By the end of next year, heavy-duty, impact-resistant windows will come standard in all new WCI Communities homes along the hurricane-prone Florida coast–even though local codes allow builders to substitute less-expensive accordion or roll-down shutters.

"It's significantly more expensive" to install high-tech laminated windows, admits Don Lozowski, the Bonita Springs, Fla.-based builder's supply chain manager. "But when people put shutters up, they're not very attractive. It's an eyesore to the community. [The windows] are a greater value to customers."

WCI Communities isn't the only builder making the switch. First Homebuilders of Florida, Lee County's largest builder of single-family homes, will install impact-resistant windows on the 3,000 entry-level homes it builds this year, even though the product bumps up the sales price slightly.

Fifteen years ago, even high-end homes were unlikely to sport windows that could withstand hurricane-force winds. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew changed that–along with building codes in communities along Florida's Atlantic and Gulf coasts–when it killed 23 people and caused $25 billion in damage.

The disaster gave quick birth to an industry–perhaps too quick, says Dave Koester, brand manager for Weather Shield Windows & Doors. In their scramble to create windows that coastal Florida code officials would approve, manufacturers used obvious, unsightly clamps to strengthen them.

In the years since, window makers have improved the glass and refined the window designs so "you really can't tell a hurricane-rated window from a regular window," says Koester. "There's no extra hardware. They're mainstream."

Today's impact-resistant glass sandwiches a laminated inner layer made of polyvinyl butyral, a plastic, between two sheets of glass. Stronger than a car windshield, the glass might shatter if a heavy object crashes into it, but it won't break to bits. That makes wind less likely to penetrate the envelope of a home and create interior pressure severe enough to blow its roof off.

Florida home builders and remodelers buy most of the high-end windows. But because panes so powerful also ward off thieves, harsh sunrays, and cold weather, some builders are installing hurricane-rated windows in houses far from the ocean.

Dallas-based installer Doug Thompson, for one, has put 50 storm doors equipped with hurricane-rated glass on the urban and suburban homes of single mothers and elderly homeowners there. "No one's going to come up and hit it and break it and get through right away," says Thompson of the glass.

Such qualities are boosting builders' interest in tough glass. And Bryan Heinz, a marketing specialist for window maker Pella, says more will install the durable windows on vulnerable homes as their customers ask for it.

"Customers actually prefer an impact product because of the aesthetics compared to shutters," says Heinz, who notes that shutters don't save the Florida homes of Snowbird residents who are living elsewhere when the hurricane warnings begin because no one's home to close them.

But it's code officials, state legislators, and Mother Nature who ultimately will swell sales. "The most dynamic thing in this business is the codes," says Heinz, who notes that East Coast officials from Florida to New York are adopting more rigid preventions for new homes near the beach.

And Michael Guyet, purchasing manager for First Homebuilders of Florida, says that the more hurricane-rated windows he installs, the fewer callbacks he gets from home buyers who can't figure out how to apply their shutters.

"As a builder," Guyet says, "we're real happy with them."


Weather Shield. The company's LifeGuard windows and doors pass multiple windborne-debris code standards, the maker says. The products feature Solutia's KeepSafe laminated glass, which is paired with foam-filled stripping and vinyl bottom sweeps on doors for tight seams. The firm also claims the 1 3/4-inch-thick aluminum-clad wood frame further fortifies the structure and is virtually maintenance free.

Andersen. Offered in several types of windows and patio doors, Stormwatch combines style, energy efficiency, and product performance, the maker claims. Stormwatch comes with impact-resistant glass and sashes, and lock and hinge fortification for added strength. The company also says its vinyl Perma-Shield exterior cladding system withstands the corroding effects of ocean spray.

PGT Industries. WinGuard laminated glass is three times stronger than typical automobile windshields, the maker says, adding that it complies with Florida's building code and passes large- and small-missile tests. A strong inner layer blocks noise twice as well as double-pane insulated glass, the firm claims. These windows and doors come with aluminum or vinyl frames.

Simonton Windows. Dade County, Fla., which boasts the strictest building codes in the country, recently approved Stormbreaker Plus impact-resistant glass products in both its vinyl- and aluminum-framed versions, says the firm. The line includes double-hung, picture, geometric, and casement windows and, according the manufacturer, the first vinyl double-hung tilt windows to achieve the Dade County standard.

Pella. The Architect series of windows and doors with HurricaneShield glass sandwiches an ionoplast layer between two layers of glass. The result is a laminated glass that offers 100 times the rigidity and five times the tear resistance of a commonly used impact-resistant laminated glass, the company says.

Marvin. The StormPlus line retains a glass-like finish while protecting the home from strong winds and rain, claims the maker. The impact-resistant glass is available in outswing French doors and a variety of window styles.

Peachtree. StaySafe insulated impact-resistant glass features a polyvinyl layer adhered between two glass panes that won't break if the outer glass is breached, the firm says. This glass is available in several window types and outswing patio doors. The company offers a variety of color options for its aluminum-clad exteriors as well as interior wood options. Builders in coastal areas can add corrosion-resistant frames.

Wasco. The Lumi-Duct Skydome system maximizes daylighting while reducing heating and cooling loads, the manufacturer says. The mirrored light well reflects 89 percent of light transmission without the loss of color. Also available is hurricane-resistant low-E insulating glass. Ideal for high or drop-ceiling applications, the double-glazed Skydome features a self-flashing, thermally broken aluminum frame for both flat and pitched roofs.

Totally Tubular

Daylighting is becoming more important in new and remodeled homes, and one of the most common ways builders and remodelers incorporate daylighting is by installing skylights. Tubular skylights, which feature a light-capturing system on the rooftop that directs sunlight down through a highly reflective cylinder to a diffuser at the ceiling level, are growing in popularity because they are simple to install and provide exceptional daylighting. And now many of these compact models are impact resistant, too.

–Stephani L. Miller

ODL. Severe Weather tubular skylights, which feature a polycarbonate dome and seamless aluminum flashing, are rated to meet the hurricane impact requirements of the Florida Building Code and Miami-Dade County, Fla., codes. Additionally, the skylights have a U-factor of 0.44 and a solar heat gain coefficient of 0.24. Installation also is easy, with pre-assembled gaskets and flip tabs that rotate into place to secure the diffuser ring to the ceiling.

Velux. With an adjustable angle adapter, Velux's new line of sun tunnels can be installed in a straighter line to the ceiling, resulting in an easier installation and more light output, the manufacturer says. Impact-resistant models are available. A stable dome-to-flashing connection protects against expansion and contraction, and the metal flashing features pre-drilled holes for easier nailing. A new dome shape gathers light from more angles, and a pre-sealed dual diffuser is now available in either a frosted lens or a prismatic lens.

Solatube. The 10- and 14-inch Brighten Up and 21-inch SolaMaster tubular skylights are now available in Miami-Dade County, Fla.,-approved models. These models are also designed to meet Florida Building Code requirements for high-velocity hurricane zones. The skylights feature the Spectralight Infinity super reflective tubing that provides near-perfect color rendering, the manufacturer says.