Will hurricane-resistant windows hold up to Hurricane Irma's winds, now hovering at 185 mph?
“It looks like we’re going to find out,” said Peter Dyga, president of the East Coast chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, the largest construction organization in the state.
Not since Hurricane Andrew in 1992 has Florida seen the potential for such a violent wind storm. After that historic catastrophe, which devastated Homestead and other parts of Miami-Dade County, building codes were tightened and new products created.
Among the changes: The creation of hurricane-resistant windows, tested in labs with 2x4s hitting them at a force of 140 mph, Dyga said.
Dyga acknowledged that the force tested in a lab is not the steady, sustained wind of 140 mph or more that a hurricane can deliver. And the one or two blows fired at a window are not the same as what happens in the real-world when multiple objects come flying at windows, he added.
The bottom line?
“The windows are impact-resistant, not impact-proof,” Dyga said. “It doesn’t mean they can be bombarded for hours and are not going to break.”
“The strongest building code in the world is not going to totally protect us from a natural power, a Category 5 hurricane, which is super strong,” Dyga added. “The idea is to minimize hurricane damage as much as possible.”
One building that has the potential to emerge unscathed from a direct hit of 185 mph is the West Palm Beach emergency operations center on Congress Avenue, said Dave DeMay, a vice president of Kast Construction. “That is engineered to withstand winds of up to 185 to 190 mph,” he said.
Also bunker-like is the guardhouse at the Admirals Cove Country Club, which serves as a command center for the luxury community in Jupiter. “Some structural engineer had it in a program and that’s what we designed for,” DeMay said.
Damage from projectiles is the major risk to buildings, Dyga said.
That’s why the most important steps residents and businesses can take is to eliminate any outside objects that can fly through the air and breach openings to homes, such as doors, windows and garage doors.
This means bringing items outside the home inside, Dyga said.
Minimizing projectile risk is also the reason why contractors throughout South Florida spent Wednesday cleaning up job sites, removing materials that could go flying.
In prior storms, construction companies waited until storms were a little closer before working on sites.
“But this is such a significant storm, we wanted to give our guys plenty of time to clean the sites and do their homes, too,” DeMay said.
At Kast construction job sites on Wednesday, workers already were clearing, DeMay said. The work included clean up at an assisted living facility and a clubhouse at Alton, a new community in Palm Beach Gardens.
Crews were busy securing materials and removing trash. In addition, the boom on the crawler crane will be lowered, DeMay said.
In recent years, new adhesion methods for roofs and stronger garage doors have made homes safer from storms, Dyga said.
But Dyga urged people with hurricane-resistant windows and other strong construction features not to be lulled into a false sense of security. Don’t ignore government instructions to evacuate homes, if the orders are given.
“If you’re in an evacuation zone, you should get out, plain and simple,” Dyga said.