The bad news announced earlier this year is that we may be facing serious hurricane activity for the next 15 to 20 years. This means a vicious cycle of destruction and cleanup for those along the coasts, but it also means harsher weather for inland dwellers as well.
As hurricanes Katrina and Andrew showed, there isn't much you can do when a Category 4 or 5 storm comes rolling through a subdivision. But lower-grade hurricanes can also do damage. Even if the winds aren't strong enough to destroy windows, flying debris will do the job. That's when it helps to have protection for your glass openings.
High-wind areas, such as Dade County, Fla., have some of the strictest building codes and require that window openings be made from impact-resistant glass or protected with shutters. Impact-resistant windows and doors offer adequate protection from flying debris, but they cost a pretty penny—up to three times more than standard products. This is why more builders and architects are turning to shutters.
“We do use shutters, as they are an important element of many traditional architectural styles,” says Jason Dunham, an architect with Cooper Johnson Smith Architects & Town Planners in Tampa, Fla. “Shutters serve many purposes, including privacy, shade, and protection from the elements. We insist on shutters' being fully functional. We'd rather have no shutters at all than fake ones.”
Depending on the region, Cooper Johnson mostly specifies side-hinged wood shutters that can be operated from inside and uses powder-coated paint on stainless steel hardware to better resist corrosion.
In some areas, wood shutters are not only unacceptable but are useless for protection from wind-borne debris. “Most ‘hurricane code–approved' shutters are not wood, but a wood-composite material or completely synthetic material like fiberglass,” Dunham says.
One shutter manufacturer Cooper Johnson uses is Atlantic Shutter Systems in Latta, S.C. The company says its handcrafted, maintenance-free shutters are custom-made from structural PVC and thermally stable fiberglass and come in an unlimited range of design and style options.
“Wood is not strong enough to withstand strong hurricane winds,” says Jared Harris, vice president at Marianna, Fla.–based Sea Shutters, one of the few companies that manufactures fiberglass shutters. “Fiberglass resembles wood but offers better strength performance. It looks attractive but still offers protection.” Harris says his company's current products were Dade County approved until recent codes took effect. The company is in the process of getting recertified. Even so, Harris says, sales have doubled or tripled every year for the past several years.
Fiberglass and composites aren't the only materials that offer hurricane protection. Some builders also use products made from metal, typically aluminum. “People are basically looking for an inexpensive way to meet the building codes, and aluminum hurricane shutters are probably the most popular option,” says Philip Tyson, CEO of AGI Group, a Sarasota, Fla.–based distributor of all types of shutters. Builders and homeowners may choose from a variety of aluminum products—including motor-driven, accordion, roll shutter, and storm panels—but the two most attractive styles are the colonial and Bahama styles, says Tyson. These products offer the look of traditional shutters, but they offer protection from flying debris.
Even though codes in high-wind areas are forcing builders to include shutters as part of the house, more builders are making the options available in jurisdictions where they are not required, and consumers are buying. Mercedes Homes in Melbourne, Fla., says home buyers in Orlando, Port St. Lucie, and St. Augustine, Fla., are choosing shutters as an option.