Window film no protection against hurricanes, Tampa experts say
Window film will do many things for your house, but it won’t protect against hurricane-force winds.
That’s the consensus of government agencies and insurance companies. Even the window film industry is asking vendors to back off claims that the product provides “shutterless” hurricane protection.
But film can still play a role.
Too close for comfort
A hurricane hasn’t made landfall in Tampa, Fla., since 1921. But they’ve come close, such as Hurricane Elena in 1985.
“It parked several hundred miles off the coast. Its impact was huge — a lot of water damage, wind gusts up to hurricane force,” says Dennis Feltgen, public affairs officer with the National Hurricane Center.
“Anything you do to strengthen your home is a good thing,” says Jason McCright of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
Homeowners need to know upfront that no residential film meets the Florida Building Code requirements for hurricane zones, McCright says. That means insurance companies won’t give you a hurricane mitigation discount for it and Federal Emergency Management Agency funds can’t be used to buy it.
That’s OK with Angie’s List member Dwayne Sawyer of Tarpon Springs, Fla. Last year, he replaced the windows in his 2,400-square-foot house with state-approved, impact-resistant windows, but he stopped short of replacing his five sliding glass doors with the same material at a cost of $30,000 to $40,000, he says.
“Not a lot of people can afford that, or want to afford that,” he says.
Instead, he opted for window film from highly rated West Coast Solar Concepts for about $1,700. His insurance company, State Farm, won’t give him a discount because the doors remain vulnerable to hurricanes.
“I understand that it’s not the same as replacing them with impact windows,” he says.
Experts say homeowners need to ensure their home’s exterior surfaces, called “the envelope,” are hurricane-resistant.
“[Film] can prevent the glass from shattering and having shards of glass flying around,” says Brenda O’Connor, senior vice president of public affairs with the Institute for Business & Home Safety. “That is really the only benefit. It doesn’t keep the window intact.”
Once hurricane winds get inside, the roof may come off or “the uplift can just pick up the house and that’s the end of that,” she says.
The Florida Building Code requires products used in high-velocity hurricane zones, such as windows, to pass a series of tests.
One, the “Large Missile Test,” involves shooting a 9-pound two-by-four at the window twice at 50 feet per second (34 mph).
Pinellas County has the strictest window film rules in the Tampa area. It is illegal for a company to even use the phrase “hurricane film” in advertisements. Fines start at $500 per violation.
“What we object to is somebody saying, ‘We will protect your house from a hurricane’ and that isn’t going to happen,” says Rodney Fischer, executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board. “It gives somebody a false sense of well-being.”
Hillsborough County takes a “buyer beware” approach.
“We don’t endorse any product,” says Willie Puz, county spokesman. “It’s up to the consumer to find out which one is best for them.”
Pam Bohen, owner of highly rated Home Safety Solutions, sells everything from entry-level film to high-end motorized hurricane shutters. She uses film on her own house.
“In the average storm, that film is going to do you just fine,” she says.
But it’s not hurricane protection, and she tells her customers that.
“Some companies try to do that. That’s bogus,” she says. “On a sliding glass door, I can protect that glass. It will stay in the door. But in a 150 mph wind, that whole door may be lying on your floor.”