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Storm Protection for Florida Single-Family Homes - An Overview

July 29, 2022 | Christopher Carter

Florida residents are very aware of the possibility for hurricanes and tropical storms during the summer and fall seasons. Strong storms can cause significant damage to houses and condominium buildings, disrupting daily life for extended periods. Very often they also bring power and other utility outages, road closures, exposure to personal injury, and difficulty finding food, water, gasoline, and other necessities.

The main focus is protecting houses and condos from a storm's flying debris and destructive winds. The more you can do to keep your windows, doors, and roof intact, the better you can minimize damage to your property. This is called protecting the "building envelope", preventing high pressure wind from entering the interior through a broken window or other opening.

 

Today's article outlines the various types of hurricane protection that are available for Single-Family Homes (SFHs) in Florida, with a few benefits and drawbacks of each for comparison.  A discussion on storm protection for condo buildings (including high-rises) is in the works for an upcoming edition. Protection for taller multi-family buildings is much more involved than that for SFHs.

 

Impact resistance from flying debris like coconuts, branches, and neighbors' roof tiles is the primary concern for SFHs and 2-3 story buildings. Wind pressures and wind loads become the primary concern on the higher floors of taller buildings.

 

This article is not intended to be an all-inclusive technical discussion. It is a broad look at the basics of storm protection options in Florida.

After the widespread destruction caused by Hurricane Andrew in Miami (August 1992), storm protection products, building codes, and windstorm insurance coverage underwent major changes combined with strict regulation. As a result, Dade County product approvals were enacted to ensure that storm protection products and installations meet specific standards that are based on actual laboratory testing of each shutter, panel, or system offered to the public as a means to protect a window or door opening from storm damage.

 

(Many of us who were involved with those original changes still call it Dade County. The name was not changed to Miami-Dade County until late 1997.)

Since then, all building codes used throughout Florida have adopted standards for storm protection products, stemming from the original Dade County product approval protocols of 1992-93. All hurricane shutters or protection products sold in Florida must have a Product Approval letter / Evaluation Report from the County or other jurisdiction where it will be installed. Manufacturers submit their product's lab test results in order to receive a Product Approval letter for each specific shutter, window, door or other protection product.

 

A Building Permit must be applied for, issued, and closed for ALL installations of products advertised and sold as storm protection.

When issued, the Building Permit confirms that the product itself meets code for its intended use on a specific opening based on its Product Approval letter, while the permit's final inspection verifies that it was installed in compliance with the product's filed engineering report and lab test results.

 

Installation is by far the most important factor. You can put armor plate over your windows and doors, though if not installed properly, it is useless.

Most newer houses already have impact-rated windows and doors (including garage doors). The options below might be considered as upgrades by owners of older houses.

When deciding whether to install or upgrade to any of the products mentioned here, it is a good idea to check with your insurance agent/company to see if you might receive any premium savings for reducing windstorm risk. If you are in an Association-governed community, be sure to check with your HOA's Board for any restrictions.

 

Storm Panels

 

Storm panels
Storm panels

 

These are the most basic storm protection products sold commercially and can be steel, aluminum, or polycarbonate. A track or collar section is attached above and below the window or door, then the overlapping panels fit into and are secured to the tracks. The top piece is often a U-channel, the lower track often uses individual wingnuts to secure the panels.

Impact strength decreases with panel height, meaning that a taller panel will dent deeper than a shorter one.

 

  • Benefits: strong, very good impact resistance; most affordable
  • Drawbacks: time-consuming to put in place and remove; sharp edges (wear work gloves); not advised for 2nd floor openings; panels take up storage space when not in use
  • Cost: $
  • Effort to use: high

 

 

Accordion shutters

 

Accordion Shutter
Accordion Shutter

 

Accordions stay permanently installed on the exterior wall, pushed to the sides of an opening when not used, then pulled closed to protect it. Manufactured from extruded aluminum blades hinged together, they provide very good protection and are MUCH easier to secure than Storm Panels since they store and slide on upper and lower tracks. The latches and locks can be on either the outside or inside, depending on where it is installed and most convenient to operate (2nd floor shutters and at least 1 ground level entry door should latch and lock from inside).

Impact strength decreases with blade height, meaning that a taller shutter will dent deeper than a shorter one.

 

  • Benefits: strong with very good impact resistance; easy to close and reopen; can be used on all floors; no storage issues; mid-level pricing
  • Drawbacks: permanent installation may present outside appearance concerns; time needed to pull closed and secure
  • Cost: $$
  • Effort to use: medium

 

 

Rolldown Shutters

 

Rolldown shutter
Rolldown shutter

 

These are the easiest type of storm protection to operate when a storm is approaching. They can be moved up or down manually with an extension handle or by an electric motor which is helpful with larger/heavier rolls. Also manufactured from extruded aluminum slats hinged together, the permanently-installed upper housing holds the entire shutter when not in use. Rolled down, the horizontal slats are held by permanent tracks on the sides of the opening.

Impact strength decreases with slat width, meaning that a wider shutter span will dent deeper than a narrower one.

When using electric motors, manual over-rides are advised for power outages.

 

  • Benefits: easy to operate and secure the opening; can also be used for shade and security
  • Drawbacks: permanent installation may present outside appearance concerns; cost is higher than other options
  • Cost: $$$ manual, $$$$ electric
  • Effort to use: low

 

 

Storm Screens

 

Storm Screens
Storm Screens

 

These are a relatively new storm protection product and a very good choice for wider openings such as lanais and outdoor living areas that are under a roof. Made from a strong synthetic monofilament woven into a screen "fabric", they have demonstrated good impact resistance for open areas. Because the fabric is flexible, installations directly in front of glass windows and doors are not usually recommended. They have become a popular choice for protecting the outer openings of SFH lanai/patio areas that have ceilings and structural outer support columns. Storm screens can be operated either manually or by electric motors in the upper reel hood.

 

  • Benefits: easy to operate; cover large area with one unit; can be used for shade and security
  • Drawbacks: not suggested for individual windows or doors; cost is in same range as roll downs
  • Cost: $$$ manual, $$$$ electric
  • Effort to use: low

 

 

Impact-Rated Windows / Doors

 

Impact Windows and Doors
Impact Windows and Doors

 

Instead of buying separate storm protection for their glass windows and doors, many Florida homeowners replace their older ones with newer code impact-rated windows and doors. These are also specified for all new construction. All have undergone independent laboratory testing to determine impact resistance, which allows the manufacturers to get their Product Approval letter. Remember, the engineering and PA letter are needed to receive a valid building permit, just like the shutter products mentioned above.

Impact-rated windows and doors also offer better insulation and energy savings over older ones.

Important - The glass in impact rated windows and doors is not guaranteed not to break under impact. It can break or crack, though will not shatter and fall out, creating an opening for wind and rain to enter the living area. (Remember the "building envelope" concept of protection.) The frames and installation methods are also engineered to resist failing when hit with flying debris.

 

  • Benefits: Built-in protection; no labor needed as storm approaches; attractive; energy efficient;
  • Drawbacks: Glass can still break/crack under impact; higher cost
  • Cost: $$$$
  • Effort to use: none

 

All products mentioned may require repair after taking an impact from flying debris. Storm shutters and impact windows are not likely to stop a projectile moving at high speed without incurring some sort of damage in the process. That's how they protect the opening behind them.

There we are - a quick overview of the kinds of storm protection available to Florida Single-Family Home owners.

Another reminder - only use licensed, insured companies who pull a Building Permit before installation. In my opinion, it is a good idea to do business with a company whose installers are company employees, not subcontractors. It can sometimes be difficult to locate subcontractors if a problem arises after the job is completed.

Most newer homes (2012 and newer) have impact-rated windows and doors, though if you are not sure have yours checked by a reputable contractor or Home Inspector.

Watch your inbox for my upcoming article on storm protection for condo buildings.

Feel free to forward this article to anyone you'd like. And be sure to check out the All Posts page for more articles on how real estate really works in Florida. Here's a direct link:  https://thefloridarealestateblog.com/?blog=y 

 

Original Article by:

Christopher Carter, Real Estate Broker Associate

Licensed Community Association Manager

https://thefloridarealestateblog.com/f/storm-protection-for-florida-single-family-homes---an-overview 

 


 

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