We are now the proud owners of several hundred pounds of oily aluminum. I picked up our hurricane panel order yesterday. I placed the order eight weeks ago with Hurricane Depot and picked it up here in the Orlando area at a local distribution point (Lake Mary) of their manufacturer Town and Country Industries. The shutters were very fresh from the manufacturing process and still had their sheen of oil from going through the roll forming process.
This is a set of custom-cut panels. I measured our windows and determined the panel length, number of panels, length of track, etc. myself. The Hurricane Depot also has an online web estimator to simplify the process. One downside of the estimator page is that it will not calculate half panels. For our house, four windows needed them to prevent excessive overlap. Eventually, I will post the Excel spreadsheet I used.
To protect our most vulnerable windows, it will take over 300 linear feet of shutters and over 100 linear feet of track. I describe the mounting system I chose below, but you basically have two options to attach metal storm panels to a house.
- Direct: With this method, the panels are usually attached horizontally and fastened with PanelMate fasteners. The PanelMates are permanently attached to the house and the panels are attached to the fasteners using washered wingnuts. This method works best with recessed windows that have a frame around them that permit attachment of the PanelMate fasteners. If you use stock length panels, it may be difficult to use this method because of a lack of structural support in the wall at the points where the shutters have holes. You will need to figure everything out and drill holes and install PanelMates. This process can be cumbersome and difficult while holding up the shutters. Good luck.
- Track: With this method, tracks are attached to the house, usually at the top and bottom of the window, and the panels are attached to the tracks. There are numerous ways to build the track assemblies and several forms of track that are approved. Track also lets you do build-outs that offset the track out from the side of the house.
Build-outs are important for two reasons. The first is that you can install the shutters over window features that project out from the side of the house. The second is that it gives you separation between the panel and the window glass. Every certified shutter has a table that specifies the minimum separation distance from the glass. Mine is 3 inches, which will be achieved using the window inset in the wall. Along the coast, the minimum separation distance can be up to 5 inches. The separation gives the shutter room to flex during an impact without breaking the window glass while it is under wind pressure loading at the same time. Per the installation diagrams (see the NOA link below), I will be using the “wall mount“ technique. This technique implies that no build-out is required.
The thickness of the shutters is also important since it is directly related to strength. For most of inland Florida, building codes call for 0.040-inch thick aluminum. This is what you will find at Lowe’s. Unfortunately, Miami-Dade County code requirements require a minimum thickness of 0.050-inches, mostly based on empirical impact testing. This can be significant because insurance companies will give you a discount on your house insurance policy only if you have Miami-Dade certified shutters. This certification is their reassurance that the panels are structurally sound. The thickest aluminum shutters I have seen are 0.063-inches. These would be used along the coasts in the highest wind regions.
What is the difference between aluminum and steel shutters? Primarily, it is weight and cost. Steel is thinner and heavier for the same amount of protection, but is less expensive. Aluminum is thicker and lighter, but costs more. You have to make that decision. I went with aluminum because I have some long 98-inch panels to cover a big window on the back of my house. Lifting those up in the air will be easier with aluminum panels.
Approved shutters have a fastener schedule that specifies the maximum distance between fasteners to keep the track and shutters attached to the house under the design loads. Mine is 14 inches, so I will be using fasteners every 12 inches for ease of installation. The maximum distance depends on your local design wind load, the type of fastener, and the house material you are fastening into. The plans should also specify a minimum embedment distance into the house structure. This embedment requirement plus any nonstructural house elements (stucco, wall board, fascia, etc.) plus the external track construction will give you the minimum fastener length you will need. The installation diagram will also specify a minimum edge distance. This is a no-closer-than distance to ensure there is enough structural material around the fastener to hold it securely.
For our header installation, I will be installing h-header tracks along the tops of the windows. This is the most common header installation and will make installation quick and easy. I will attach the header tracks using white 2-1/2-inch Tapcon fasteners at 12-inch intervals. This will make the installation permanent. I am toying with the idea of caulking along the edges as well to make the headers water tight as well. That will keep everything on the outside of the shutters and give it a lesser chance of getting into the wall.
For our footer installation, I will be installing studded angle tracks along the bottoms of the windows. These 2-inch aluminum angle tracks have stainless steel studs at 12-inch intervals. I will be installing fasteners in the middle between each pair of studs. I will be complicating this installation a bit. Since the studded angle tracks are somewhat unsightly, I will be making them removable through the use of lead anchors instead of Tapcons. I will then fasten the track to the wall using stainless steel machine screws commonly called sidewalk bolts. This will let me remove the lower tracks and store them when they are not needed. I will place the sidewalk bolts in the empty holes to keep them clean while not in use.
To install the panels, I will slide the tops into the upper channel and position the bottoms over the lower studs. Each panel has holes for the studs. You then fasten the panel to the track using stainless steel washered wingnuts. There is a special drill bit for tightening these wingnuts quickly and easily with a battery-powered drill.
Panel and track storage is something I will have to work out.
Several weeks ago, I got permission from my homeowners association for the installation. I specified in my request that I would be painting the tracks and the sidewalk bolts to match the color of the house as appropriate. You may also need to pull a county construction permit as well.
How do you find out what installation details apply to you? The easiest method is to read through the manufacturer’s Miami-Dade County Building Code Compliance Office Notice of Acceptance available from the county’s web site. The NOA for my shutters is here (PDF). Alternatively, you hire a contractor to install them and they will determine all the details. For that easy installation, you just need to spend lots of extra money and wait many months. I estimate I will be saving around $2000 by doing this myself. Your results may vary. I will be installing panels on my ten most-vulnerable windows this weekend. I will blog on the tools I use and my lessons learned as I go.
Of course, now that we have the shutters, our house will never be in the path of a hurricane ever again! (Yea, right.)