A few years ago, hardly anyone asked Vision Homes president Chip Nemec about building hurricane-safe rooms in a new house. After last summer’s frightening hurricane season, however, when four back-to-back-to-back storms devastated parts of Florida, Nemec says some customers began inquiring about safe rooms, a proposition that can cost up to $10,000.
You can see Vision Homes’ hurricane-safe room in the new Tech House the company is building in conjunction with the Home Builders Association of Sarasota County in the Trillium community east of I-75 on Proctor Road. With concrete walls and ceiling, a sink for water and an impact-resistant window, the room is practically a bank vault.
Although not everyone will cover a room in concrete, it’s a safe bet that no one in Florida is going to be complacent about hurricane protection this summer. And with numerous products on the market to reinforce windows, doors and roofs, there’s no excuse for anyone to be caught unawares.
The Garage Door
During hurricanes, wind can enter the house through windows, doors and the roof, and if enough wind gets in, it can blow the roof off the house and destroy everything within.
"The garage door is the first failure point," says Steve Johnson, president of Tropical Storm Shield. "It wasn’t built for a storm; it was built to keep kids out, and to keep possums out of the garbage."
A large garage door is one of the most vulnerable areas, but it can be reinforced or replaced by a sturdier version. Johnson, for example, sells a hurricane garage door that is Dade County-certified (Dade has some of the most stringent hurricane-proofing standards). Other products include wind catchers-a mesh screen installed in front of the door-and garage bracing systems that homeowners can buy and install on existing doors.
Windows and Doors
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, permanent storm shutters offer the best protection for windows and doors. Choosing which kind to buy, however, can be bewildering. Always look for products that are Dade County-certified, says Gregg Feagans, chief of emergency management for Sarasota County, or check manufacturer and installer credentials with the local Better Business Bureau.
"There are different levels of protection, and any level of protection is better than no protection," says Pat Millard, who owns Hurricane Glass Shield with her husband, Kevin. One popular option Millard offers is a look-out shutter-clear Lexan panels that can withstand winds but allow you to peek out through your windows, unlike wood or metal shutters. Lexan costs about $18 to $20 a square foot to install.
"When you spend a lot of money, you buy something that’s convenient," Johnson says. "I say to people, what are you willing to do before a storm?"
Plain storm panels in steel or aluminum are the least expensive options, but they have to be installed, taken down and stored away, and can be a nuisance for seasonal residents who may be unable to fly back to protect their homes. Accordion shutters open side to side like a sliding glass door, while electric roll-down shutters, which can be operated by remote control, are the most convenient and usually most expensive. Johnson says that in an average house-three bedrooms, three bathrooms, about 2,400 square feet in a $300,000 neighborhood, with about 18 doors and windows-storm panels will cost about $8,000; accordion shutters about $15,000 to $18,000; and electric roll-down shutters about $35,000 to $50,000.
"A lot of people wait until the last minute and then go and buy plywood," Johnson says. "Most people who buy plywood have no idea how to attach it. If you don’t do that right, you’ve wasted your money."
If you are going to cover windows with plywood, the boards should be at least 5/8 inch thick, attached firmly at least every 12 inches and anchored to concrete. And stock up well before a storm; last summer saw long lines and sold-out signs outside hardware stores.
An alternative to shutters is impact-resistant windows. Dave Olmstead, public affairs and code compliance officer for PGT Industries, says the product has become widely available over the past three years, and if proven to be Dade County-certified, is an excellent option. PGT makes a line of impact-resistant windows and doors called WinGuard, combining heavy-duty aluminum or vinyl frames with laminated, silicone-glazed glass that will not break away from the frame. A 3,500-square-foot home with 18 windows can be fitted with impact-resistant windows for about $11,580, he says.
"We did not find a single impact window that failed during the four storms," says Olmstead, who’s been on the Hurricane Damage Assessment Task Force for the Florida Building Commission since Hurricane Andrew.
It may sound obvious, but it is important to make sure shutters and any other equipment have been installed properly. Olmstead says much of the damage he observed after last summer’s storms was due to something as simple as a washer being left off a shutter. Also, he suggests homeowners always obtain a building permit before starting to retrofit their home.
"You have a second set of eyes looking at your work to ensure it’s done correctly," says Olmstead. "So many people don’t take the extra step, but it’s well worth it."
What does not work is tape over glass windows. And while window films can provide some protection against high winds, they are not considered adequate protection in hurricane-prone areas, according to the Institute of Business and Home Safety.
Preparing your roof to withstand a hurricane may seem daunting, but it is also the most important thing you can do. Roofs must be attached strongly enough to the walls so that a forceful wind cannot enter from below and lift off the roof, and shingles or tiles should be properly attached. New state building codes that went into effect in 2001 mandate four to six nails per shingle.
"Roofing tiles got a bad rep during [last summer's storms]," says Olmstead. "If roofing tiles are installed correctly and fastened down with screws, there’s no problem."
Metal roofs did well during the storms.
"All studies after the hurricanes showed that metal held up better than any material out there," says Bob Bostic, Eastern regional manager for Gerard Roofing Technologies, which manufactures stone-coated steel roofing in five different looks, such as concrete tile, asphalt shingle and wood shake.
Even if you don’t have a metal roof, you can prepare for the hurricanes by making sure yours is in good condition. Get an inspection if the roof is more than 10 years old, and hire a professional to reinforce the roof’s connection to the walls with special metal straps and connectors. Gable roofs are especially susceptible, but are easily reinforced by cross-bracing.
Once roofs, windows and doors have been reinforced, trim large trees and branches in the yard, put away lawn furniture, and ready a family emergency plan. Buy a generator, corded phone and battery-operated radio, and keep on hand enough food, water and medicine for 72 hours.
"Here in Florida it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when," says Olmstead. "Every square inch of Florida has been hit by a hurricane at one time or another. And Florida has a problem: You can’t get out. We don’t have the infrastructure. So protect your home; it’s quite likely you’re going to be stuck in it."
For more detailed information on hurricane-proofing your home, check out the following Web sites.
Investigate specific products and manufacturers to make sure they meet stringent state guidelines for hurricane protection.
The Web site of Sarasota County has detailed information about hurricane preparedness, evacuation routes and emergency shelters.
The Florida Division of Emergency Management gives tips on preparing your family for hurricanes.
The National Hurricane Center Web site.
Provides a printable detailed brochure on how to prepare your home for hurricanes.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Web site has a wealth of information about preparing for hurricanes.