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How to Board Up Windows for a Hurricane

Preparing your house for an impending hurricane or tropical storm? Here’s how to install plywood panels to keep flying debris at bay.

Boarding Up Window With Plywood iStock

Unless your home is equipped with hurricane shutters, an approaching storm means you'd better get busy putting plywood over your windows. Plywood is inexpensive, readily available (as long as you don't wait until the last moment to shop), and has 30 percent greater impact strength than oriented strand board (OSB). Insurance industry groups recommend 5/8-inch-thick, exterior-grade (CDX) plywood, at a minimum.

Hurricane plywood installation is a two-person job, particularly with large panels. For safety's sake, get them up before the wind picks up and turns these sheets into sails. Here's how to board up windows of wood-framed houses.

(For masonry houses, see “Tips” below.)

Boarding Up Windows For Hurricane

  1. Mark the location of the studs closest to each side of and underneath the window. (If there are no nailheads in the siding to give away where the studs are, you'll have to do some probing with a drill and bit.) Plywood fastened just to trim or sheathing can go flying.
  2. Cut each panel so it will extend at least one inch beyond the framing on all sides of the window.
  3. Number each panel to indicate which opening it will cover. Add an arrow showing which end goes up.
  4. Use corrosion-resistant screws that are long enough to reach at least 2 inches into the framing. They hold far better than nails and are easier to remove. The best screws for this purpose are galvanized pan-heads or lags, which have flat-bottomed heads that won't sink into and weaken the plywood.
  5. Hold the plywood up against the opening and drill pilot holes through it and into the framing every 16 inches. Be sure each hole is at least one inch away from the panel edge.
  6. Now use a cordless drill/driver or impact driver to drive all the screws home.

Tip 1: If you live where hurricanes are a frequent threat, take time during the off season to screw stainless-steel hanger bolts into the framing every 16 inches, and drill matching holes in the plywood. Then, when a storm threatens, you can mount the panels quickly and secure them with nuts and washers. Because these panels are reusable, prime and paint all surfaces and edges to protect them from decay.

Tip 2: On masonry houses, fit the plywood inside the window opening and hold it in place with 4-inch barrel bolts spaced no more than 16 inches apart. Each bolt's sliding shaft fits into a hole drilled in the masonry, (not the grout joint).