Anyone who lives in a hurricane zone knows the sense of urgency that arises when a hurricane is heading for landfall. Plywood installed on windows provides some measure of comfort, but it's only a temporary solution that must be installed and taken down with each storm. Plus, plywood is often in short supply in those waning hours before the hurricane.
Hurricane shutters are a far better, long-term solution that substantially increase your margin of safety. Hurricane shutters close up your house faster than sheeting it with plywood—providing impact- and pressure-damage protection for your windows and the entire home.
Types of Hurricane Shutters
Along with plywood, the most popular types of hurricane shutters are accordion-style, colonial, Bahama, storm panels, and roll-down.
Metal or polycarbonate accordion shutters fold up along the sides of the window frame when not in use. When needed, the shutters pull across the window and lock into place with pins. Accordion shutters can gather entirely on one side and pull across or they can be split up, with the two sides meeting in the middle.
Accordion hurricane shutters are simple to open and close. But some homeowners steer away from them because they narrow the view through the window.
Louvered door–style colonial hurricane shutters evoke visions of New Orleans or Key West. Whether that's your intention or not, it's undisputed that colonial shutters do rate high on the aesthetic scale.
It's easy and quick to close colonial shutters when a hurricane is on its way, but securing them with the central locking rod can add to the preparation time. When they aren't being used, colonial-style hurricane shutters remain open and secured against the side of the house.
Bahama shutters are hinged like doors. But unlike colonial-style shutters, the hinge is at the top. When not in use, the bottom of this single panel tilts outward and upward, permitting breezes and providing shade.
Bahama shutters are great for windows that are in need of shade; they significantly reduce heat gain in the house. Yet they can obstruct the view through the window.
Metal or polycarbonate storm panels attach to the outside of the house with bolts or by sliding them into tracks pre-attached to the home's siding. Think of storm panels as a far more evolved version of plywood protection.
Storm panels go up faster than plywood on pre-installed bolts or metal channels. They're lighter than plywood; they're thinner, so they store more compactly; and they're even less expensive than plywood.
Storm panels are solely about protecting your home and have no aesthetic positives. Once the storm has passed, the storm panels come down and are stored away in the garage or an outbuilding.
With roll-down shutters, a flexible shutter (called a curtain) made of polycarbonate plastic or aluminum rolls out of an upper box and covers the window. Rails on each side of the window guide the curtain and help to stiffen it and hold it in place.
Roll-down shutters can be rolled up and down either with internal electric motors or manually with hand cranks.
Roll-down shutters deploy fairly quickly, even by hand. They fully cover the window and are code-approved in most municipalities (though check to make sure). The downside is the sizeable shutter housing unit located above the window.
How to Choose Hurricane Shutters
Consider strength, appearance, and ease of operation when shopping for hurricane shutters.
Polycarbonate and aluminum roll-down shutters, accordion shutters, and storm panels are highly rated materials for withstanding hurricane and tropical storm damage. Though it can be difficult to source and install when it's needed, plywood presents a formidable challenge to most gale-force winds.
Removable hurricane shutters generally return your house to its original appearance, post-storm. Plywood leaves screw holes that must be filled in. Storm panels leave either protruding bolts or tracks.
Of the hurricane shutters that remain on the house, two are the most obtrusive: accordion shutters and roll-down shutters. Colonial and Bahama shutters can enhance your home's appearance.
Ease and Speed of Operation
Much is happening in those final hours before the storm makes landfall; putting up hurricane shutters is only one of your tasks. So, they need to go up quickly and safely.
Easiest to put into operation are accordion, colonial, Bahama, and roll-down shutters. Plywood and storm panels take more time to put into place.
When to Install Hurricane Shutters
For areas near the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico, hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to November 30. Install your hurricane shutters months in advance of hurricane season.
Assume a comfortable installation rate of one window per day for masonry homes and two windows per day for wood-framed structures. Multiply by the number of windows on your home to arrive at the total installation time, allowing for rest days.
Codes and Permits
Hurricane shutters must meet International Building Code (IBC) and International Residential Code (IRC) standards. Depending on where you live, local building codes may have additional standards for High-Velocity Hurricane Zones (HVHZ) or Non-High Velocity Hurricane Zones (Non-HVHZ).
Hurricane shutters must provide egress: a safe means of escape from the inside to the outside. When purchasing hurricane shutters, make sure that they have egress locks accessible from the inside.
Equipment / Tools
- Hammer drill
- Rotary drill
- Masonry bits
- Drill bit extender
- Bubble level
- Hearing protection
- Shop vacuum
- Roll-down hurricane shutters
- Masonry screws
Measure Windows for Shutter Sizing
With the tape measure, measure the width and height of the window. Generally, hurricane shutters are not installed directly to the edge of the window. The shutter frame may need to be stepped anywhere from 1/4 inch to 1 inch from the edge of the window, depending on the manufacturer's instruction.
Unbox Shutters and Prepare Area
Carefully unwrap all shutter parts to prevent scratches. Along with the tools, lay the pieces on a sheet of cardboard or plywood near the window:
- Shutter Housing Back: The large metal box that holds the roller curtain
- Front Cover: A flat metal section that attaches to the shutter housing back and covers the front of the roller
- Side Caps: Pair of square metal pieces that attach at each end of the shutter housing back
- Side Cap Legs: Extension off the bottom of each of the side caps that attaches to the top of the guide rails
- Guide Rails: Pair of tracks that guide the curtain as it passes up and down and which holds it into place
- Curtain: Aluminum or polycarbonate roller shutter
- Base Slat: Piece at the base of the window that accepts the bottom of the roller curtain and locks it into place when shut
Unless the hurricane shutter comes with pre-drilled holes, drill holes ahead of time. Make sure that one of the holes in the housing unit and the base slat is located at the center. The housing unit and base slat should each have five holes. The guide rails should have holes every 6 inches or as specified by the manufacturer.
Set Bottom Base Slat
Use the tape measure to measure and mark the center point of the bottom of the window. Do the same with the hurricane shutter's bottom base slat. Line up the rail mark with the mark on the house. Step down the rail from the edge of the window frame by the required distance determined earlier.
Install Bottom Base Slat
Drill a hole into the side of the house at the center of the bottom slat. Follow by installing the fastener through the hole. Place the bubble level on top of the slat and level the slat. Once level, drill pilot holes into house and add fasteners to the rest of the bottom slat.
Partially Assemble Housing
Attach the end caps to the housing unit. Attach the end cap legs to the end caps, with the leg part pointing downward. Slide the side guide rails onto the end cap legs.
Attach Partially Assembled Housing to Siding
Attach the parts from the previous step to the side of the house. The guide rails should point downward and rest on top of the bottom slat. Drive a fastener through the center hole in the housing unit to temporarily hold it in place.
Square Side Guide Rails
With the bubble level, check each guide rail for plumb. Next, measure the rails diagonally in both directions. If the two measurements match, the rails are installed squarely.
Attach Guide Rails
Drive fasteners through the holes in the side rails to attach them firmly to the house siding. Press the plastic protective buttons over the holes.
Slide Curtain Onto Guide Rails
With an assistant, unroll the shutter curtain. Carry it to the top of the ladder. Feed the curtain down through the guide rails. Be sure that the exterior side of the curtain is facing toward you and that the bottom of the curtain is facing down.
Attach Curtain to Axle
Screw the slat hangers on the curtain to the axle in the housing unit using the provided screws.
Add Stops to Bottom of Curtain
Screw the two stops to the bottom of the shutter curtain. The stops are designed to prevent the curtain from rolling too far up into the housing and being inaccessible.
Add Housing Unit Cover
Snap the front cover onto the housing unit. Secure the cover with screws.
Screw the operator into place on the housing unit.
Roll up Curtain
Attach the crank to the operator. Roll the shutter up and down a few times to straighten it out. Finish by rolling it up into the housing and removing the crank.
When to Call a Professional
Installing hurricane shutters on an entire house can be a slow, physically taxing process for a do-it-yourselfer, especially when installing on masonry homes.
Have professionals install your hurricane shutters if you need the work completed faster than you can do alone; if you have physical limitations; or if you have second-story windows and feel uncomfortable working on them.