Meteorologists and other weather experts agree that certain areas of the United States may be facing serious hurricane activity for the next 15 to 20 years. That means a vicious cycle of destruction and cleanup for those living along the coast.

As hurricanes Katrina and Andrew showed, there isn't much you can do when a Category 4 or 5 storm comes blowing through a subdivision. But lower-grade hurricanes also do a lot of damage. Even if the winds aren't strong enough to destroy windows, flying debris will do the job.

High-wind areas such as Dade County, Fla., have the strictest building codes and require that window openings be made from impact-resistant glass or protected with shutters. Impact-resistant windows and doors offer adequate protection from flying debris, but they cost a pretty penny–up to three times more than standard products. That's why more builders and architects are turning to shutters.

"We do use shutters, as they are an important element of many traditional architectural styles," says Jason Dunham, an architect with Cooper Johnson Smith Architects & Town Planners in Tampa, Fla. "Shutters serve many purposes, including privacy, shade, and protection from the elements. We insist on shutters being fully functional. We'd rather have no shutters at all than fake ones."

Depending on the region, Cooper Johnson mostly specifies side-hinged wood shutters that can be operated from inside with powder-coated paint on stainless steel hardware to better resist corrosion.

But in some areas, wood shutters are not only unacceptable but are useless for protection from windborne debris. "Most code-approved shutters are not wood, but a wood-composite material or completely synthetic material like fiberglass," Dunham says.

One shutter manufacturer Cooper Johnson uses is Atlantic Shutter Systems. The company says its handcrafted, low-maintenance shutters are custom-made from structural PVC and thermally stable fiberglass and come in an unlimited range of design and style options.

"Wood is not strong enough to withstand strong hurricane winds," says Jared Harris, vice president of Sea Shutters, one of the few companies that manufactures fiberglass shutters. "Fiberglass resembles wood but offers better strength performance. It looks attractive but still offers protection."

Harris says his company's products were Dade County-approved until recent codes took effect. Sea Shutters now is having its line recertified. Even so, Harris says, sales have doubled or tripled every year for the past several years.

More Options

Fiberglass and composites aren't the only materials that offer storm protection. Some builders also use products made from metal, typically aluminum. "People are basically looking for an inexpensive way to meet the building codes, and aluminum hurricane shutters are probably the most popular option," says Philip Tyson, CEO of AGI Group, a Sarasota, Fla.-based distributor of all types of shutters.

Builders and homeowners may choose from a variety of aluminum products–including motor-driven, accordion, roll shutter, and storm panels–but the two most attractive styles are the colonial and Bahama styles, says Tyson. These products not only offer the look of traditional shutters, but also provide protection from flying debris.

Even though codes in high-wind areas are forcing builders to include shutters, more are making the options available in jurisdictions where they are not required–and consumers are buying them up. Mercedes Homes in Melbourne, Fla., says more and more home buyers in Orlando, Port St. Lucie, and St. Augustine, Fla., are choosing shutters.

"The shutters offer protection from debris during a hurricane, but they also protect against water infiltration," says Stuart McDonald, Mercedes' vice president of corporate operations. McDonald explains that in 2004, when three hurricanes passed through the Orlando area, houses with shutters had less water intrusion than those without.

Mercedes, like other builders, is incorporating more shutters in its houses. In June, the builder unveiled two prototype hurricane-resistant homes that feature a stronger structural design and removable hurricane shutters. McDonald says shutters will play a major role in future efforts to help protect dwellings from violent weather.

This story first appeared in Builder magazine.

Sea Shutters. These shutters look like traditional colonial wood products, but because they are made from fiberglass they will not rot, warp, or crack, the maker says. The shutters help windows withstand wind, rain, hail, and snow and offer protection from windborne debris. The fixed-slat units are made to order in any size and come painted and ready to install. 850-526-1940.

Alutech United. Alu Star rolling hurricane shutters help protect windows, sliding glass doors, and other glass openings from hurricane-force winds, but they also prevent water from infiltrating the home and provide shade and burglar resistance, the manufacturer says. The custom-sized units are made of extruded aluminum filled with foam and feature stainless steel or plastic parts to resist corrosion. The shutters come in standard and custom powder-coated colors. 302-436-6005.

Home Defense. This product protects windows from flying debris during a storm. The system consists of decorative louvered or raised-panel shutters and a clear storm panel that slides in and out on aluminum tracks. Panels cover most standard window sizes and meet Miami-Dade County, Fla., building codes, the company says. The shutters are available in a variety of colors. 888-580-6448.

Atlantic Premium Shutters. The manufacturer says its composite Bahama shutter is a maintenance-free product that is custom-made from structural PVC and thermally stable fiberglass. Historically accurate and architecturally correct, the shutters allow cool breezes and soft, diffused light to enter the house, but they also offer privacy and protection from the ravages of a hostile seaside environment. They come in a variety of colors. 877-437-0608.

Willard Shutter. The manufacturer says its island louvered shutters capture the charm and look of traditional wood shutters but offer privacy, sun control, and protection from hurricanes. Made of aluminum, the shutters feature either baked-on paint or durable powder-coated finishes that will stand up to abuse, the company says. The custom-made products come in a variety of standard and custom colors. 800-826 4530.