What are the chances that South Florida get hit with another devastating hurricane?
Andrew was a category 4 hurricane (on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale which ranges from category 1 [74-95 mph] to category 5 [over 155 mph]). Over the past 110 years, the center of a hurricane has passed within 75 miles of Miami, on average, once every 3.5 years. A major hurricane (category 3 or greater) comes at least that close about once in nine years, and a category 4, or greater, once every 15 years. If these numbers seem unreasonable, it is because the last 30 years have been unusual in that there were much fewer hurricanes than earlier in the century.
Should I get hurricane shutters and why?
If you live in hurricane prone areas such as coastal counties from Texas to Maine, covers for windows are an excellent investment for protection of life and property. These covers can be heavy duty commercial shutters or properly installed plywood of sufficient thickness for the opening it is protecting. A minimum thickness suggested is 5/8 in. with thicker, properly reinforced, plywood for large areas such as sliding glass doors. These covers will protect windows and doors from wind, and more importantly, flying debris. Much of the damage that occurred from Andrew in southern Dade County, Florida resulted from failure of windows and doors. These failures frequently lead to interior wall failure and sometimes roof failures. Much of the damage from hurricane Andrew would have been prevented by shutters or other well installed covers for the windows and doors.
What are the best kind of shutters?
The best kind are those that are affordable and get installed to protect your windows and doors. The answer is different for different circumstances. For a disabled or elderly person, this may require some sort of automated method for closing; suggesting something like accordion shutters. For the strong handyman, heavy plywood trimmed to fit within the windows with secure mounting brackets makes sense. Bahamas shutters are a favorite for some windows because they serve a useful purpose year around and are quick and easy to install when needed. Storm panels are a good compromise for many people. Heavy steel panels offer the best protection, but are heavy to install. Aluminum panels at a comparable price offer less protection, but are easier to vinstall. If there is no source of heavy debris upwind (windowsface the beach) you might consider the lesser protection of aluminum shutters adequate. There are other types. The key in all of these is that the installation must be good, and done by a qualified and reliable workman, and they must suit the conditions under which they will be installed and expected to perform.
The best shutters for the money depends on how much work you can do in fabricating and installing them. Convenience costs money, but convenience to the able bodied may be a necessity to the elderly or even to those who don't anticipate they will have enough time to complete more labor intensive installations. One word of caution: if electric power is used to open or close shutters, then a mechanical backup is mandatory, since electricity may very well be out either before or after a hurricane.
What about the plastic film I have been hearing about?
These films are no substitute for shutters or plywood covers for windows and doors. However, demonstrations of their strength are quite impressive, and they are probably the next best thing to solid covers for windows and doors, especially where access to such glass areas is physically restricted. One problem is that they only provide a measure of protection for the glass itself, and frequently the frame holding the glass in place can fail. This includes both windows and sliding glass doors. Dade County, and others, continue to test these products.
How do I go about choosing a company I can trust
The same way one goes about choosing any company that performs services. Make sure they are licensed, get references, and above all, check the references. If the company provides the references, they will likely not give you names of unsatisfied customers; thus referrals from friends and relatives are preferable. Also, check with the Better Business Bureau, your local licensing authority, and contractor associations.
When is the best time to get my shutters installed?
The best time to have shutters installed is when the house is built so that they can be part of the design. If you already have a home without shutters, then get them installed as soon as practical. If they are permanent, in place on the building, such as bahamas, roll down, accordion, etc., then practice closing them once a year before hurricane season to make sure everything is in place and in working order. If they are panels, then check at the beginning of each hurricane season to see that all hardware is available and check each opening to make sure no repairs are required. It is also a good idea to practice installing these panels for a couple of windows or doors prior to each season, timing how long it takes you to install them.
When the hurricane "Watch" is issued, check all mechanisms and hardware again, and perhaps install some of your more difficult shutters. If you are in a potential evacuation zone, and it is going to take you more than 2 to 3 hours to install your shutters, you may want to start the work during the "Watch" phase. If you are not in an evacuation zone, you should have time during the "Warning" phase to install your shutters.
What if I can't afford to get shutters?
The least expensive effective method of protecting windows is probably the plywood method. If the plywood covers are properly installed, they are just as effective, or maybe more effective than commercial shutters. The key is proper thickness and installation. They should be cut, fit,and installed prior to the hurricane season, then well marked and stored with hardware for quick installation should a hurricane threaten the area. The time for installation is the same as for shutters mentioned above. You might consider doing a few windows at a time over a long period, or seeking financing to make them affordable. There will still be some people who, for one reason or another, just can't afford to do either of these. For those, it is like not having insurance, recovering from the disaster will be slow, and they will have to depend on outside help. Putting tape on the windows is not considered worth the effort.
Are there any tax or insurance benefits to having shutters?
There are no tax benefits that we are aware of. In fact, if you install shutters, getting a building permit will likely result in an increase in your property appraisal and your property taxes; hence local government has a disincentive to installing shutters. Some incentives are being considered at various government levels. Monroe County, and Dade County after January 1, 1994, require window covers on all new construction.
Can condomimum associations prohibit installation of shutters?
The short answer in Florida is no. Chapter 718 of Florida Statutes of the Condominium Act (1991) permits each board of administration to adopt specifications as to color, style, etc. All specifications "shall comply with the applicable building code". The Florida statutes further state "... a board shall not refuse to approve the-installation or replacement of hurricane shutters conforming to the specifications adopted by the board"