Properly designed and installed hurricane windows can save lives and property

Monster Hurricane Irma sets its sights on Florida ready to test its hurricane windows
Monster Hurricane Irma sets its evil eyes on Florida, and its (hopefully) hurricane windows.

Hurricanes are nothing new for folks in coastal areas, but what is new and evolving is our understanding of how hurricanes affect our buildings, and especially the costs that are incurred when a nasty hurricane engulfs an area. That very reason is why hurricane windows were invented.

Pumping water from a hurricane flooded home through window
Pumping water from a hurricane flooded home through window

The first thing we found is that, from a cost and destruction standpoint, the worst line in the sand is when the windows are breached and the hurricane comes inside the building, playing havoc with furniture, interior finishes, hvac equipment, electrical systems, elevators, etc. etc. Further, by allowing intense wind pressures inside building, we could be weakening them structurally, including blowing off the roof.

If we could just keep the storm outside of the interior spaces, we could save billions in damage costs, and residents could continue to use their homes soon after the dust settles.

Building glass damaged by hurricane
Building glass damaged by hurricane-propelled projectiles

The second thing we learned is that, during hurricanes the windows were being penetrated by wind-borne projectiles. Closer to the ground, these projectiles included “large missiles” such as trees, branches and construction materials. Higher up, the damage was being caused by “small missiles” such as rocks and gravel.

The third thing we learned is that even if a window is broken, if it somehow holds together throughout the storm, the cost to replace the window will be enormously less than restoring the entire building.

These ideas gelled after Hurricane Andrew in August 1992. That monster was a Category 5, and to the date of this writing (just before Irma pounces on Florida), was the most destructive hurricane to ever reach Florida. Andrew killed 65 people and caused $26.5 billion in damages. In today’s dollars, that would be $774 billion! I personally know a family who locked themselves in a closet during the peak of the storm, to find that when they emerged, the closet was the only thing left of the entire house.

The smart but battered folks in Miami and Dade Counties set to work developing building codes designed to keep the weather from penetrating the buildings through the windows. Looking around for standards they could build upon, they discovered that the aviation industry already had a standard for impact resistant airplane windshield glass.

Chickens wielding guns, which is not the same as a chicken gun, but it is a lot cuter.
Chickens wielding guns, which is not the same as a chicken gun, but it is a lot cuter.

Airplanes can suffer greatly from crashing into birds, so a test method was invented that propelled chickens against airplane windshields. To learn more about this interesting crossroads of safety testing and cuisine, see Chicken Gun. The chicken gun was also known as the chicken cannon, turkey gun, or my favorite, rooster booster.

So the Miami Dade folks blended all this together and, along with the window and testing industries, developed test methods for hurricane windows. It is called ASTM E1886, Standard Test Method for Performance of Exterior Windows, Curtain Walls, Doors, and Impact Protective Systems Impacted by Missile(s) and Exposed to Cyclic Pressure Differentials. It was then supplemented by ASTM E1996 which specifies missiles and speeds for each type of missile.

Types of missiles, and projectile speeds for testing hurricane windows
Types of missiles, and projectile speeds for testing hurricane windows
Large missile impact test for hurricane window
Large missile impact test for hurricane window

For windows up to 30 feet above the ground, the Large Missile test is used. Depending upon the protection level, either a 1′-9″, 4′ or 8′ long piece of 2×4 lumber is shot at the window at a speed of 50, 40 or 80 feet per second (30.1, 27.3 or 54.5 mph).

For higher windows, the Small Missile test is used. Here, (10) steel balls of 2 grams each are fired at the window three times, all at 130 fps (88.64 mph).

In both cases, the test chamber pressure upon which the glass is mounted is cycled so that the glass bulges inward and also outward thousands of times.

Windows that pass these tests are then awarded a Notification of Acceptance (NOA) and can then be sold in Miami-Dade and other Florida counties for new construction.

Miami-Dade Notice of Acceptance for hurricane window product
Miami-Dade Notice of Acceptance for hurricane window product

After Irma hits Florida, there will be many people interested in seeing if the hard work of Miami-Dade Counties will bear fruit and provide safer, better protected buildings. I know I will be watching.
For more on this subject, FEMA has provided a nice piece entitled Windows, Doors, and Opening Protection


Need help with hurricane windows?

Mark Meshulam, Chicago Window Expert will brave the rain to help you with hurricane windows
Mark Meshulam, Chicago Window Expert will brave the rain to help you with hurricane windows

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