Windows and doors are especially susceptible to wind damage, and water can infiltrate your home quickly if these openings are breached. There are steps you can take to protect your windows and doors from hurricanes.
Not only can these improvements pay off during a hurricane, but they might even lower your insurance premiums.
Windows and Doors are Vulnerable
You know the damage an errant rock can do to a home's unprotected windows or sliding glass doors. Now imagine that rock driven by hurricane-force winds in excess of 155 mph. Keeping your windows and doors intact during a storm prevents injuries from flying glass.
When windows and doors blow out or are broken by wind-borne debris, they also allow water into your home. A mere inch of floodwater can cause $7,800 in damage. Wind coming in through compromised window and door openings can create dangerous pressure inside a home that can destabilize the walls and roof.
To encourage homeowners to take steps to minimize damage, many insurers offer discounts for hurricane-mitigation improvements. In Florida's Miami-Dade County, for example, the annual insurance premium on an older home insured for $150,000 runs between $3,000-$8,000, assuming no hurricane-mitigation improvements. With improvements, such as storm shutters or high-impact glass, the same home would cost between $1,000-$3,500 to insure.
Protect Windows During a Hurricane
Taping windows is ineffective against hurricanes, but there are a number of other ways to prepare windows for wind and rain. Some improvements cost little, and you can do the work yourself. Others require the services of a qualified contractor, and the price tag can reach the tens of thousands of dollars.
Hurricane film: Clear plastic film is popular because it's unobtrusive and can be left in place year-round. Many homeowners also like the fact that film blocks ultraviolet light that can fade carpets and fabric. DIYers can install peel-and-stick hurricane film for about $25/linear foot.
The downside to film -- and it's a big one -- is that while it may keep glass shards from becoming dangerous missiles, it does nothing to prevent wind from blowing in the entire window frame. That's why most insurance companies don't offer discounts for hurricane film.
Plywood: An effective and inexpensive option for covering windows, figure you'll spend $1-$2/sq. ft. if you do the work yourself. A contractor might charge between $3-$5/sq. ft. Set aside a weekend to measure, cut, and pre-install all the plywood for a typical house.
Select boards that are 5/8-inch thick and approximately eight inches larger on each side than the opening you're covering. Use heavy-duty screws and anchors (in wood) or expansion bolts (in masonry) to attach the plywood to the home's walls (not the window frames).
The downside to plywood is that it must be put up at the last minute, when a hurricane is approaching. Plywood also blocks light coming into a home, so it'll be very dark inside if power is lost. Pre-installing screw anchors around openings speeds up installation. More expensive than plywood are panels made from steel, aluminum, plastic, reinforced fabric, or composite materials.
Storm shutters: Roll-up or accordion shutters are permanently attached to a house, which makes them easier to deploy than plywood. All you have to do is pull the shutters into place before a storm. Some shutters use perforation or translucent material to let in light.
Storm shutters are expensive, depending on styles and materials. Expect to spend anywhere from $10-$50/sq. ft. for professional installation. Aluminum shutters are common, but also look for shutters made of reinforced fabric or aluminum-wrapped foam.
High-impact glass: Expect to pay as much as $50/sq. ft. for single-glazed impact glass and $70/sq. ft. for double-glazed glass. High-impact windows, which typically are made up of two panes of tempered glass separated by a plastic film, look like standard windows, so they don't affect a home's appearance. As a bonus, they're always in place.
Other than cost, the downside to single-glazed glass is that it's not very energy efficient. And while the glass is impact resistant, water is still likely to penetrate the interior in a hurricane. High-impact glass windows usually qualify for discounts on homeowners insurance policies.
Don't Forget Exterior Doors
Protect glass doors or wood doors with large glass panes as you would windows. Check all doors, including solid wood exterior doors, for loose or missing screws. Strong winds can buckle any door that's not properly protected and secured.
As you inspect exterior doors, pay attention to hinges. Are any screws missing? How many hinges are there? Having three hinges on outside doors, rather than two, adds strength. You might want to replace existing hinge screws with longer ones to anchor the door to the wall structure.
Be sure the door threshold is tightly screwed into the house, not just the door frame. Adding a one-inch deadbolt to a door also makes it more wind resistant. If you have double doors, be sure the barrel bolt that holds the second door in place penetrates the floor.
Garage Doors are Big Targets for Gusts
Because garage doors are often flimsy and cover a large area, they're particularly vulnerable to wind gusts. Be sure that the track of your garage door is at least 14-gauge weight -- check the owner's manual or look for markings on the track -- and is securely mounted with several screws.
To strengthen your garage door against high winds, you can brace it with vertical and horizontal 2-by-4 boards anchored into the walls. A wind retrofit kit for garage doors includes braces and hardware. A kit costs up to $500 for a double garage door. You can probably install braces yourself, if you're handy with a drill.
A more expensive option is replacing your garage door with an impact-resistant model made of steel. Impact-resistant doors cost $750-$1,295. Be sure that whatever door you chose meets your local building codes for wind resistance.