If strong wind gets in your home, it places intense pressure on walls and can lead to a roof collapse.

BY MIMI WHITEFIELD – Miami Herald

If your home isn’t secured with a shutter system, now is the time to move this item to the top of your to-do list. Shutters are important not only to protect your windows from flying debris but also to prevent your home from being breached with hurricane-force winds if a window breaks. When the wind gets in your home, it places intense pressure on interior walls and can lead to a roof collapse.

Commercially installed shutters generally average $9 to $30 per square foot, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. For do-it-yourselfers, the cost is about 25 percent less per square foot.

But unless you’ve got really good handyman skills, consider professional installation. One reason: it might make it easier to get hurricane credits from your insurance company.

If you protect all your windows, it could be worth a 6 to 7 percent reduction on the wind portion of your insurance. To qualify, most insurers require verification by a licensed engineer, contractor or architect.

Miami-Dade and Broward counties are both considered high-wind-velocity areas, and have the most stringent standards in the state, said Jaime Gascon, Miami-Dade product control section supervisor.

When shopping for shutter systems, make sure the products say Miami-Dade approved — which meets all standards in the state.

Get the product number from a sales person and check it against approved products listed on the website of the Miami-Dade Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources.

Before installing shutters also check if your homeowners association or your municipality city has specific guidelines.

Gascon said a permit is required for installation of shutter systems — a good thing because an inspector will certify that a system is properly installed.

Also do some checking before hiring a company. Make sure the contractor is licensed and insured, check references and see if any complaints have been filed with the Florida Department of Business Regulation, or your county. Most consumer complaints center on contractors who took deposits and then kept putting customers off or never returned to do the work.

Storm Shutters Installation

Take the case of the popular Rolladen shutters. The manufacturer asked consumers to put down deposits of as much as 80 percent and promised installation within three months, but was delinquent on hundreds of orders. Last year the state required Rolladen owner Robert Hoffman to repay clients $730,000. The company can manufacture the shutters, but not install them, as per a settlement with the Florida Attorney General’s Office.

To get a first-hand look at some of the shutter and window options available, The Miami Herald visited a Lowe’s store in Southwest Ranches:

•  Aluminum panels: These are your most economical choice. They’re easy to handle and slip into a track that you’ll probably want to have installed before a storm warning is issued. At Lowe’s a 57-by-15-inch panel costs $28 and tracks run $20 per linear foot.

Before a storm threatens, devise a numbering system so you know which window each shutter fits. The panels are also stackable, which makes storage easy.

The problem with these shutters is that once they’re up, you will feel as if you’re living in a cave. Some versions come with a few clear ribs that let the light in, but not all shutters with clear ribs are approved in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, so check before buying them, said Chad Arbaugh, the assistant manager at Lowe’s.

“With a heavy storm, you want to make sure you cover up the right way,’’ he said.

•  Clear panels: These panels, made from materials such as polycarbonate, polypropolene or Lexan, solve the cave-like problem. But again, not all are approved in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Many clear panels must be attached on all four sides, making installation more labor intensive.

Lowe’s stocks a clear Storm Busters Clearview panel made from polycarbonate that is code-approved. A 96-by-48-inch panel costs $118 plus $17 for a hardware kit. A metal rail (around $88) also is needed when joining two panels.

•  Bahama awning shutters: Current versions of these shutters, which fold down and are locked in place as a storm approaches, are sturdy, but many aging Bahama shutters on older homes will do little to protect from hurricane-force winds.

•  Colonial shutters: They differ from Bahama shutters in that they are closed toward the center, much as you would close a curtain. Decorative wooden shutters won’t do the trick, so make sure you are purchasing sturdy impact-rated shutters.

•  Accordion shutters: These popular shutters, which close from side to side, are among the easiest to use. At a home improvement store, expect to pay around $15 per square foot for accordions, said Arbaugh. Professional installation is recommended and will add to your bill.

Accordion shutters’ cousin is the roll-up shutter, which pulls down.

Both come in more expensive motorized versions that are convenient for condo dwellers or areas that are hard to reach. A motorized roll-up shutter costs about $60 per square foot installed, according to the state’s Hurricane Retrofit Guide.

To avoid the feeling of being a cave dweller, some accordion shutters come with small clear portholes in one of the pleats, but again, check to see if these versions are code-approved.

•  Impact-resistant windows: They are becoming more popular, especially since any new or replacement windows are now required to have shutters.

Though they are expensive (an average-sized window might run around $350), once the cost of buying a shutter system for the window is factored in, prices may approach that of a non-impact window-shutter combo.

“If you’re replacing windows, I would always recommend impact-resistant, It will give you some soundproofing and some energy savings as well.

Double-layer impact-resistant windows will still shatter if hit hard enough by debris but they will not break and allow wind to get into your home.

Now that you’ve purchased your storm shutter system, you’re still not done.

If you don’t have a newer home built after hurricane codes were strengthened in the 1990s, you may not have wind-rated doors and garage doors.

“If it’s a retrofit situation, it’s common to forget those areas,’’ Gascon said.

But there are solutions. Garage door braces, which run about $165 apiece, will strengthen older garage doors. You’ll need one brace for a single panel garage and two to three for a double garage.

Front and side doors that aren’t wind-rated and open in, instead of out, should be covered with panels or other shutter systems.

If you’re a procrastinator and the hurricane warning flags are flying, no one will hold it against you if you use plywood panels to board up on an emergency basis, Gascon said.

It’s helpful to have the hardware needed to install the plywood sheets on hand. And remember, those panels must be at least 5/8-inch thick to provide protection equivalent to Miami-Dade-approved factory shutters. Plywood sheets are also heavy, so you’re going to need some help putting them up.

Whatever type of shutter system you have, now is the time to dust off the manufacturer’s instructions and make sure you know how to properly deploy them. “This is not something you want to be figuring out when you’ve only got hours to spare,’’ Gascon said.

Where to go for help

•  To see if a product is approved in the high velocity wind areas of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. If you find the product here, it will also meet codes elsewhere in the state.

http://www.miamidade.gov/development/product-control.asp

•  To file a complaint if you have an installation problem involving a Miami-Dade contractor or unlicensed contractor in Miami-Dade County, you’ll find an online form at:

http://www.miamidade.gov/building/contractors/complaint.asp

•  To file a complaint involving a Broward County contractor

Other helpful websites

Florida Retrofit Guide

http://www.floridadisaster.org/hrg/content/priorities/priorities_index.asp

Federal Alliance for Safe Homes

Insurance Institute for Businesses and Home Safety

Read more here: Insider Tips