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When do people start thinking about how to protect their windows from a hurricane?

"When there's a hurricane 5 miles away," said Stan Ubele, owner with his wife, Carol, of Pasco Window & Door in New Port Richey.

"When there's a storm warning," agreed Mike Daly of Daly Aluminum in Holiday. "We don't get any calls until the storm season's upon us, and then they want it right now."

Well, storm season's here.

The 1996 hurricane season starts today and continues through Nov. 30.

Last year, hurricanes Allison, Erin, Jerry and Opal showed what the experts have been saying:

Flying debris _ branches, palm fronds, buckets, boards _ smashes through unprotected doors and windows. Shards of window glass, like flying knives, slash families huddled inside.

Howling winds enter the house, creating tremendous internal pressure. Other windows explode. The roof is ripped off, and the house may collapse. Torrential rains pour in, soaking the home and its contents.

Covering doors and windows is the single most important step you can take to protect yourself and your home in case of a hurricane.

Some homeowners are motivated to install storm protection because they've lived through a Florida hurricane _ or at least a hurricane season. Others "are newcomers to our area, who are conscious of the reputation of Florida as hurricane-prone and want to learn about it right away, as well as a lot _ believe it or not _ who have experienced more hurricanes in northern climates than we have here," said Russell Bohlen of Home Safety Solutions in Palm Harbor.

While window protection has tended to be a retrofit industry, "the new-home market is a very expanding industry," he said. "Builders in the high-end market look at this as very much of an enhancement."

Now is the time to decide what to do at your house. Here are some of the alternatives:

Plywood sheets. These are the least expensive: A 4- by 8-foot sheet of three-quarter-inch, pressure-treated plywood costs $21.45 at Home Depot, where hurricane protection experts say a half-inch is not adequate. But wood coverings are time-consuming to make and install. They're prone to rot and termite damage. You'll need a fair amount of space to store them, and they're heavy and hard for one person to install in calm weather, let alone when the winds start to blow. The sheets are only as good as the fasteners that hold them in place, and nails or screws won't do the job; lag bolts are better.

But if plywood is your choice, now's the time to measure your windows, cut the plywood to size, and predrill holes to hang the sheets. Don't wait until a hurricane is looming off the coast to head for the home center and try to buy plywood.

A Tampa-based company, Cornerstone, (800) 600-7732, sells metal hurricane rails that can be permanently mounted on a home to accept sheets of plywood.

Hurricane awnings. These are slatted, fold-down aluminum awnings that cover your windows to provide protection from flying objects. The rest of the time they provide shade from the sun. An awning for a 3- by 4-foot window installed by a homeowner would cost $75, said Daly of Daly Aluminum. Add $50 if the company installs it for you.

Bahama shutters. These louvered shutters resemble Venetian blinds and can be propped out from the window at a 45-degree angle to admit light and air. At hurricane time they can be locked in place to repel flying debris. A 3- by 4-foot shutter would cost about $180, said Jack Wollam, manager of the West Coast branch of Broward Hurricane, in Largo. Homeowners like the look, and the shutters provide shade and some protection against condensation in cold weather. "But they're not as functional for storm protection" as some other systems, Wollam said. "Louvered slats are not going to meet missile-impact requirements, and they never will."

Metal storm panels. These are sheets of corrugated aluminum or galvanized steel that fit into a track around the window and are secured in place with wing nuts. Metal panels are lighter and easier to install than plywood, and aluminum panels weigh about one-third what steel weighs, said Stan Ubele of Pasco Window & Door. That means they're easier to install or to carry to storage. Aluminum doesn't rust, as steel might, he said. An aluminum panel 3 by 4 feet would cost $160 to $170, he estimated.

Also available: see-through plastic panels. These are made from polycarbonate, which is used in aircraft windshields and bulletproof glass. They allow natural light into the home, which plywood and metal panels do not. They are lighter than plywood and easier to stack and store. The panels, 13{ inches wide, can be interspersed with metal panels or with black polycarbonate panels, which are slightly cheaper than the clear. Joe Lynn, sales manager at Lifetime Aluminum Products in Pinellas, estimated it would cost $120 to cover a 3- by 4-foot window with clear panels.

Accordion-style shutters. These can be pulled across sliding glass doors and locked in place from the inside. Since they're permanently attached, they're also a good choice for second-story windows where homeowners don't want to wrestle plywood or aluminum panels in place in high winds. They still have to be pulled shut from the outside, which does require climbing a ladder. Ubele at Pasco Window & Door said a PVC accordion window shutter 3 by 4 feet would cost $375.

Roll-down shutters. These may be made of PVC, Lexan or extruded aluminum. When not in use, they are contained in a closed box at the top of the window. The shutters roll down in a track, completely covering the window. They may be operated electrically, by hand crank or with a pull strap. Costs vary depending on the size of the window and where the shutter is to be installed. Bill Covington, president of Shutterhaus-NuSash in St. Petersburg, estimated that a reinforced PVC shutter for a 3- by 4-foot window would cost $425, including reasonable installation. A high-rise condo, where scaffolding is required, would be more costly than a single-story home.

State law says that condo associations must allow unit owners to install storm shutters to protect their possessions. The condo association may set structural and aesthetic standards for them.

Window films. These films will strengthen the glass to resist winds and flying objects _ rocks, baseballs, tree branches. If the window does break, the film holds it in place and prevents shards from flying into the house like tomahawks. Window film was developed as an antiterrorist device for use by government offices around the world. After Hurricane Andrew, a consumer market developed.

The advantage of window film is that "it's on 24 hours a day. There's no human error in deciding when to put it up or take it off," said Tony Davis, president of Glass Protection Services in Largo, which sells brands called SafeGard and Armorcoat. Window film "won't make anybody's house hurricane-proof," Davis said. "It will contain the glass."

Another advantage Davis cited: "It's human nature to want to see what's going on," which residents cannot do if their windows are covered with plywood or shutters.

Clear or tinted, the films are applied to the inside of the glass. They filter out heat and UV rays. A good film should meet federal standards that require it to withstand pressure of 400 pounds per square inch, Davis said. Customers should look at the film's resistance to impact and to tears.

Film and installation for a 3- by 4-foot window would cost about $72, Davis said.

Film provides security and comfort benefits year-round, as well as hurricane protection. It offers a measure of safety if a child or pet falls into a window while roughhousing, pointed out Joanne G. Centeno of Tampa-based Solar Security of Florida, which sells 3M window film.

Laminated glass. A tough, invisible plastic layer is sandwiched between two panes of glass, similar to a car windshield. The glass may crack upon impact but is designed to adhere to the plastic interlayer and remain in the frame instead of breaking into pieces and falling out. Like the window films, the glass provides UV, noise and safety benefits. DuPont and Monsanto are among the manufacturers. Laminated glass will raise the price of a new home by 1 percent to 2 percent, an industry spokesman estimated.

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Any product you buy should meet or exceed local codes. In addition, many hurricane protection products claim that they meet the tough codes in place in Dade and Broward counties. Window coverings, for example, must resist two strikes by a 9-pound 2 by 4 traveling at 34 mph. They also must resist "cyclic loading," which replicates the pressure and suction of hurricane winds. Vendors should show proof that a product meets the Metro-Dade County codes.

"People have gotten pretty well familiar with that Metro-Dade buzzword "missile impact,'

" said Wollam of Broward Hurricane. "The codes currently on the west coast are a lot more lenient than Metro-Dade" _ they require resistance to winds of 110 to 120 mph, depending on whether the location is a coastal or non-coastal zone, he said, but there is no missile projection requirement. He predicted that the tougher codes will be put in place in this part of Florida before long as insurance companies mandate impact-resistant products.

The cost difference between products that meet the Metro-Dade codes and those that do not may vary. "In a panel system, it's as little as 5 to 10 percent more," Wollam said. Accordion shutters, however, might cost 25 percent to 30 percent more.

Retailers of window protection urge consumers to decide what they expect a product to do. Do you want to protect your windows in a hurricane? Or do you want a product that will also offer security, or temperature and glare control, or protection against UV rays? Be sure you understand exactly what you're buying and what it will and will not do.

Protect your home


Plywood should be cut and drilled in advance and anchors in the house pre-drilled.


These fold down flat against the window and are anchored in place with screws.


Accordian shutters are a popular choice to cover sliding glass doors.


Louvered shutters can be locked flat against windows to repel debris.


Metal panels slide into tracks and are screwed in place.


Roll-downs may be operated by hand or pull strap or electrically.


Clear or tinted films are applied to the inside of the glass.