Hurricane windows are particularly designed to withstand the extreme conditions found inside a tropical storm. They use technology developed in the automobile industry, such as tempered glass, to ensure they can survive impacts from flying objects and high winds.
But you might wonder how they rate in other terms of security—like for example, against a determined intruder armed with a crowbar or a hammer?
Windows are a common entry point for burglars, and a standard window is easy to smash with a judicious hammer tap or pry open with a well-placed wrecking bar.
So, does a hurricane window’s ability to survive a hurricane transfer to an equally robust response to a crook trying to get into your house using all the tricks of his illegal trade?
That’s what we’ll cover in this article, so read on to find out the answers to these questions and more.
Are Hurricane Windows Good For Security?
Hurricane windows protect your home from intense tropical storms and are designed to resist impacts from flying debris. Their toughened glass and reinforced frames are also highly effective at securing your home from intruders and will keep your family safer than standard windows can.
What Damage Do Hurricanes Cause?
Hurricanes form over the Atlantic Ocean off the US Gulf Coast and begin their lives as tropical storms, which intensify thanks to the warm surface sea temperatures, which cause warm, humid air to rise into the storm.
The rising air causes low pressure to form under it, drawing more air into the storm. As the ascending air climbs higher, it cools, and the moisture condenses, forming clouds and releasing more heat, which further powers the storm.
These processes can generate very intense storms, which we call hurricanes.
If a hurricane reaches the coastline, it brings intense rainfall and extremely high winds that blast everything in its path. The strong winds lift objects on the ground and throw them through the air at high speed, causing severe damage to buildings, including smashing windows and doors.
Maintaining the integrity of windows, doors, and other openings is essential because wind rushes in once the building envelope is breached, increasing the pressure inside. This spike in pressure can lift the roof off a house and blow the walls over, destroying the building.
Therefore, protecting window openings and other potential routes for wind entering the home is so important—it can make the difference between your house surviving the hurricane or being flattened.
How Are Hurricane Windows Designed?
Hurricane windows are designed to withstand direct impacts from flying debris whipped up by high winds during a hurricane.
Also known as impact windows, their design achieves this using impact-resistant glass and heavy-duty frames, often built from aluminum or vinyl.
Window Frame Design
Impact-resistant window frames are thicker and stronger than standard windows and can be made from wood, vinyl, aluminum, or steel.
Also, the trim around the glass of a hurricane window is constructed from extruded aluminum, which adds further strength to the frame.
This feature contrasts with the trim (known as glazing bead) used on standard windows, which is simply a thin strip of purely-cosmetic aluminum that adds nothing to the window’s strength.
The frames of hurricane windows are held in place by heavy-duty self-tapping screws that secure their position.
Before Hurricane Andrew hit the Bahamas, Florida, and Louisiana in 1992, the code requirement was for smaller screws, which homeowners could screw into wood. Since Andrew, however, the guidelines have been strengthened to require much bigger screws directly into brick or concrete where possible.
Window Glass Design
The glass used in hurricane windows is specially strengthened.
It is tempered using a process of thermal or chemical treatment. Tempering places the outer surfaces of the glass under compression and the inside of the glass into tension.
The resulting product is four times stronger than standard annealed glass. It also has the added safety benefit of shattering into small granular chunks when it fails instead of splintering into the sharp shards that form when regular glass smashes.
The glass pane of a hurricane window is made from two sheets of tempered glass with a layer of resin in between. The resin is made from polyvinyl butyral (PVB) or ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), which strongly bonds the layers of glass.
If the glass cracks, the pieces stick to the bonding resin, which keeps the window intact and prevents it from falling away from the frame.
How Are Hurricane Windows Tested?
There are strict testing requirements for hurricane impact windows to meet building code requirements.
In addition to these official tests, many people have also used less orthodox methods to demonstrate the ability of these windows to resist attack from would-be intruders.
The testing process for impact-resistant windows is very stringent and involves two separate phases.
The first test fires a piece of 2″ x 4″ lumber, weighing nine pounds, at the window at 34 mph. This speed simulates the type of impact debris flung by a hurricane at a building can cause.
Once the window passes this first test, it must then endure 9,000 cycles of wind testing, which simulates the force of the wind blowing against the glass during a hurricane.
These tests are required for an impact window to meet the requirements of building codes in areas at risk from hurricanes.
They are designed to determine if the windows will remain in place during a severe storm, preserving the building envelope and preventing an inrush of winds that can lift the roof off and destroy the building.
There are formal testing requirements for intruder resistance, but they are a dry read, and you get a much better sense of just how effective impact windows are at keeping the bad guys out by watching a demonstration.
The video below combines testing with entertainment by displaying two muscular gentlemen with a supply of baseball bats, crowbars, and various missiles and challenging them to break an impact-resistant window.
Shwinco is a well-known manufacturer of impact windows, and the EXT Series in the video is its flagship product. Its website claims these windows are constructed well beyond the building code requirements for hurricanes and are even bomb-proof!
The guys in the video hit the test window with everything they had—they broke seven baseball bats in their attempt to smash the window, and it held firm.
They also gave it some heavy hits with a crowbar and a large metal chain, followed by 31 heavy hits with an eight-pound sledgehammer. Yet, it still held strong through all that punishment.
The demonstration in the video shows that when the window shatters because it is made from tempered glass, it breaks into tiny, rounded fragments that pose little risk of injury.
The resin between the two layers of glass does a great job holding the window together, retaining most of the glass pieces, and preventing the window from being penetrated by any of the tools the testers hit it with.
Take this with a grain of salt, but this is a local news story about intruders shooting the hurricane glass with a gun, then trying to kick it in, with no luck. We do not maintain the accuracy or truth of this video or what actually happened, so consider it entertainment:
Do Hurricane Windows Protect Against Burglars?
If you haven’t watched the demonstration in the video, we suggest that you do because it clearly displays the security benefits of impact-resistant windows in your home.
The most common way a burglar gains access to your home is by walking in through an unlocked door. However, there’s a simple fix for that, which you’re probably already doing—locking it at night or when you leave.
The second most common entry method is breaking a window and climbing into the house.
Burglary relies on stealth, and the last thing that a burglar wants to do is draw attention to their presence. Instead, they want to get in and out quickly, taking your valuables with them.
To do this successfully, they must be able to get into your house quickly and quietly. If you have impact windows fitted, they will neither be able to break them speedily nor quietly.
This means they’ll likely give up on the attempt to break in as soon as they realize that your window is impenetrable, which will probably be after the first hit.
So, if you have hurricane windows installed on your house, you can be reassured that you will be protected from severe tropical storms and from intruders who want to steal your stuff.
There are many other benefits of hurricane windows. We’ve written an expose covering the top 10 here, which you should read if you consider fitting hurricane windows in your home.
Hurricane windows are designed to withstand the high winds, intense rainfall, and flying debris accompanying tropical storms.
They are constructed from tempered, laminated glass and heavy-duty frames much more substantial than those used in standard windows.
Impact-resistant windows are tested to ensure they hold up to severe impacts and are resistant to flying objects. This strength means they maintain the integrity of the building envelope and protect your house from structural damage during a hurricane.
Impact windows have the additional benefit of keeping out intruders and are up to the task of resisting heavy hits from baseball bats, crowbars, chains, and even sledgehammers.
Given the durability and resilience of these windows under the most stringent testing conditions, it’s fair to say they are suitable for security and will keep you safer than standard units made from weaker frames and annealed glass.