Building a Future for Distributors and Dealers of Building Products

Volume 44,  Issue 4                                        May 2005

Blown Away by Homeowner Testimonials
Homeowners' Stories Help Sell Impact-Resistant Products
by Megan Headley

Holding this year’s International Builders’ Show in Orlando, Fla., assured that hurricane-resistance would stand in the forefronts of attendees’ minds. Even in January when the event was held—even now, as this issue is being read-Florida residents are dealing with the effects of the 2004 hurricane season. Out-of-town visitors at the show quickly were taught by residents to recognize and understand the reason for the blue tarps still covering homes along the highway. In that setting, it’s no wonder that many exhibiting companies chose to spotlight impact-resistant products. 

Stories from show’s attendees quickly turned into testimonials— testimonials from homeowners who survived one or more of the hurricanes that hit the Southeast in August and September. Testimonials about the protection offered by impact-resistant doors and windows have taken product testing out of the laboratory and brought it into a real-world context. Several marketing directors for window and door companies explained that homeowners, in fact, sought them out to describe how well their home held up as a result of a specific brand of impact-resistant window. That sort of tribute becomes a powerful tool when it comes to selling hurricane protection to other homeowners who are becoming more and more aware that another damaging hurricane season could be fast approaching. 

Stormy Stories
On August 13, 2004, Hurricane Charley swept through Florida and reminded homeowners of the power of nature. Hurricane Frances on September 5, Hurricane Ivan on September 16 and Hurricane Jeanne on September 25 brought entirely new lessons on preparing for the unexpected. 

“Some of our neighbor’s homes were totally destroyed,” explained Robert Osborne. The Punta Gorda, Fla., resident’s home was in the path of Hurricane Charley. “Other people were out of their houses for weeks. More than two months later one guy was still living in a FEMA mobile home.”

Those homeowners who were prepared with impact-resistant windows had some amazing stories to share with their neighbors and with the companies who supplied the products that helped keep their homes safe. 

Osborne had installed Simonton StormBreaker Plus™ windows in his home. He got an up-close view of the protection the windows offered when one of his casement windows was cracked by debris thrown by 145 mph winds. The window cracked in the frame, but it never broke. 

“Our roof was badly damaged, but the windows held up great,” said Osborne. “If we had regular windows in this house, I’m sure we would have lost the whole roof.”

Following the Code
While much of Florida is protected by codes that insist on building for hurricane protection, no codes requiring impact-resistant windows existed for Ono Island, Ala., where Jerry and Linda Schwartzenburg built their home. The couple built their home in accordance with Florida’s coastal codes. They installed Pella windows and patio doors with HurricaneShield glass. 

Jerry Schwartzenburg said that when Hurricane Ivan threatened their home he had reservations about not boarding the windows.

“That’s just how we think here,” he said. “Our neighbors and builder friends said I was crazy, but they thought I was crazy about the way we’ve built the house too.”

Although the Schwartzenburgs’ neighbors’ homes sustained major damage, the only real damage to their home was on the exterior where a few ceiling fans blew off a second story porch. 

“The windows held up fine,” said Schwartzenburg. “We’re very pleased with the Pella windows and the protection they provided.”

West Palm Beach, Fla., resident John Brown felt secure enough in his home to watch the storm as it passed through. Before the start of the 2004 hurricane season, Brown had replaced four patio doors and living room bay windows with Andersen products with Stormwatch™ protection. 

“When the first hurricane winds came in with gusts over 100 miles an hour, trees started snapping and I was concerned,” Brown said. “But after feeling the strength my new windows and doors exhibited, I just sat back and watched the storm.”

Real-Life Testing
Windows are a critical part of protecting a home during a hurricane, and Florida’s Dade County building codes are a strong reflection of this. 

“In the event of a severe storm, it’s important to have windows that don’t blow out because windows are the first thing to go when a hurricane hits,” said Pat Meyer, architect series general manager at Pella Corp. “When the windows blow out, next to go is the roof, and then the entire structure can collapse.”

The stringent Dade County building codes test windows for their ability to withstand high winds of up to 146 mph as well as flying debris. For the first test, an air cannon shoots a 2-by-4 piece of lumber at a window multiple times at specific parts of the window at a rate of 50-feet per second. After numerous impacts, the unit undergoes the cycling tests, in which it is subjected to 9,000 cycles of combined positive and negative pressure. If the entire unit remains intact, then the series is ready for installation in high risk, coastal area homes. 

Employees of window manufacturers and distributors are well aware of how stringent these tests really are. There is a difference, however, between inspecting a window in a laboratory test and actually seeing the windows safe and sound in a home surrounded by fallen trees and neighboring buildings that have been gravely damaged.

“Until now, the performance and true benefits of StormForce™ series DP, IP, MP could only be illustrated in the test lab,” said Brian Warkentin, the product development manager for Loewen. Warkentin and his design team have been working for more than two years to develop hurricane-resistant products that meet U.S. coastal code requirements.

Loewen employees saw firsthand how StormForce™ MP single-hung windows and terrace doors protected a seaside show home near Alys Beach, Fla. Alys Beach was struck by Ivan, but, fortunately for the seaside community, did not see the full force of the storm. 

“Alys Beach was in the path of the hurricane, but our ... windows protected us,” said Andrew McAlexander, the Alys Beach team leader for Loewen. “I was thrilled that not one drop of water came through-the storm didn’t penetrate these windows.”

John Meacham, general manager at the Pella Window and Door store in Orlando, Fla., heard from one Lee County, Fla., homeowner, who lives close to a weather station, that the area recorded winds of 180 mph when Hurricane Charley hit. The customer’s ... windows and patio doors sustained no damage.

“The window performed marvelously,” said Meacham. 

Meacham attributed the performance of the Pella windows and patio doors to good product design details and proper installation. While good design and installation are both important factors, it also often takes the preparedness of individuals to make sure that impact-resistant windows are being used so that the protection is there when it is needed. 

Protecting People First Foundation Issues Safe Window Report
The Protecting People First Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to raising public awareness of the safety technologies available to protect people and property from natural and man-made disasters, along with ABS Consulting, an independent provider of Risk Management Services, have released the preliminary results of a six-month study on window performance during the very active hurricane season of 2004. Project Safe Windows: Finding the Breaking Point was released on Monday, February 7, 2005 at a news briefing in Tampa and West Palm Beach, Fla. 

According to the report, the research team performed site inspections and interviews with property owners, building contractors and insurance adjusters for the study, along with wind calculations that were determined by ABS engineers using a catastrophic modeling program.

Where window film is concerned, the report notes that solar film alone “has prevented broken windows from shattering or breaking loose from their frames, it does not do so with the same level of effectiveness as films designed precisely for these purposes.”

The report goes on to detail the difference between “film that is attached to the frames by securing bars or wet-glazing techniques” and states “daylight safety film does not increase the strength of the glass plate.” 

Subsequent to the description and analysis of each protective technology studied (including hurricane shutters, hurricane screens, plywood and different types of glass), the report includes a chart comparing each technology. Per the chart, hurricane shutters protect the best, followed by hurricane screens, laminated glass and plywood. 

According to the chart, security film provides passive protection across the board, with “wet glaze” and “mechanical attachment” both providing small missile impact (and mechanical attachment providing partial large missile impact).

Overall, the report notes that while modern building codes are in place and help protect the public, many older homes and buildings could stand some retrofitting. It also states that “security window film performance could be systematically improved if more applications used a wet glaze silicone to adhere window film to the frames of a window or mechanical attachment systems,” and that solar control film should never be considered acceptable protection against hurricane winds.

“Our research shows that despite Florida’s experience with hurricane season, windows, the most hurricane-vulnerable component of most homes and office buildings, did not get the attention they should have. They were under-protected, and it is precisely when a hurricane shatters a window and gets inside that the damage begins,” Eric Cote, manager of the Protecting People First Foundation said at the news conference.

A consumer reference edition of the report is available online at and the full report is set for publication in the near future.

Megan Headley is an assistant editor for SHELTER magazine.

© Copyright Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.