Here in Florida, any house built in the '50s (I think) or earlier has built-in hurricane shutters on all the windows – either the kind that are hinged at the top and drop down, or the kind that are hinged at the sides and swing shut.
Houses, and commercial buildings, of later date do not have them.
We’re waiting for the fourth hurricane this season to hit us and everybody’s nailing up sheets of plywood to protect their windows. What happened to hurricane shutters? Why aren’t they required by the building codes in Florida and every other state that gets hurricanes now and then?
I have A question for you.
Is it normal for you to get so many hurricanes? Or is the phenomenon just greater news coverage? To us over here in Europe it seems almost apocalyptic, all these destructive hurricanes you’re getting. Will Florida ever be safe again?
The 2001 Florida Building Code, chapter 16, requires that plywood window covers are to be provided with all new house construction in areas designated “wind-borne debris zones”, which are areas expected to experience winds of 120 mph and above, or are within 1 mile of the coast (sec 1606.1.5). Table 1606.1.4 gives the required sizes and types of fasteners to be provided.
Our hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, peaking in early September – in other words, it’s fully half the year, when we might get a hurricane at any time. There are tropical storms every year; sometimes they increase to hurricane strength; and sometimes they make landfall. Some years we get no hurricanes at all. Some years they just graze our shores and do minimal damage. This year is the first in more than a century when the same state got hit by four hurricanes. (Four hurricanes hit Texas in the late 19th Century, I forget which year). For more info see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane.
Levittowns happened. Mass-produced housing which was designed somewhere other than Florida to be put up cheap and fast and to the lowest common denominator.
Y’see, in the first half of the 20th Century, in your fair state and my fair island, housing was built in a manner appropriate to the environment (for those who could afford it – of course the poor lived in substandard housing anyway), not because of regulation, but because that was the way that tradesmen and carftsmen who built houses for a living in that location had learned from their dad and their grand-dad and his grand-dad, that you built a house that would last.
Enter assembly-line suburbia. Custom-engineering a house for the ecology of Florida vs. that of Long Island? That costs money. And a house is a house is a house. In the case of Florida, add a healthy dosage of a large amount of non-Floridians moving in and not knowing what a setting-appropriate home would look like here, except that it probably has palms in front.
Houses and businesses all over Western Europe have roll-down metal shutters that double as black-out curtains and privacy screens. On some older buildings there are bi-fold solid iron shutters. Maybe it is Europe’s greater experience with shrapnel that makes them so ubiquitous. It looks as if they would work just fine as hurricane shutters. Any reason roll-down shutters are not used in North America?
Reading JR’s post a question came to my mind. How comes there are all these houses in Florida built with what seem (after a hurricane) as plywood, cardboard and newspapers? Are Floridians allergic to concrete? I have never lived in a house that was in any danger of having the roof blown off by a hurricane.
Have you ever lived in a new development? Most recent suburban houses seem to be built that way. It’s quick and cheap. My family’s house in Maryland is like that, and we’ve often joked that if someone wanted to break into the house they could just cut through the wall.
Well, they’re not quite plywood, cardboard, and newspapers. Most new homes in Florida are cinderblock walls with wood-trussed gabled roofs. The walls are usually more than sufficient for wind protection, but the roofs are the weak point. I look at several houses near me, and their construction is completely hurricane-inappropriate – the bottom ten feet are fine, but any second story and the roof are all wood, usually with a exposed side that can easily turn into a weak point under sustained winds. The houses are built as cinderblock frames, and the roofs are more or less just placed on top of the frame and bolted down. The roof has a tendency to come off in a whole piece and blow away. This doesn’t even address the utter inappropriateness of long-term life in a mobile home in this state. Even discounting the hurricanes, we also have quite a few tornadoes – mobile homes tend to simply fly away in high winds, unless they are tied down. Then, the floor remains strapped firmly to the ground while the walls and roof fly off and disappear.
I suspect the reason is the economic one cited by JRD. The houses built 50 - 100 years ago are more suited to the local weather – low buildings with relatively flat roofs, designed and built for and by locals. The national suburban architects do not build for high winds, so newer houses are more susceptible. I would greatly prefer a concrete-roofed pillbox with deep-set windows and hurricane shutters, but having one constructed to order is beyond my means, so I live in a cinderblock house with a gabled wood roof.
I have some retired friends who bought a winter condo in Florida. They worry & watch the news incessently whenever the latest hurricane heads toward Florida.
I asked them why they didn’t have shutters on their condo. Even my parents house here in Minnesota has shutters for the windows (though after 50 years of painting, I doubt they could actually be closed over the windows.)
The reasons they gave were:
the condo association strictly controls the type of shutters that can be used; only 2 builders are approved by their association.
these 2 builders gave estimates of $2,000-$2,500 for hurricane shutters. (Personally, I’d suspect a bit of corruption in this exclusive arrangement.)
the condo association won’t allow them to close the shutters when they leave in the spring and leave them closed all summer, so they would have to hire someone to come by and close the shutters whenever a hurricane was nearby, and then reopen them afterwards. The builders do offer this service; another expense for a retired couple on a fixed income. (And they can’t have local friends agree to do it, the condo assocation requires that it be done by contract with a commercial firm.)
They’ve found it simpler to just have sufficient insurance to cover the condo & contents, and plan on replacing them if a hurricane hits.
Which was amply demonstrated after Hurricane Andrew – Homestead was revealed to contain entire developments where outside walls were made of interior panelling material, just coated with exterior finish; and roofs that were just set by gravity, with a few strategically-placed plain straight nails at the corners to keep it from shifting in ordinary summer-storm gusts.
Thing is, those look like the construction practices of the poor here in PR and the Dominican Republic (Mighty_Girl’s home). But that’s just because here, if you’re in the middle class or above, you look for or build a house made in concrete, foundation slab to roof slab. OR, in the case of the stately casonas of old-money families, you have a wood-frame house… built in accordance to the environment, by skilled craftsmen, with solid tropical timber, and much good joining and bracing. The deal is, a cheaply-built concrete home will resist the storms up to lower Cat-3 almost as well as the well-constructed, expensive, wood home.
And that is one important thing to bear in mind – a correctly designed and built wood-framed home, made using quality materials to well-engineered standards, by skilled labor paying attention to craftsmanship, will take on a Cat-2 or Cat-3 storm with repairable damage. We have seen them do that.
However, a quality wood-frame home takes longer and costs more to build. And suburb-shoppers will buy on price above engineering. Just so happens that the heyday of cost-cutting el-cheapo mass-construction techniques in US suburbs coincided, unfortunately, with the 1950s thru 1980s climatological “low cycle” hurricane-wise. So it wasn’t until the return of the peak cycle in the 1990s that they realized the homes of the middle class were in trouble. New codes were adopted and newer construction, like my sister’s home in West Palm Beach (yep, she got hit twice in September…) IS better (then again her home is half concrete, and half steel-framed).