Have shutters ready to roll

Long before the next hurricane is the time to decide what type of window protection you need.

Published April 17, 2005

The day before Hurricane Charley made landfall last August, Clearwater building contractor Mark Cagni got phone calls from several of his former clients who own waterfront homes here but spend their summers up north.

"Would you go to my house and roll down my shutters, and call me after the storm to let me know how the house did?" Cagni said they requested.

For waterfront homes, roll-down shutters are a good choice to prevent damage from flying debris. But as Cagni's experience showed, someone still has to be here when the hurricane warnings are posted to roll them down.

The season's four hurricanes reignited interest among homeowners in protecting their windows.

"Everyone gets prepared when it's too late," Steve Schechner, owner of Awning Works in Clearwater, said. So smart homeowners will take advantage of the off season to do some shopping.

By midafternoon of the Monday after Charley made his destructive way through Punta Gorda and Arcadia and on to Orlando, Russ Bohen at Home Safety Solutions in Palm Harbor, who sells a variety of window protection, had fielded "200 leads from people who want us out there now."

Here are some considerations as you review the pros and cons of each type of protection.

-- Can you install the protection yourself, or do you know someone who will do it for you? Screwing plywood panels in place is a heavy, awkward job that typically takes more than one person. Many people who used plywood emerged from the 2004 hurricane season vowing, "Never again." Pulling an accordion shutter across a sliding-glass door is a lot simpler. Advocates of laminated glass or window film say their product is always in place and needs no last-minute installation. (Window film, however, does not pass the Miami-Dade certification test because the film won't make the window frame stronger. A film-covered window will withstand only whatever wind load it withstands without the film.) The harder protection is to use, the less likely homeowners are to use it.

-- If you already have coverings, are you ready to roll? Do you know where the wing nuts or other fasteners are? Do you know how to install or operate them?

-- Plywood is the covering of first or last resort for many homeowners, but it's heavy and hard to store and attach when a storm nears. When wet, it can peel apart. It is a fire and termite hazard. It should be measured, drilled and labeled in advance. A 4-by-8 sheet of 7/16-inch exterior plywood costs just under $29.

-- Storage space is also problem for heavy stacks of aluminum or steel panels. Those metal panels can tear up your hands or cause serious injury if a stack of them drops on a foot.

-- Most homeowner and condo associations do not allow window coverings to be left in place when owners leave for vacations or the summer. They're a giveaway that a home or apartment is unoccupied. Community associations may regulate the kind, style and color of window protection, but they may not prohibit homeowners from protecting their property.

Fire officials discourage leaving window coverings in place because they make it difficult or impossible for occupants to get out if there is a fire.

-- Make sure protection meets testing standards. It must withstand repeated blows by a 9-pound 2 by 4 traveling at 34 mph followed by hurricane-force winds. A label on the product should confirm its certification. The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (www.flash.org) recommends products that have been tested to these standards: ASTM E 1886 and ASTM E 1996; SBCCI SSTD 12; or Miami-Dade Protocols PA 201, 202 and 203. FLASH is a partnership of the insurance industry, government agencies, nonprofits and businesses. Its Web site offers technical information about building or retrofitting a home for hurricane safety, links to other sites, and consumer advice.

-- Appearances matter. Some panels fit into tracks or ridges around the windows. Others hook onto bolts, or require that holes be drilled in the walls. You must decide what you're willing to look at the rest of the year.

-- Almost anything you put over your windows is going to darken the interior during daylight, which some people find claustrophobic.

All prices given here are approximate. Prices may vary depending on where the protection is to be installed (more expensive on higher floors that require ladders or scaffolding, for example), and anything custom-made will be more expensive than something off the shelf.

Five of the products shown here - colonial shutters, roll-downs, Bahama shutters, accordions and screens - were photographed at the Florida House Learning Center, a demonstration project in Sarasota that showcases design strategies and technologies for living in southwest Florida. The display of window protection gives consumers a chance to see the products in place at one location. A model "safe room" is also on display.

The house is at 4600 Beneva Road S, Sarasota, phone 941 316-1200. The Web site is http://sarasota.extension.ufl.edu

Florida law requires insurers to offer discounts or credits to homeowners who protect their windows. The Department of Community Affairs maintains a Web site with information about insurance incentives at www.dca.state.fl.us/fhcd/mitdb/index.cfm Not all insurance companies are listed here.

COLONIAL SHUTTERS: These decorative shutters add to the home's appearance. For a storm, they close, like old-fashioned shutters, and lock across the window. $30 to $35 per square foot.

ACCORDION SHUTTERS: They are typically used to cover sliding glass doors on a lanai. $24 per square foot.

BAHAMA SHUTTERS: These offer a Key West look and can shade windows from the sun. But a heavy-duty aluminum plate on the inside cuts off the view when the shutters are closed. $20 to $30 per square foot.

MESH WIND SCREEN: Transparent polypropylene mesh wind screen - Force 12 is one brand - is attached at the top and bottom with removable stainless-steel eye bolts. It cuts wind speed and slows down objects that strike it. Mainly used in large areas - lanais, garages, big expanses of glass - it is frequently seen in commercial applications: buildings, offices, hospitals, fire stations. Home Safety Solutions in Palm Harbor installed it at the entryways of the USF Sun Dome, which is a special-needs shelter. Price: $12 to $14 a square foot.

STEEL-MESH SCREENS: These cover windows and doors yet allow filtered light inside. $40 per square foot. One brand is Storm Shield by Exeter; visit www.stormshield.net

FULL-VIEW BAHAMA SHUTTERS: This product from Town & Country Industries has moving louvers open to the view that can be snapped shut to provide hurricane protection. No backing plate is required. $20 to $30 per square foot. See them at www.tc-alum.com

FABRIC PANELS: Fabric-Shield panels from Wayne Dalton are made of PVC-coated woven fabric attached with grommets and wing nuts. The natural-colored shield is translucent, allowing light inside. Lightweight, easy to roll up and store. The material will flex, so it's possible a direct hit from a projectile could break a window, but the interior is protected from wind and rain. Stock and custom sizes. A panel 283/4 by 30 inches is about $66. Details: http://www.wayne-dalton.com/Fabric-Shield.asp

IMPACT-RESISTANT GLASS: Two panes of heavy glass form a sandwich with a middle layer of heavy, clear polyvinyl. It's an expensive option but is the choice for those who don't want to install shutters or other visible forms of protection. Advantages: It's always in place, acts as a security measure and provides UV protection. Production costs more and takes longer than regular glass, and most laminate windows are custom-made. One manufacturer, PGT Technologies, estimates its windows cost about 40 percent of what electric roll-down windows cost and about the same as accordion shutters.

WINDOW FILM: Window film will not prevent airborne debris from breaking a window. It will hold the broken glass together in the frame so flying shards don't create a safety hazard while it continues offering protection from wind and rain. As such it is also a security film. This is another of those "passive" protections that requires no last-minute work by the homeowner. Average installed price: $8.50 per square foot. Don't confuse this product with film that is sold only for protection from heat and glare. Hurricane film doesn't make the window pane pass the missile test for hurricane certification.

STEEL OR ALUMINUM PANELS: Aluminum and steel cost about the same (around $11 a square foot), but aluminum is stronger and lighter. Disadvantages of both: heavy and hard to store; edges may cut hands; can be hazardous if dropped on a foot. Older styles mount in tracks. Newer ones are direct-mounted, attached with bolts or wing nuts. See-through Lexan panels ($15 a square foot) solve the problem of darkness and claustrophobia created by metal panels.

ROLL-DOWN SHUTTERS: These aluminum or PVC shutters operate by a pull strap or can be hand-cranked or motorized. Made to order for each window. $35 to $40 per square foot for nonmotorized shutters, $60 per square foot for motorized.