Window Protection For Hurricanes Is Essential

Garage doors are usually the weakest link!

For home and business owners who are soon to be in the danger zone for Ike and do not have any window and door protection (including garage door bracing), there is not enough time to acquire anything that is permanent.  Besides, permanent protection (e.g. accordions, roll ups, Bahama shutters) are expensive.  At the time of this writing (9-8-2008, 3 pm EDT) There is still enough time to purchase plywood, cut it to size, install anchors to the exterior walls and pre-drill holes in the plywood for adequate attachment.  If you have a cement block structure do not count on masonry nails to secure your protection.  The sheets of plywood require more than that.  They often become big Frisbees ready to decapitate anyone unfortunate enough to be out in the storm.  It’s a lot of work to do the job right but I think it’s worth it.  If you have storage space for the plywood you can then have the sheets ready for the next time.  This all takes time, a little bit of knowledge, tools, and energy.  Permanent shutters are so much more convenient particularly for people who would be unable to handle the heavy plywood or install it without either hurting themselves or becoming totally exhausted.  You don’t want to be totally exhausted; evacuation might soon be the next step.

Seriously, for the future, consider permanent protection.  Protect not only your investment but also perhaps your sanity or at least your peace of mind.  There are no guarantees but good, properly installed, and easily activated protection is a giant step in the right direction.

For people who have never experienced a powerful hurricane, it comes as a shock to learn how many otherwise harmless objects can become lethal projectiles in a hurricane (e.g. potted plants, garbage cans, signs, damage debris, mail boxes, etc.).  Conventional windows will not take much punishment from flying objects.  Suppose you got lucky and a broken window (or windows) did not result in a great deal of damage.  How many of you know how to repair one?  How many of you could actually cut the glass after you purchase it, and properly install it?  And if you can’t do that, who would you find to do the work for you if there is a great deal of damage in your area?  How long do you think it would take to get that job done?

For me, a resident of Florida with a home that is less than 20 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, storm protection for windows and doors is a very important part of the formula for our hurricane preparedness.  Once storm winds intrude through a failed window or door (including garage doors) there is little chance that the dwelling and its contents will escape severe damage.  Having effective protection during a storm can make the difference between a desperate struggle for survival and getting through it with minimal trauma!  Even if you are not physically injured, once you experience your home breaking apart all around you the stress, anxiety, and mind-boggling complications in your life can become extremely difficult to bear.  Those who evacuate and escape the storm’s fury often have devastating experiences upon returning.  I believe in taking measures to reduce the chances of such a terrible experience – not only for yourself but also for any other’s who might be under your roof or for loved ones who might fret about your welfare from afar.  The less damage to be repaired, the sooner one can get back to “normal.”

I no longer live in South Florida but my wife and children and I were living in Homestead at the time (1992).  Thousands of people of all ages suffered terrible post traumatic syndrome after that storm, which for many, continues today.  Horror stories (or war stories as they are sometimes called) about experiences in that storm abound.

CAT 5 Andrew “totaled” our house.  The roof failed early during the storm mainly because the gable ends were not braced.  They popped out and landed on the ground below.  The very heavy gable-end trusses were tied down according to the code of that time but the metal straps could not endure the tremendous force of the winds.  Those gable ends were each composed of a truss, plywood, bonding, metal screen lath, and two layers of stucco.  They seemed very substantial to me but I was wrong.  Once they failed the plywood sheathing of the roof came off and the majority of the roof trusses “dominoed” in one giant motion.  The roof sheathing was not attached nearly as well as is required by today’s widely accepted Miami-Dade County codes (the current consensus is that size 8d ring shank nails placed a maximum of 6 inches apart is most desirable and there are also mandates regarding the number of nails per sheet and the number of nails per shingle).  In our case the hurricane was survivable because 1) no windows or doors were blown out (they were all protected) 2) the exterior walls were of cement block and 3) the poured concrete headers were anchored by steelrebar.

In retrospect, I kick myself for not having the sense to double brace each gable end myself.  It would have been an easy job.  Like so many people, I trusted that the “rigid” building codes were adequate and that the inspectors saw to it that the work was done properly.  What a fool I was.

Though we evacuated, I feel confident that we would have survived had we stayed.  But I am so grateful that we did not go through the storm.  Many I know who did go through it say that the storm was terrifying; some say that the aftermath was worse.  My conclusion, after studying my house in great detail, was that we might have gotten a few scratches and we would have been very frightened but that we probably would not have been seriously injured physically because there were several places in the house that would have provided safe shelter.  However – I recommend evacuation in these extreme storms – even when it’s not mandatory.

If your roof was to fly apart as did ours your chances for survival would be significantly greater if the windows and doors were to hold – and – there might be less damage to the contents of your dwelling.  Andrew was a relatively dry hurricane and moved through quickly; thus, some of our furniture was salvageable.  But, because Andrew plowed a wide swath through a heavily populated area, very little help could be obtained locally.  Neighbors were busy with their own concerns.  Adding to the stress was the threat of looting and the inability to communicate.  I learned later that family members were going nuts because they had no idea whether or not we had survived.

The closest rental truck and storage I could find for our salvageable contents was over 100 miles away in Boynton Beach.  Finding that truck was not easy.  We did not own a cell phone but they didn’t work anyway because the microwave towers and equipment had sustained great damage.  I had to drive long distances to search for what we needed.  Luckily, my vehicle was usable, the tires were good and the gas tank was full.  Many vehicles were damaged beyond use.  Stop lights did not work and the roads were full of debris.

There was no living space to rent within reasonable distance of my job but I counted myself lucky to still have a job.  My employer, Miami-Dade Community College, was cooperative.  Employees severely effected by the storm were told to come in when possible but to take care of their personal responsibilities first.  The college became a shelter for some who were homeless and I spent much of my time volunteering to help those people – even to the extent of watching their children for them at the college shelter when parents had storm-related business to address.  I did volunteer science teaching in local temporary middle schools to give the regular teachers a break.  Four weeks after the storm the college, reopened for classes and we had an abbreviated Fall term – leaky roofs, unreliable electrical power, and all.  Remember, that was 1992.  Honestly, I’m not sure that today’s key administrators at that college would be so understanding but I’d like to think so.

Many victims lost not only their homes but also their jobs.  Countless businesses did not rebuild but ended for good.  Cash was a necessity because most businesses that remained running would not accept credit cards.  This was especially true of gasoline stations.  Also remember this:  gas station pumps require electricity.

I went to the nearest operating R.V. dealership to acquire a travel trailer for a temporary home.  The $13,400 model we had looked at 3 months earlier had appreciated to $17,900!  Supply and demand; or was it gouging?  A few days after the storm two tractor-trailer combinations (semis) from a neighboring state came to Homestead filled with gasoline-powered generators that typically sold for about $900.  Before Florida State troupers got wind of it and chased them out they were selling the generators from the back of their trailers for $2000 each – cash only.  Sadly, $20 was the “going price” for a bag of ice trucked in by what I consider to be opportunists of a very “low” form.  There is a whole culture of people who go from disaster to disaster for obscene profit.   In fairness, for every exploiter there were many more people of the opposite kind who came to help.  Volunteers came from all over the country.

We had to drive many miles to get to points where there was still phone service.  “Working” phone lines were often jammed.  Eventually the local phone company established outdoor sights characterized by very long lines and a disconnect after 3 minutes.  It took over 5 weeks before we saw an insurance adjuster and it took over 6 weeks to get electrical service.  By then we had procured that same model travel trailer that was selling in South Florida for $17,900  from a Knoxville dealer for $10,000 – new.  That price included delivery and setup of the trailer in the driveway.  I am still in contact with those kind, generous people.  Before the trailer arrived we lived in my in-laws’ house which was severely damaged but had two rooms that were staying dry (it rained almost every day for weeks after the storm).  We prepared simple canned meals on a gas grill outside and ateMRE’s given us by military personnel who arrived about 6 days after the storm. We urged my in-laws to take a long vacation to get out of the “war-zone-like” environment.  By the time they returned from their lengthy motor trip my wife had organized and overseen the majority of the critical repairs to their severely damaged home making it safe to occupy.

Our 25′ travel trailer in the driveway was a palace for my wife and two children.  Compared to the muddy tent cities it was paradise.  But had it not been for my wife’s gumption, energy, and “smarts”, we might still be living in that cramped trailer.  I had it “easy.”  I got to leave the war zone to go to work while she stayed in the mess and got things done that had to be done to save our home and her parents’ home – all of this while continuing to be a mother extraordinaire.  We moved back into our reconstructed house on the one year anniversary of the storm. We did not qualify for Federal money to repair our home.  I had too many resources and too high a salary.  My not being qualified for help was a real bone of contention for me for a while.  I have since come to see things in a different light.  We did qualify for a low-interest Federal loan but we did not need it thanks to our insurance coverage.  I’m not so sure that things would go so smoothly with our insurance settlement today.

Our first major investment after occupying our present home in early August 2005 was storm protection.  We spent a lot of money but protection was and still is a high priority.  Though no one in my neighborhood has commented directly to me on the subject, I know that at least some feel that it was a foolish thing for me to do.  I am thankful that I was able to do it and have not regretted the decision.  It’s not so much the “stuff” within the house that we are protecting as it is the house itself and the people in it.  With protected windows and doors we are decreasing the probability of going through the exhaustive hassle of either relocating or rebuilding and/or the discomfort of “roughing it” due to extensive damage.

These days as before, when I drive through residential neighborhoods I wonder why I don’t see a greater number of permanent window protection additions on homes.  Most are architecturally compatible – a real fine addition which increases the home’s value and reduces insurance costs.  At the risk of sounding judgmental – when I know that a family has a terrific boat and two or more very fine vehicles and God only knows how much more “stuff” but no storm protection – I wonder, where in the “heck” their priorities are.

Our protection provides additional advantages beyond storm protection.  For example:

1) Depending upon the time of year, we have used some of our shutters to block out direct sunlight and help keep our cooling costs down,

2) If we are sensitive about total privacy we close the shutters of that room,

3) the shutters (which lock from the inside for safety) provide us a certain sense of security from the crime element though in this new north-central Florida location, crime is not nearly the issue it was in South Florida.

There is quite a variation in the cost of protection.  If you are capable of installing and removing temporary protection the outlay will be considerably smaller – especially if you can fabricate the protection yourself.  However, most temporary protection presents a storage problem.  Permanent protection such as accordion shutters, roll-up shutters, Bahama shutters, etc. run considerably higher.  Protective film for your windows is an option but you must remember that the windows might still break.  However, the film will help prevent wind and water from getting inside and debris from passing through.  Today’s films can block a considerable amount of solar radiation, thus saving on hot season cooling bills and cutting down on ultraviolet damage.  In either case, whether permanent or removable, the effectiveness of your protection depends not only upon the quality of the product but also the installation.  Expect considerable time between ordering window protection and installation.  Delays during the hurricane season are likely to be much longer than during the off season.

Finally – Please remember that it doesn’t always happen to the “other guy.”  Besides, to other people you are the “other guy.”

2 comments so far

  1. Shannan on

    Hi there to all, the contents existing at this web page are
    actually awesome for people experience,
    well, keep up the nice work fellows.

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