Volume 9, Issue 4                                      July/August  2005

BLOWING IN THE WIND

How the 2004 Hurricane Season is Shaping Film Sales in 2005
by Brigid O'Leary

Mother Nature huffed, puffed and blew many houses down last year during hurricane season, and consumers are scrambling this year to make sure they are protected against future devastating weather. One protective measure that has taken off this year is window film, and those in the industry along the coast are also scrambling—to keep up with demand.

Seasonal Sales
Though preventive measures have been on the minds of many coastal dwellers since Hurricane Jeanne dispersed last September, interest in window film has been growing steadily since May, the onset of hurricane season. 

Steve Sabac, president of Sun Coast Glass Protection in Boynton Beach, Fla., has had to turn away business and, worse yet, so have those to whom he had hoped to refer potential customers.

“I think the market is overwhelmed right now because of the four hurricanes we had last year. We’re seeing a lot of residential calls that we’re not doing anything with and we’re seeing a lot of commercial work that was dormant for years coming to life again,” Sabac said. 

The same holds true across the state, and for Mike Sandeman, president of Class on Glass, sales picked up tremendously in the last couple of months.

“We had the hurricanes and, of course, there was a lot of sale, then there was a lapse, but just before hurricane season there was a lot more demand,” Sandeman said. “People are putting it off as long as they can, I guess.”

“About a week before hurricane season began, with the hurricane conferences being held, it really started to pick up, and the first day of hurricane season it really hit. That’s what it takes to get people to start thinking about hurricanes,” Sabac said. “I can’t wait for the first one to start brewing out there; people will go nuts.”

He may not have to wait very long. At press time, Tropical Storm Arlene was forming in the Gulf, was moving toward Cuba and meteorologists expecting it to make landfall in the United States.

In some areas, the push began even before then, for different reasons. Victor Brown, sales and marketing manager at Coastal Energy Saver in Wilmington, N.C., saw interest in protective film spike in April, a time when sales generally increase due to summer tourist season.

“We do a lot of rental homes on the beach properties and we usually get those done before May, before Memorial Day,” Brown explained. “We see a peak between March and April from rental owners.”

However, this peak has been even more fervent this year than in years past, and Brown, too, has seen a second wind of sales.

“We had a hurricane expo last weekend and we’ve been swamped. We had sales come out of that right away and that’s unusual. It usually takes a while,” he said.

Purse Strings
People may have been putting it off, but they are certainly remembering the need to protect their homes and they are purchasing window film and installation services en masse right now, a boost to the industry and the bottom lines of local shops.

“I think it’s helping the industry considerably,” said Sandeman. “I mean, if you usually do a solar job, you do selective windows on a home, but if you’re doing safety and security film, you’re doing the whole house. I could increase the number of windows we do by 60 percent or more.”

For some window film companies, the 2005 hurricane season has not only proven to be a benefit to the wallet, it has brought a whole new side of business. For Kerry D’Antoni, president of Sun Scape Window Tinting in Baton Rouge, La., safety film was never a factor before this year. 

“We’ve had a lot of people move here from Florida and they’re now asking for hurricane-resistant film,” he said. “In years past, we hardly ever sold any safety or security window film on residential applications but it’s the people who have migrated here from the southern parishes and Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and moved here to get away from [the hurricanes] that are driving sales.”

Until this year, the majority of D’Antoni’s sales were limited to heat control and fade protection films and even so, the residential market was not a substantial segment of his business. That is starting to change and he is confident that the residential sales of window film, particularly for safety film, will only increase. 

“In years past we hardly ever sold any on residential applications, but we’re developing a lot of interest here,” he explained. “Once a few people get it on their houses and people start talking about it, it will do well. Window film is generally pretty new here, so the more talk that goes around, the more conversations are had about it, the more interest will grow and that’s not just for safety and security film. People here just don’t know what’s available for homes. We still have to educate them.”

Safe and Sound
Education is a big hurdle and the size of the hurdle window film shops must over come depends on the market and market needs. Despite the boom the industry is seeing with regard to window film, Sabac is concerned that consumers are getting the wrong idea about window film and just what it can do to protect them. He begins each consultation with a question: Do you plan to stay in the house during a hurricane? And, surprisingly or not, he does have a number of potential customers who say they are planning to stay in their house when a hurricane hits.

“What it gets down to is that window film doesn’t stop a 2x4 at 32 miles and hour. Fourteen mil film doesn’t stop a 2x4 at 32 miles an hour and if you’re putting 8 mil on a house, if you’ve got your family in the house and depending on it to protect them, that’s a problem,” Sabac said. “I think the window film industry should be telling people that if you’re not going to be in your house and you can’t put shutters up and you’re going to go to a shelter … window film is great. When you’ve got people staying in their houses, you’ve got different scenario there.”

He’s not the only one worried about how window film is being portrayed to the public. Sandeman has similar concerns.

“I think one of the problems is that a lot of people will overstate what the products can do,” Sandeman said. While he explains just how window film can help—allowing a window to take more windload, more contact before breakage and keeping the glass together if it should break—he also makes it clear that there are other protective measures that should also be followed.

“I let them know that shutters would give them more protection than the film [alone] and I encourage them to evacuate if they are told,” he added.

Brown also encourages his customers to use shutters, but he understands that, for his location and some of his customers, evacuation isn’t always an option.

“[On] doors and entrance, for instance, film won’t matter if the doors blow open,” he said. “We’ve done a couple homes where people want to stay because they need to stay. We have that here because we have emergency workers, salvage workers who have to go out and bring boats in.”

While he knows that some of his customers will have to ride out the storms in their own homes, Brown ensures that they get the best protection possible and know what other options are available to them—including recommending certain companies in the area that install hurricane shutters. It’s a relationship that is helping the company grow, especially when other window film companies in the area speak badly about the use of shutters. 

Sabac worries that consumers will depend solely on window film to protect them completely from severe weather—something he says he would not do. Sabac admits to having laminated glass and shutters for his house, in addition to having safety film applied to his windows. 

“I don’t doubt that window film can help protect and do good things for glass. Nobody can argue with the fact that window film makes glass stronger and does things for glass, but I think what you’ve got here is … no different than doing too much anchoring in a bomb blast situation and the window frame comes in and kills people.”

A valid concern, it is one that also varies by location. For D’Antoni and the residents of Baton Rouge, who live 150 miles inland, when storms do hit the area the damage they cause tends not to be as severe as other places.

“Where we are situated, there is no reason for people not to stay in their home. Their concern will be to keep glass from flying if it does get broken, and for the windows on the second floor that are harder to protect,” D’Antoni said. “Shutters … are overkill for this area and what it needs. Window film fits right in.” 

Brigid O’Leary is the editor of Window Film magazine.  (All photos by Steve Sabac.)

CODE BREAKERS

Unattached window film, for the most part, has been thought of as not meeting impact test protocols or the cyclic wind-load test component of hurricane building codes because it doesn't prevent glass from breaking. That's only partly true.

According to Jaime D. Gascon, acting chief of the Building Code Compliance Office, product control division in Florida, window film can pass the test—but only if the whole window system on which it has been tested passes, and its use can then only be applied on the particular window on which it was tested. 

“In order to state that a component provides hurricane protection will be inaccurate and a disservice to the public. To prove that a component works, it requires testing on an assembly, and hurricane codes typically require complete assembled specimens. A component’s limitations are then governed by the system's performance,” Gascon told Window Film magazine.

“Window film has been tested on specific windows, and can therefore be approved for use on that particular window, with the tested anchors, glass type, sealant, frame profile, etc. Window film manufacturers seeking approval of the film typically seek qualification on as many types of windows possible, which then prompts multiple tests. It has been very difficult to identify what windows the film may be applied on when developing a test plan in order to qualify others.

These limitations and variations are why window film manufacturers have not applied for the required system approvals, nor have component approvals been issued to window film as hurricane protection. The variability of application conditions that may exist and the typically limited testing resources will yield a very limited approval scope,” Gascon explained.

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