Protect Exterior Doors from Hurricane Damage

Here’s how to use plywood to protect your exterior doors from hurricanes, plus the benefits of high-impact glass doors.

Equip your exterior doors with hurricane-resistant glass--it looks the same as regular glass, so it won't affect your home's appearance. Image: PGT® Architectural Systems Sliding Glass Door

You know the damage a kid’s baseball can do to a home’s unprotected siding or sliding glass doors. Now imagine a whole bunch of baseballs hurled by hurricane-force winds in excess of 155 mph. That’s enough force to punch through exterior entry doors and shatter patio doors. And that’s an invitation for rain and surging floodwaters to get inside.

So if a hurricane comes knocking on your front door, make sure it can’t come in with these smart ideas for strong exterior doors.

Check and strengthen exterior doors

Your first line of defense is to check all exterior doors for loose or missing hinge screws. Strong hurricane-force winds can buckle any exterior door that’s not screwed in and secured tightly. Some tips:

  • Replace existing hinge screws with longer ones that pass through the door jambs and anchor the hinges to the wall framing. (That’s a great way to guard against break-ins, too.)
  • Screw the threshold tightly into the house framing, not just the door jambs.
  • Add a one-inch deadbolt to your door to make it more hurricane resistant.
  • Extend barrel bolts for double (French) doors into the flooring at least one inch.

Shield exterior doors with plywood

It’s hard to beat plywood for toughness and cost effectiveness. Figure you’ll spend $1 to $2 per square foot if you do the work yourself or $3 to $5 per square foot if you pay a contractor. Some tips if you do it yourself:

  • Nail or screw sheets of 1/2- or 5/8-inch-thick plywood over your doors and you’ll have one of the best defenses against hurtling debris. Overlap door frames by a good 8 inches all around.
  • Set aside a weekend to cut and fit all the plywood for a typical house. Find a handy, easy-to-reach place to store your shields so you can pull them out and hang them in a jiffy.
  • Pre-install screw anchors around door openings to speed up installation when you need it. Use heavy-duty screws and anchors (in wood) or expansion bolts (in masonry) to attach the plywood to your home’s walls (not the door frames).
  • Keep your cordless drill batteries charged and ready to go. The downside to installing plywood shields is that you’ll probably put them up at the last minute, when a hurricane is approaching. That’s no time for a low battery.

Replace glass doors with high-impact glass doors

You’ll pay up to three times as much for a sliding patio door with high-impact glass as you would for a regular patio door of the same size and type, but you’ll get an extra margin of safety.

High-impact glass is super strong—it’s made up of tough plastic film sandwiched between two panes of tempered glass. That plastic helps the glass resist shattering.

Exterior doors with hurricane-resistant glass look like standard doors, so they won’t affect your home’s appearance. As a bonus, they’re always in place in the event of a hurricane.

Ask about home insurance discounts

To encourage you to take steps to minimize damage, your insurer may 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 and $8,000, assuming no hurricane-mitigation improvements. With improvements, such as plywood shields and high-impact glass doors, the same home would cost between $1,000 and $3,500 to insure.