. A 22-square-foot panel costs under $78; the clips necessary for installation are sold separately.

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Plywood Storm Shutters

Many homeowners rely on sheets of plywood to protect their homes from high winds during a storm. Not everyone sanctions this method because if homeowners aren't boarding up correctly, the wind can lift them off the house, turning them into projectiles. Many experts consider plywood panels to be a last-minute, emergency-only solution.

Plywood storm shutters should be made of exterior-grade panels that are 1/2 or 5/8 inch thick. Each window requires a panel cut to size so that the panel overlaps the window opening. The panel is then attached using lag screws or structural screws, which are thin screws made of hardened steel, to the window casing or the house siding. There are clips that reportedly simplify installation.

Panels will cost about $50 to $65 for a 4 x 8 sheet. If you plan on reusing the panels, label them and apply a waterproofing coating to each panel, including the edges. Lumber yards and hardware stores often run out of plywood as a storm approaches.

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