Volume 38, Issue 8, August 2003
Winds of Change
Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce.
How Hurricane Andrew Forever Changed The Florida Glass Market
by Alan B. Goldberg
Many hurricanes have left paths of destruction in different parts of the country. But Hurricane Andrew left more than that. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) summed it up this way: “Hurricane Andrew was the most destructive United States hurricane of record. It blasted its way across South Florida on August 24, 1992. It had a peak gust of 164 mph—measured 130 feet above the ground—while a 177-mph gust was measured at a private home. Andrew caused 23 deaths in the United States and three more in the Bahamas. The hurricane caused $26.5 billion in damage in the United States, only $1 billion of which occurred in Louisiana and the rest in South Florida. The vast majority of the damage in Florida was due to the winds. More than 135,000 single-family and mobile homes were destroyed or damaged, 160,000 people were left homeless and 86,000 lost their jobs.”
Since then, much has changed. NOAA scientists with colleagues in academia and the private sector have a much better understanding of tropical weather systems and can forecast more accurately. According to NOAA, faster computers and more sophisticated computer models give forecasters the ability to give more realistic projections. Twenty-four hour track forecasts have improved by more than 20 percent, which has enabled emergency managers to refine evacuation planning. A $4.5 billion modernization program that includes a new generation of satellites, higher-resolution imagery to monitor hurricanes and gather global climate data, advanced radar systems and a network of powerful workstations with systems to pull all the data together, has since been completed by NOAA’s national weather service.
But changes following Hurricane Andrew went beyond just better forecasting. When damaged homes and businesses were inspected, it was discovered that many did not conform to existing codes. Officials from every level of government and insurance companies agreed that what was most needed were more stringent building codes and better enforcement.
Emergence Of A Hurricane Testing Lab
“We came into existence in 1993 because of Hurricane Andrew,” said Vinu Abraham, general manager of Hurricane Test Lab (HTL). He indicated that compliance to stricter codes would mean new building materials that could better withstand high winds and water pressure. Four types of products were affected: roofs, windows, doors and garage doors.
“Revised building codes for Dade and Broward Counties required that outside surfaces (including cladding windows and doors) be able to resist, to a certain level, the impact of flying debris and wind loads characteristic of hurricanes,” added Abraham.
Impact On The Glass Industry
According to Leon Silverstein, president and chief executive officer of Arch Aluminum and Glass, based in Tamarac, Fla., the Florida glass market has gone through an interesting cycle since Hurricane Andrew.
“Prior to Hurricane Andrew, the market was depressed and the economy was weak. Following the disaster, the change in building codes and the establishment of extensive product testing set the stage for impact-resistant products. Opportunities were created almost immediately,” said Silverstein. “Glazing contractors became healthy again and capacity increased significantly to meet the growing demand. It seemed like everyone was jumping into this market because it was the place to be. The number of laminators grew from two or three in the mid 1990s to more than eight.”
Tougher building codes and the need for better building materials created a challenge for the glass industry. While at Keller Industries in 1994, Howell Cornell, then vice president of engineering, began an innovative design of impact-resistant windows to meet the small and large missile tests, rather than attempting to retrofit.
“We worked closely with DuPont to utilize their SentryGlas® technology. This single-glass lite laminate provided the needed protection and allowed conventional balancers on hung windows, rather than the additional weight of true laminated glass,” said Cornell.
The concept of laminated glass is not new to the fenestration industry. Prior to Hurricane Andrew, it was viewed as a high-end option to deter vandalism, said Cornell who is now director of safety products for TRACO.
“Now, it not only provides passive protection against storms, but it also increases building security,” Cornell added, comparing impact-resistant windows to the traditional option of shutters and panels. “The obvious disadvantage is that they [shutters and panels] have to be stored and installed. In windy situations, particularly the early stages of a storm, shutter installation can be dangerous. The beauty of laminated glass as an impact-resistant window or door is that the protection is inherently in place 100 percent of the time,” said Cornell.
Doug Penn, marketing manager for YKK Architectural Products in Austell, Ga., agreed that Hurricane Andrew seriously affected the glass industry.
“The glass market has changed quite a bit since Hurricane Andrew and we responded accordingly,” said Penn. “In fact, we developed complete product lines, from entrance store systems panels to curtainwalls, from operable windows and sliding glass doors, since the new building codes went into effect. Looking back, the learning curve was pretty steep because everything was new as far as standards for building materials. Since products are tested as a complete system rather than as single components, there are many issues to be addressed relating to engineering, product development, sales and marketing, not to mention the cost.”
Penn said that once tested, a product (drawings and specifications) must be submitted to Dade County for a notice of acceptance (NOA). He said that on October 1 of this year, a statewide product approval process will go into effect, requiring submission of products in impact-restrictive zones.
“The stringent south Florida building codes have served as the basis for codes on a broader scale,” added Penn. He expects that in two to three years, every state along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts will require some type of impact-resistant products.
An opportunity for new technology and new direction is how Hurricane Andrew affected Glasslam, according to Steve Howes, president and owner.
“Our business grew tremendously. We saw the need for a technology in response to the new building codes and difficult missile and wind cycling testing that would provide a unique glazing system. It is the only patented impact-resistant product and it has to do with the way glass is held at the window trim. By having the plastic interlayer larger than the glass, the plastic can be held by silicone to the frame, therefore achieving larger sizes and pressures during testing,” added Howes.
“We went into business because of Hurricane Andrew,” said Art Marino, president of Security Impact Glass located in Riviera Beach, Fla. “Initially, we did blast- and bullet-resistant testing and then tests for hand grenades and claymore mines at Quantico Marine Base [in Virginia]. We realized there was a need for impact-resistant products beyond providing protection from high winds and hurricane conditions. Since we make both the polycarbonate and extrude the interlayers, we have a lot of latitude to fabricate to a very specific need.” Marino said that for now, the strict Dade County codes have been adopted by many counties as a standard for construction. On a national scale, he added that with changes in building security and terrorism, bullet-resistant and fire-resistant technology … research and development on more sophisticated products will continue.
According to Mike Thomas, general manager for Harmon Inc., the company’s hurricane window products (developed after Andrew) are designed to withstand pressures greater than blast-resistant curtainwall.
“Whereas bomb-blast systems are engineered to blow out once the impact has been absorbed, that’s exactly what hurricane-resistant products are not supposed to do. Small-and large-missile impact testing demonstrates that this won’t be allowed to happen. Once the glass is impacted and goes through cycling, it won’t blow out from the wall,” said Thomas.
“Building owners have come to understand that the value of an impact-rated system goes beyond hurricane resistance. They also see the benefits that the system’s insulating and laminated glass offer for sound reduction, improved energy-efficiency and enhanced security, “ added Rick Kiefer, Harmon sales executive. “Naturally, these products cost more. We want to make sure debris doesn’t invade the building envelope and that water and wind stay outside and don’t destroy the interior or cause any injuries,” he added.
Christine Shaffer, marketing manager for Viracon, said the glass market has definitely changed since Hurricane Andrew.
“We’re working closely with system manufacturers to find the appropriate glazing material for their system. With the introduction of new laminated technologies for this market, we’re also confirming material compatibility with product enhancements such as high-performance coatings,” said Shaffer. “We must look at what has evolved since new building codes were enacted. At one time, our customers tested one material. Now testing is more extensive, and it is very common that system manufacturers will qualify a greater variety of glazing products.”
“As glass manufacturers began investigating their own solutions, storm shutters were the first area to be explored,” said Dave Olmstead of PGT Industries (a manufacturer of impact windows, established after Hurricane Andrew). In his article, “The Wind in the Window,” from the “This Old House” website, Olmstead says that while storm shutters were workable, there were drawbacks. The roll-down and accordion-types, for example, were costly and not aesthetically pleasing. Panel shutters, which required less mounting hardware and were less expensive than the latter, still took time to install and remove, and all types required storage.
Impact windows, Olmstead noted, meet the same test standards as shutters and offer these benefits: passive protection that is always in place; enhanced 24-hour security; considerably improved outside noise abatement; and 100-percent protection from ultraviolet light.
“When installed in a one- or two-residential dwelling, these window and door products can now be reasonably expected to withstand
Photo courtesy of the NOAA/Department of Commerce.
winds up to 130 mph, including impact by flying debris,” said Olmstead.
In 1996, GTC Hurricane Window Distributors, serving Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties, was formed.
“We were established strictly for impact windows,” said Tom Deater, GTC president. “That is our specialty. It took three years for the products to evolve through special meetings in the counties for codes. Because of the nature of impact windows, they are most practical for apartments and condos. We also sell them for custom homes.
“Tract housing developers, on the other hand, use standard windows with shutters because of the cost differential. Installation and storage are not a factor as they would be for a large number of apartments or condos,” Deater added.
Effect on Glaziers
For some glazing contractors in Florida the industry’s changes post Andrew have had a positive impact.
“We’ve been affected very positively,” said John Doyle, president of Alumiglass Inc., a contract glazing company in Florida. “The building code since Hurricane Andrew has completely changed the market for us [and] the inspection process is much more difficult. Even though products are more expensive, we are doing twice the volume. We’ve also developed a number of new products including an impact curtainwall system,” added Doyle.
For Sid Miller, president of Miller Glass, the revised building codes from Hurricane Andrew have helped his business.
“Everything is driven by the building codes. The cost of the product doubled, but so did our bottom line. One of the biggest changes has been in the choice of products. At one time, there was only one (impact-resistant product). Now there are many and they can be adapted to meet specific building requirements.”
Miller added that such products also offer additional benefits. “Security is one. Without glass breakage and easy entry, equipment is not as vulnerable to theft. The other benefit is sound transmission. Because of its high sound transmission class rating, impact-resistant glass reduces the amount of sound coming into a building, which is very appealing to companies with offices along interstate highways. This change in the market also created more competition, which has brought the cost down.” Miller noted that with the additional paperwork required for each project and the higher standards to be met, the field of glazing contractors has been reduced.
“Hurricane Andrew had a major impact on our business,” added Bill Bibo, president of South Florida Glazing Inc. “In fact, we were located in central Florida and moved our office to Southern Florida where we have remained.”
He continued, “Dade County created the protocol for testing. Once these tests were in place, products could not be used unless they were approved.”
Bibo added that since the new codes were established the glazing contractor’s job has changed.
“There is a lot more to do to stay in business. As part of the permit process, we have many inspections at various stages and the pre-engineering steps we have to go through are quite extensive. We have to be very knowledgeable about the codes because costly mistakes can be made.” Bibo said.
Since the creation of codes, initially in South Florida, Scott Norville, professor of civil engineering at Texas Tech and director of the Glass Research and Testing Laboratory (GRTL) said impact-resistant glazing has become a requirement in hurricane-prone regions.
“Contrary to claims from detractors of the windborne missile impact test methods, housing costs have not skyrocketed out of the budget range of home buyers. Even the shutter industry has benefited from impact test methods because they include criteria for shutters that have led to improved designs,” said Norville.
He continued, “Since Hurricane Andrew, there have been improved engineering methods for determining window glass strength, more rational design approaches to all types of window glass and, as a result, improved window designs.”
The devastation of Hurricane Andrew brought about significant changes, especially in Southern Florida, at all levels. Compliance to strict county building codes and the introduction of impact-resistant windows and doors forever changed the Florida glass market.
Photo courtesy of the NOAA/Department of Commerce.
Alan B. Goldberg is a contributing writer for USGlass magazine.
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