By Paul E. Beers
As Hurricane Irene heads towards a possible impact with the Northeast United States, many people are likely wondering what to do as there has not been a major hurricane in the region in many years and not during most people’s lifetime. Unfortunately, if you have not prepared your property for a hurricane, it may be too late. However, there are some basic steps you can take before the storm to protect lives and property.
The three major hurricane threats to people and property are wind, wind-borne debris and storm surge. Most buildings in the Northeast are more susceptible to these threats as the vast majority have not been designed to withstand hurricane effects.
Wind pressure alone can cause the loss of roof coverings and failure of windows, doors and glass. If the wind pressure exceeds the strength of these materials, they fail and roofs blow off and windows and doors blow out. Just before a storm, not much can be done to strengthen a roof. Windows and doors should be locked and secured, and protected with storm shutters, if available. Even with storm shutters, the wind pressure can bleed through and exert significant pressures on windows and doors. Window film and tape may reduce flying glass in the event of failure, but they do not add strength to glass. The recommendation to crack windows on the leeward (away from the wind) side of the house is an “old wives tale” and provides no benefit. In fact, it can be potentially dangerous. All windows and doors should be secured and locked throughout the storm.
Resist the temptation to open a door to peek out during the storm as you may not be able to close it again. If you think a door or window is in danger of blowing out, get away from it; do not try to hold it in place. If it does blow out, you may be injured. It is normal for some bending of windows and doors when subjected to high wind loads. This may cause “visual discomfort” but it is normal to have some bending. This happened to the sliding glass door in my living room (which had shutters over them) during the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 in Florida, and in spite of my knowing this was normal, I decided to go into another room.
If hurricane force winds hit populated areas of the northeast, wind-borne debris will be a problem. Wind-borne debris is items blowing around in the wind, such as roof coverings, vegetation, lawn furniture, garbage cans and parts off of buildings. As we have learned in hurricanes in the South, such as Andrew, Ike and Wilma, wind-borne debris can cause a lot of damage to buildings.
One way to diminish wind-borne debris is good housekeeping. Bring in any loose objects that may blow around in high winds. Often the biggest danger with wind-borne debris comes from adjacent properties rather than your own, so be aware of what your neighbor has at their property.
Windows and doors with glass are highly vulnerable to impact from wind-borne debris. Once a window breaks, the hurricane effects come inside. This phenomenon is called internal pressurization. Internal pressurization can lead to the loss of roofs and additional windows and doors.
The best defense against wind-borne debris is properly designed and installed storm shutters or hurricane impact windows with laminated glass. If you do not have hurricane shutters, you can try boarding up your windows, but it is very important this be done properly or the boards can be ripped off by the wind and blown through the window. Guidance on proper wood shutter design and installation is available from FEMA, www.fema.gov, and the American Plywood Association, www.apawood.org. Duct tape and window film give very little if any protection from wind-borne debris. If your windows and doors are not protected, stay away from them during the storm and stay in a room or hallway with no windows.
Storm surge is a very powerful force and can cause buildings to be washed off their foundations or collapse. If you are in a coastal flood prone area or evacuation zone, you should leave. If you don’t and get caught up in a surge, it will be too late to do anything about it.
If a storm approaches and you do not feel well prepared, you should do your best to bring everything inside, lock and secure all windows and doors and then stay in interior rooms with no windows, such as a bathroom or hallway. If you are told to evacuate, you should do so. Riding out a hurricane can be a terrifying experience and you should do all you can to prepare and weather the storm.
If you have questions or comments, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find out more about GCI at http://www.glazingconsultants.com or on Twitter @glazingconsult, and join our Building Envelope Matters LinkedIn group to discuss building envelope issues.
Paul is the Managing Member of Glazing Consultants International, LLC (GCI), a building envelope consulting firm in business since 1988. He has over 25 years experience in the window and glazing trade and with building envelopes. He is a leading expert with glazing systems and hurricane damage and protection and was instrumental in the development and implementation of missile impact tests after Hurricane Andrew hit Dade County, FL. His expertise includes windows, doors, glass and wall claddings with an emphasis on water leakage and damage. He has served as an expert witness in federal and circuit courts for windows, doors, glass and wall systems and water leakage. Paul can be reached at email@example.com.