A hurricane approaches and what's the first thing to go? A screened pool or patio enclosure. But there are precautions a homeowner can take.
"Armor Screening is the best product to come out," says Mohammad Ali, of Hurricane Window Shutters and Screen of Miami. "It's a fiberglas material, something like a net to catch any debris. You install it (around the screen) before a storm."
The product "uses a unique interwoven design, which provides an excellent barrier to high winds and driving rain, yet you can see right through it," says the company's website (www.armorewscreen.com).
The Miami-Dade certified product replaces the "dark cave effect'' of traditional shutters with natural light. Although prices vary according to the size and configuration of the screen enclosure, Armor Screen costs roughly $20 a square foot, Ali says.
The Armor Screen material is flexible, much like that used in trampolines. The clear shutters are made from the same strong polymer resin used in the canopies of fighter jets and NASCAR race cars.
The fabric can be customized to protect awkward spaces, such as condo balconies, recessed front entrances or patio areas, says Armor Screen's sales manager Eric Gower. "It's so effective that screened areas can be used safely and comfortably during the storm," he says. "The screen also allows plenty of light to filter in, reducing the claustrophobic atmosphere of a darkened, shuttered home."
The initial installation, which includes anchor bolts, must be done professionally, but the screening is lightweight and can be put up and taken down by one person afterward, Gower explains. "If storage is a problem it can be installed so that it opens and closes like a shower curtain."
Some homeowners opt for removable screens to relieve pressure within a pool enclosure during high winds. It's a frame within a frame that can be taken out in a minute. It may be cheaper to replace screens than lose the cage (the pool/patio enclosure frame.) But since South Florida hasn't had a hurricane since Wilma in 2005, this procedure hasn't been tested.
Removing a screen panel on each side of the enclosure "helps relieve pressure from the wind," says Howard Ellis, owner of Ellis Screen Enterprises of Cutler Ridge. "Unless it's Hurricane Andrew, and then it doesn't matter.
Added Keith Ellis (no relation of Howard Ellis), owner of Storm Screen in Miami, "There's no need to cut a screen; the wind will do it for you. What you need to do before a storm is make sure the diagonal framing is strong, the bolts in the floor are secure."
Taller screen enclosures are the most vulnerable in high winds. Tougher screen requirements were added to the Florida Building Code in 2004. New rules call for more anchors, a smaller span for beams and columns, and more screws connecting the wall column to the roof beams.
Homeowners are advised to check with state and local codes and approvals before buying any new product.
Another problem for homeowners is that most carriers do not provide hurricane coverage for screen enclosures, whether attached or unattached to the dwelling. Some companies require a separate policy for screen enclosures.
In Miami-Dade, new screen structures must withstand a wind velocity of 140 mph. In Broward the standard is 140; in Monroe 150 is the standard, also for new screen enclosures.
Here are some preventive steps you can take to help save your screened enclosure:
Make sure it's anchored into concrete footing, not just dirt. Give the structure a shake and see if it's sturdily attached.
Make sure restraining cables are tight and in good condition. Make sure bottom fasteners or bolts have not rusted away.
Trim trees, bring in anything that could turn into a missile. "It doesn't take much to puncture a screen," says Don Harrison, spokesman for Home Depot.
Miami Herald staff contributed to this report.