hurricane shutters on a home's second story exterior windows

Your home is one of the most important investments you will ever make. Protecting this investment from the damage that hurricanes can cause should be a priority if you live in a part of the country that is vulnerable to these powerful storms. 

The most at-risk areas for hurricanes in the US are the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico, so if you live in one of these coastal regions, you should ensure you have the appropriate protection installed for your home.

Two popular options for protecting your home when hurricanes hit are hurricane shutters and hurricane windows.

Hurricane shutters have been around for many years, but hurricane windows have more recently become available.

Many people ponder whether you still need hurricane shutters if you install hurricane windows. This article will look at some of the features and benefits of hurricane windows compared to hurricane shutters and other options.

Do You Need Hurricane Shutters If You Have Hurricane Windows?

Hurricane windows are made from toughened glass that protects your home from the impact of high winds and flying debris. They are designed to withstand the impact of a piece of 2″ x 4″ timber thrown at 34 mph. So if you have hurricane windows installed, you don’t need hurricane shutters also.

The benefits of hurricane windows go far beyond simply being better at keeping the storm at bay.

They keep noise out, allow you to see out of the window even during the most dangerous and violent storm, and can add value to your home.

So, if you are considering replacing or upgrading your current storm protection measures, hurricane windows are something you should consider. If you’re still on the fence about which option to go for, read on, and we’ll help you to decide.

A homeowner on a ladder installing hurricane window panes above an interior door in his home

What Are the Risks Posed by Hurricanes?

Hurricanes are a type of tropical cyclone that can cause severe damage to infrastructure along the coastline and can even result in disruption and damage further inland.

The main hazards presented by hurricanes include:

  • High winds picking up objects and throwing them around, which can cause damage to buildings and property and present a threat to life
  • Rip currents that drag swimmers out to sea, responsible for several drownings yearly
  • Storm surges and tides accompanied by large waves that batter coastlines, causing damage to buildings and loss of life
  • Heavy rainfall resulting in flooding, which can last for several days, causing disruption, widespread damage, and loss of life
  • Tornadoes can accompany hurricanes, mostly in rain bands away from the eye of the storm

During a hurricane, objects can be picked up off the ground by the wind and thrown at your windows. If they smash a window, the wind and rain can get into your house, causing water damage and potentially blowing apart the structure.

Preparedness is key to safeguarding your family and property during these events. You will generally receive 36 hours’ notice of an impending hurricane, giving you sufficient time to put measures to protect your home.

However, homeowners can take proactive steps to mitigate the worst aspects of a storm and keep their family and home free from harm.

Let’s look at the options for keeping them at bay by reinforcing the weakest point of your home, which is, of course, the windows.

Options For Protecting Your Windows from Hurricanes

When the strong winds generated by a hurricane pick up an object, they can throw it at a very high speed. The winds have immense power, with a Category Five hurricane blowing at sustained wind speeds of 160-190 mph, with gusts temporarily going even higher.

When objects are launched at your home, particularly at the windows, they could pierce the fabric of the building and allow wind and rain to get in, causing significant damage and potentially obliterating your house.

Testing measures to protect the windows during hurricanes simulates the impact of objects being thrown by the wind with a special cannon that fires a timber 2” x 4” towards the window at 34 mph to see how well the protective measure withstands the impact.

Let’s look at the options available to protect your windows from flying debris and keep the storm out of your home.

Boarding Up Your Windows

The most basic option is simply to board up your windows. This option can work thanks to the advanced warning that householders get when a storm is approaching.

Usually, hurricane warnings are given 36 hours in advance, which provides sufficient opportunity for people to board their windows. Leaving it too late makes it difficult, if not impossible, to secure the boarding in place, hence the warning being issued so far ahead of time.

It is essential to use the correct materials specification when boarding up windows. For example, use plywood with a minimum thickness of 5/8″ and not oriented strand board (OSB).

A piece of plywood as a hurricane shutter partially covering an exterior window of a home

Only sufficiently thick plywood has the strength to withstand the impact of flying objects blown by the storm.

Boarding up windows is a reliable way to provide decent protection for your windows. However, it is pretty time-consuming, and if your house has a second story, the plywood sheets are quite cumbersome to fit over second-floor windows, so it’s not the most convenient form of protection.

Resin-Coated Ballistic Nylon

Resin-coated ballistic nylon is a much lighter alternative to boarding up your windows and is easily carried up to second-floor windows to put in place.

When installed correctly, it does an excellent job of blocking the wind and rain, but it does flex when hit by a heavy object, which can result in damage to the window behind it.

In some cases, this can smash the window, so the nylon protector doesn’t do as good a job protecting the windows as boarding them up with plywood.

Hurricane Shutters

Metal shutters can be permanently installed outside the building and closed when a hurricane warning has been issued.

Some shutters can be closed from inside the building, but others will need a ladder to get up to the second story to close them. A few types of shutters can even be shut remotely, which is much more convenient.

Closeup an metallic hurricane shutters

Shutters are very effective, but there have been cases of objects hitting them right in the center, on the lock that holds them closed.

In some cases, impact directly against the lock has caused it to break and the shutters to open, revealing the exposed window behind and resulting in a broken window.

So not even shutters can give 100% protection from flying objects.

Hurricane Windows

Hurricane windows are a good solution because they are what’s known as a passive measure, meaning that you don’t need to do anything to protect your windows when you are issued a hurricane warning.

Hurricane windows are designed to withstand impacts from flying objects and are tested to the same standards as shutters and other options.

The window itself is an insulated window with two panes. The outer pane is designed in a similar way to a car windshield—a piece of plastic membrane sandwiched between two layers of glass.

Like a car window, if an object hits the window with force, the outer pane will shatter, but thanks to the plastic membrane, you won’t get a hole in the window. This characteristic keeps the wind and rain out of your house during a storm and protects your home from the most severe damage a hurricane can cause.

Hurricane windows allow natural light to enter the house and those inside to see outside while providing complete storm protection. This great feature is not available for other options such as boarding or shutters.

Do Hurricane Shutters Offer Added Protection If You Have Hurricane Windows?

There’s nothing to stop you from combining some of these options to create a super-safe solution. However, it makes more sense to go with a single method.

It would be best if you chose the option that ideally suits your level of comfort with risk, your budget, and your lifestyle.

For example, if you don’t like DIY, you might not want to go with the boarding option, which takes some familiarity with a screwdriver and a certain level of fitness, not to mention a head for heights if your house has more than one floor.

Shutters will do a superb job of keeping flying objects at bay and protecting your windows, but they are not entirely foolproof and might break under a severe impact.

Hurricane windows have been tested to withstand a piece of 2″ x 4″ timber being thrown at them at 34pmh. This is an outstanding level of protection and will keep wind and rain out of your home during a storm.

Their winning feature, in our view, is that they are a passive defense system, and you don’t need to do anything before the storm arrives to benefit from their protection.

If you were to add shutters on top of hurricane windows, you would lose that passive system benefit and would still have to go around the house closing all the shutters before a storm.

You would also lose the ability to see through your windows when you close the shutters, which is another benefit of hurricane windows, allowing you to see out and bring natural light into the home while protecting from storms.

A homeowner closes a window in her passive house

One of the drawbacks of hurricane windows is that if they do get hit by a flying object during a storm, the outer layer of glass will shatter, and the pane will need to be replaced.

However, the window will remain in position and prevent the object from coming through the window, maintaining the security of your home, and keeping out the wind and rain.

If you are a cautious type, you might consider installing hurricane windows and shutters. That would provide a very high level of protection, but it would also come at a high cost and, in our view, would be unnecessary.

Either option on its own will provide satisfactory protection from a hurricane, and fitting both would not be worthwhile.

Summary

Hurricanes cause massive damage to the Atlantic coast of the US and the Gulf of Mexico, with Florida suffering most from landfall. Objects can be picked up from the ground and thrown against buildings by the high winds from hurricanes, causing extensive damage.

One of the weak points of any building is its windows. If flying objects breach windows, they allow wind and rain to rush in. This openness can cause structural damage, with the roof being lifted clean off the house’s walls in some cases.

Different options for protecting windows on houses vary in effectiveness, convenience, and cost. Hurricane shutters and windows are the two most effective options for protecting your home from a storm.

Either option offers satisfactory protection for your home. Using both together is not necessary.

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