Folks with bare windows, take note. The bad economy makes this a good year to buy shutters, impact-resistant windows and other hurricane protection products.
Prices are relatively low, and waits for products are much shorter than they were in previous years.
''Low material costs, low energy costs, low demand means a perfect buying scenario for consumers,'' said Thomas Johnston of Fort Lauderdale, president of the International Hurricane Protection Association (IHPA), a trade organization.
John Pisz, president of AlumiTech in Broward County, says prices are close to 1995 levels. Several years ago, a slew of storms boosted business -- and prices. But times have changed. The accordion shutters for a single-family house that sold for $18 to $22 a square foot then are now about $12 per square foot, Pisz said.
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Prices for impact-resistant windows also are lower, reflecting competition for business, lower material costs and lower labor costs, said Martin Lipton, president of Secure Windows & Doors in Doral. Compared to prices a few years ago, buyers might save 8 to 20 percent on a project, he said.
The price for impact-resistant windows ranges from $25 to $75 a square foot, depending on product quality and style, such as French doors or Colonial windows.
But shoppers need to be smart when seeking good deals on hurricane protection products, according to Johnston of IHPA. The lowest prices aren't necessarily the best prices, he said, because product quality varies widely.
Johnston suggests soliciting bids from at least three vendors. The written estimates should specify such items as the quality and type of materials, including the brand. The contractor's estimate should include how long the job should take as well as the total cost.
Government agencies and the IHPA also emphasize the importance of making sure the business has the proper licenses.
Only contractors with valid licenses can obtain building permits, which means the products and the work are inspected by local building officials to make sure they meet state standards.
''A properly licensed contractor should get the permits required. If he/she asks you to do so, be wary,'' said Hipolito Cruz Jr., section manager of Broward County's Permitting, Licensing and Consumer Protection Division.
Miami-Dade County publishes a brochure What To Know When Hiring A Contractor, which notes ``The work of an unlicensed contractor is often substandard and -- leads to costly repairs and corrections. Thus the consumer may pay more for a job than if they initially hired a licensed contractor.''
LOOK AT LICENSE
Ask to see the license, which should be issued by either the county or the state of Florida. If it's from the state, the license may be either a specialty structure, general residential or building contractor license, according to a spokesperson from the Florida Department of Department of Business and Professional Regulation. To install impact-resistant windows, contractors can hold a specialty structure, glass and glazing, residential, building or general license, she said.