Protect Your Windows

The Danger: High winds and flying debris will smash unprotected windows, setting off the catastrophic phenomenon known as internal pressurization. "The wind comes in through a broken window or failed door, and it's gotta come back out," explains Leslie Chapman-Henderson, CEO of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, a coalition of insurance firms, private corporations, and government agencies. "The pressure will build, and it will literally explode out whatever weak spots it finds in your structure."

Permanent Solution: Install new impact windows, tested to one of the major standards. Available from most leading manufacturers, these consist of a layer of plastic sandwiched between two pieces of glass. "Impact windows are similar to your car's windshield, but quite a bit thicker," says Steve Berg, coastal products manager for Andersen Windows. The superstrong glass may crack if hit hard enough by flying debris, but the bonded plastic interlayer will keep the pane intact and keep the wind out. Impact windows come in a variety of styles, including historically accurate double-hungs. Expect to pay between 75 and 110 percent more for an impact-resistant insulated window than for the conventional-strength variety.

In the Testing Lab: If you buy new windows or doors for use in a hurricane region, you can rest easy knowing that they will have already taken some serious hits in the lab. That's because building-envelope products—roofing, windows, doors, and so on—sold in so-called high-velocity wind zones are required to meet stringent ASTM International standards for wind pressurization and debris impact. To determine if the goods are up to snuff, independent testing facilities simulate a hurricane's fury. To test how well impact windows perform, for instance, technicians fire a 9-pound 2x4 out of an air cannon at 50 feet per second. Should the wooden missile penetrate or significantly crack the window, then it's back to the drawing board for the manufacturer.

What You Can Do Now

Protect your windows with storm shutters made of steel, aluminum, or high-strength polycarbonate plastic such as General Electric's Lexan. Dozens of companies manufacture shutters. Here are a few common permanent and removable options.

Aluminum Panels: Interlocking corrugated metal panels slide into a premounted track and attach with wing nuts. The permanent track can be painted to match the house's exterior. Panels provide solid protection against debris and wind, but they're tough to handle (mind the sharp edges!), bulky to store, and time-consuming to install, especially on upper floors. For a good-sized family home, two people should allow at least a half day to mount them. Around $8 to $10 per square foot.

Fabric Shields: PVC-coated polyester fabric panels don't offer the same degree of protection as steel or aluminum, but they do meet Florida Building Code standards. And unlike metal shutters, they're easy to handle and store, and won't leave your home in total darkness. "The Fabric Shield allows enough light in that it looks like your mini-blinds are closed," says Mike George, a spokesman for manufacturer Wayne Dalton. About $8 to $15 per square foot, installed.
Colonial: Along with Bahama-style shutters, which swing down to cover a window from the top, these permanent swing-out shutters, in aluminum or fiberglass, combine protection and convenience with architectural style. When a storm approaches, just pull them closed and latch them securely. You can usually do this from inside the house, which means no perilous work atop ladders. The downside: They're expensive, at around $30 to $35 per square foot, installed.
Roll-Down: When not in use, steel roll-downs retract into a housing above or beside the window. They can be operated manually or automatically. If you opt for motorized, remember to install a battery backup. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars to hire a pro to equip a 2,000-square-foot house with the fully automated variety.

Ask TOH users about Safety & Prevention

Contribute to This Story Below