Southeast: Gimme shelter

One of the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina has been a rush of new building codes in southern Louisiana and Mississippi. Among other mandates, cities and counties are requiring that new housing built in “velocity zones” can withstand high winds.

But Gulf Coast home builders need only look east, to the state of Florida, where local authorities have laid down some of the most stringent hurricane-related codes. Window and door manufacturers have responded by making impact-resistant products, windows and patio doors that can withstand a brick flying at 35 mph.

“It might shatter the glass, but it won’t break through,” explained Mark Gallant, vp-marketing of Atrium Windows and Doors. “A hole creates pressure, and that’s what blows the roof off. The house goes from moderate damage to total destruction.”

Impact-resistant windows come in different DP ratings, which stands for “design pressure,” or the amount of pressure a window can take on a per foot basis. Atrium’s line, which comes in vinyl and aluminum, can meet the code requirements of Dade and Broward counties and the Greater Miami area—the most stringent in Florida.

Headquartered in Dallas, Atrium also makes impact-resistant glass patio doors as well as storm shutters.

Impact-resistant windows aren’t cheap—on average, they cost three times as much as windows with conventional glass—and many builders choose to use exterior shutters instead. In Florida, some builders will satisfy the code requirements by leaving behind pre-cut pieces of plywood that can be slotted into the windows before a hurricane comes.

But shutters also cut off natural light, adding a sense of foreboding to residents who already feel trapped.

“If you’re in the path of a hurricane, the last thing you want to do is sit in the dark,” said Brian Hedlund, product marketing manager for Jeld-Wen. That’s one reason why the Klamath Falls, Ore.-based manufacturer is selling into the window replacement as well as new construction market. Jeld-Wen’s wood, vinyl and aluminum impact-resistant windows are sold through home center channels in parts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Homeowners like the hassle-free aspect of impact-resistant windows, which don’t need to be installed every time a hurricane warning is issued.

“They’re tired of putting up shutters or nailing plywood to the windows, especially on the second story,” Hedlund said.

But Hedlund and other manufacturers concede that building codes drive most of the demand. Peachtree Doors and Windows, which makes an extensive line of impact-resistant products, is trying to stay ahead of the codes with an entry door that can withstand gale winds. The door, part of Peachtree’s StaySafe Line, is due out in February.

“It’s a gray area with inspectors,” said brand manager Jeff Kibler. While impact standards exist for glass, Kibler said, “We’re going to certify the entire system, the panel and the frame configuration. People are going to be requiring it, and we wanted to get out in front of that.”

Therma-Tru released a line of impact-resistant entry doors this year that are rated for “High Velocity Hurricane Zones.” The fiberglass doors contain a steel plate beneath their skins and come in a range of styles.

Silver Line’s “WeatherStopper” windows and patio doors use a special glass made by DuPont to withstand bomb blasts as well as hurricanes. DuPont also supplies tough plastic inner layers to a number of manufacturers of impact-resistant windows. And earlier this year, at the International Builders’ Show, DuPont exhibited its own hurricane-related product: a self-contained storm shelter that can be installed in a closet or garage. The StormRoom, its walls reinforced with Kevlar, is bolted to the foundation of an existing house or can be installed during new construction.

Consumers can purchase a StormRoom for $6,000 to $10,000, installed. But Dupont is also selling into the new construction market by tapping into hurricane-related building codes—in this case, requirements that homes provide a safe haven beyond impact-resistant windows.

“More and more high-density communities are requiring a ‘shelter in place,’ ” said Chris Anderson, a product manager for Dupont’s Building Innovations division. He pointed to Nocatee, Fla., outside of Jacksonville, where local authorities determined that egress roads couldn’t support a quick and orderly evacuation from a new Toll Brothers development.

The solution? Toll Brothers included a DuPont StormRoom in every home.