EXTREME Field Test!

© 2004 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Winter 2004
Authors: See below
Pages 38-48

EXTREME Field Test!

Editor’s Note: In this special series of eyewitness reports of Florida’s recent bizarre hurricane-fest, we present independent perspectives from three DASMA companies: Clopay, Raynor, and Wayne-Dalton.

Part I
Four Hurricanes Test Revised Florida Codes
By Mischel Schonberg, Clopay Building Products

The brutal 2004 hurricane season unfortunately provided Floridians with ample opportunity to test the effectiveness of more stringent building codes.

However, representatives from Clopay Building Products report that code-compliant garage doors have withstood high winds and stayed in place, reducing overall property damage.

Garage Doors: Critical Components

“As the largest opening on a house, the loss of a garage door during a hurricane can lead to an uncontrolled buildup of internal pressure resulting in a complete or partial blowout of the entire roof system and supporting walls,” says Mark Westerfield, manager of product development and engineering for Clopay.

“Hurricane Andrew taught the building products industry and homeowners some valuable lessons on the importance of being prepared for the worst-case scenario,” he continues. “Garage doors are now considered to be one of the most important parts of a building’s structure in regards to maintaining its structural integrity during a hurricane.”

Weathering the Storm

In March 2002, 10 years after Hurricane Andrew ravaged South Florida, the state adopted stricter building codes that require new or replacement doors to be structurally reinforced to withstand specific wind load requirements. To meet the new code, garage doors must have additional bracing, heavier gauge track, and other necessary hardware to help keep them in place under extreme wind loads.

Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach County were among the hardest hit areas by Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. Dennis Perry, a Clopay sales representative in Florida, reports that code-compliant Clopay doors in these key areas withstood the high winds and stayed in place.

By contrast, Perry reports that doors installed before the revised code took effect suffered significant damage or were blown out completely. That often led to further destruction of building integrity and personal property inside.

“Building code officials got it right when they mapped out the wind load requirements for structures in the path of these storms,” says Perry. “The wind speeds have correlated exactly with the code specifications.”

Predicting the Future

Perry believes this year’s active storm season will have several long-term effects on the industry. “The hurricanes have heightened homeowner awareness about protecting their property with code-compliant building materials,” he adds.

“Clopay dealers are receiving calls from homeowners in low-threat, inland areas, eager to replace their doors with code-compliant models. Many homeowners are requesting maximum wind load capacity doors regardless of whether or not they are required by the jurisdiction.”

Perry also predicts that the intense media coverage of the storm damage in Florida will cause homeowners in every U.S. coastal region to become more diligent about the types of building products used on a home when they go to buy, build, or remodel.

Reports from the Front Lines

George Ebel at Action Automatic Door in Ft. Myers knows firsthand that homeowners are worn out by the back-to-back storms. All 12 of his phone lines have been lit up daily since Charley first developed, and he doesn’t see things slowing down for the next 12 to 24 months.

Ebel says he has three categories of customers: (1) those whose doors were damaged by flying debris but remain operable, (2) those who need a new, code-compliant door because the old door is missing, and (3) those who are upgrading their door to code in anticipation of the next storm.

“All are asking for solutions that require the least amount of effort on their part to secure their homes,” he adds.

Active and Passive Systems

Two kinds of reinforced garage doors are commonly available. One type, described as an “active system,” features floor to ceiling posts that a homeowner must install in the floor and header to secure the door before the storm hits. The posts must be removed after the storm passes to resume normal operation.

“Passive systems” require no advance set-up and are ready to go when the storm hits. Reinforcement is contained within the structure of the door. The system is engaged by simply locking it, a timesaving convenience in the event of a sudden evacuation notice.

“The benefit of this type of door became evident when Charley suddenly changed course and hit an area that wasn’t forecasted,” Ebel adds. “My advice to homeowners is, regardless of the type of garage door you have, know the steps you need to take to secure it in the event of a storm and make sure it is up to code.”

More Code Changes Coming?

Although Florida adopted a more stringent statewide building code in March 2002, some believe it should be modified again. Kriste LaMay, vice president of Broten Garage Door in Pompano Beach, hopes that building code officials will increase wind load capacity requirements to the maximum level statewide.

“Homeowners and officials are just gambling on the category of storm Mother Nature will deal next if they don’t,” she says.

For instance, Port Charlotte and other cities on Florida’s Gulf Coast that bore the brunt of Charley require a W4 – W5 rating (110 – 130 mph). In Broward County, the wind load requirement is a W7 – W8 (130 – 150 mph), whereas one hour north in Palm Beach County, which was hit hard by Frances, it is a W6 (130 – 140 mph).

A Word to the Wise

“The proliferation of hurricanes and subsequent media coverage this season has drawn homeowners out of their complacency to heed warnings, follow codes, and be prepared in advance,” concludes Mark Westerfield.

“It is apparent that the building codes put into place after Hurricane Andrew have been effective and necessary. Homeowners with dwellings that do not meet code should investigate what products they need to install to bring their home into compliance and prevent future damage.”


Part II
Chasing Charley
By Gary Wedekind, Sectional Door Engineer, Raynor

This year’s hurricane activity captured my undivided attention.

As a sectional door engineer, my special focus for the past 11 years has been in wind loading garage doors. In addition to my interest in strengthening garage doors, I have always been interested in the weather.

The power of nature fascinates me. Lighting, thunderstorms, snowstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes all have tremendous power. That power was unleashed on the southeastern United States this year.

In a 46-day period from Aug. 12 to Sept. 26, Tropical Storm Bonnie and Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne hit the southeastern United States, but Florida took the brunt of these storms. After tearing through Florida, these powerful storms spawned numerous tornadoes and dumped massive amounts of rain.

A Gigantic Field Test

From my perspective, these storms represented a gigantic field test for garage doors. This test was so important because, after hurricane Andrew in 1992, garage doors were often blamed for being a weak link in the building envelope. This ultimately led to higher wind load ratings for garage doors by the South Florida Building Code (SFBC), the Florida Building Code (FBC), and the International Building Codes (IBC).

No manufacturer ever wants anyone to go through a hurricane or disaster, but bad things do happen. When they do, we have to learn from them. This is why Joe Hetzel, DASMA technical director, myself, and many other garage door industry representatives went to Florida to investigate garage door damage.

To sell garage doors in wind-prone areas, manufacturers must provide proof that their product meets the wind requirements for the area. To do this, we test garage doors with a standardized test method such as ANSI/DASMA 108. It is a method of simulating wind by creating uniform pressure on the garage door.

After personally testing hundreds of garage doors by this standard, I have constantly wondered how these doors would do in a real storm. The test standard is very good at simulating wind pressure. However, test conditions and hurricane conditions are not the same.

Nature’s Awesome Power

Ten days after Hurricane Charley made landfall, I went to the Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte area with two other Raynor representatives to see how garage doors performed. Inspecting doors for three full days, we naturally focused on how Raynor doors performed, but we also inspected many other doors.

We quickly witnessed what nature’s awesome power can do to a landscape. The amount of debris was overwhelming. Tree branches, power lines, and building materials were thrown everywhere. Cleanup will likely take months, and rebuilding damaged or destroyed structures may take years.

When we focused on the building envelope, it was very easy to identify homes that had been built to the new requirements of the building code. We saw newer homes with little or no visible damage, while older homes next door or across the street suffered major damage.

Good News for Garage Doors

This was also true with garage doors. We saw many doors that were installed prior to the new requirements of the code. These doors were heavily damaged, destroyed, or missing from the opening. The good news is that doors built and installed per the current building code performed much better.

Many newer doors withstood the 145 mph sustained winds and higher gusts of Hurricane Charley. This is impressive because the FBC basic wind speed map for this area is 120-130 mph. I personally witnessed many success stories of how garage doors stood up to these fierce winds. And I continue to hear similar stories from distributors, installers, and other manufacturers.

Last Door Standing

In Punta Gorda, we inspected a devastated area about a half mile from the coast. One new home was standing in the midst of an area that looked like a war zone. Everything around this home was destroyed.

The house was a modular home with a 2-car attached garage. The neighborhood was full of the same kind of homes. Immediately behind the home was a trailer park that was completely destroyed. Nothing was standing.

The homeowner, an older lady, let us come in and inspect the doors up close. She had just built the house and had started moving in only four days before the storm. She had two 16x7 Raynor doors, one in the front and one in the back, both installed with proper wind loading. Since she was still moving in when the storm hit, her garage was packed full of all her belongings.

Part of her roof was missing, but the garage was perfectly intact, and all the items in it were untouched. From the street, we could detect no door damage at all. But upon closer inspection, we noticed a slight crease on the exterior of one of the doors, probably caused by flexing in the wind.

The stickers on the doors indicated that they were built in July 2004. The storm hit on Aug. 13. These two doors were a powerful example of the importance of installing doors that meet the building code.

Insight from Inland

South of Orlando, well inland, we visited a Ford dealership with 12 commercial sectional doors. Two of the doors were ours, and each was installed with an 8" truss. Of the 12 doors, these two were the only ones that survived the storm.

The guys at the dealership welcomed us very kindly. After inspecting the damage, we learned that the other doors were not wind loaded.

In all our inspections, we also found some of our doors that failed, but in nearly every case, they were older doors and had not been properly wind loaded. This again reinforced the lesson of installing doors according to the building code.

As an engineer who has spent the last decade designing doors for strong winds, I was very pleased to see that all our work is paying off. Many people have devoted much time and effort to design, manufacture, sell, and install wind-loaded doors. It’s very good to know that we are helping to protect the property of thousands of people from damage that can run into the thousands of dollars.

DASMA Leadership

The DASMA technical committees have led the way in monitoring the building codes as they relate to the garage door industry. Today, wind load requirements across the country are becoming more and more recognized and enforced.

I’ve been involved with DASMA for many years now, and DASMA’s work has helped all manufacturers stay on the cutting edge of this important issue. DASMA has produced many Technical Data Sheets about wind loading, and they are freely available at www.dasma.com. Thanks to all of DASMA’s work, our industry is prepared to meet the wind load demands of building codes throughout the nation.


Part III
Riding Out the Storm
An Engineer’s Eyewitness Report of Hurricane Ivan
By Al Mitchell, Director of Research, Wayne-Dalton Corporation

Here in Pensacola, Fla., hurricane season can cause alarm but usually not a lot of panic. However, we had a reason to panic this past September when Hurricane Ivan roared through my town. Ivan did not change my attitude toward hurricanes, but the experience did teach me a few lessons.

A Peculiar Storm

This storm was the worst I have ever experienced. Ivan brought the most destruction, the longest period of time we were under the wind, and the worst storm surge (water rising) effects.

Ivan was a slow-moving storm. When a hurricane forward speed is 20 to 25 mph, the storm will usually pass in a few hours. However, one new lesson I learned is that when a hurricane is moving less than 7 or 8 mph, like Ivan, it seems to last forever.

Category 1 winds (at least 75 mph) first hit us about 9 p.m. on Sept. 15, and they peaked early the following morning around 3 a.m. Hurricane-force winds continued on until that afternoon.

Around 9 a.m. on Sept. 16, I called DASMA Technical Director Joe Hetzel from inside my home using my cell phone. I described what was happening outside, seeing debris blowing down the street. Joe said he could hear the wind howling in the background.

Near the Eye of Ivan

The eye of the storm passed over Orange Beach, Ala., only 20 miles west of my home. I was near the heart of major damage, which stretched from Navarre, Fla., (35 miles east of here) to Mobile, Ala. (40 miles west of here).

Electrical power was lost about 11 p.m. the night the storm came ashore. I was without power for a week, although many areas lost power for two weeks. The water system was breached, so those who had running water had to either boil or add bleach to make it consumable.

Checking Test Doors

Over the last several years, we had placed 47 Wayne-Dalton test doors in this area. Some of these doors were designed for less than the newest code requirements, but the remainder met or exceeded the code.

Almost all of these doors remained in the openings and were operable after the storm. However, three doors close to the beach, of a new design, were missing and presumed to have been destroyed by the 15' to 16' storm surge.

Better Homeowner Preparations

In this part of the country, we have a procedure to prepare our doors for hurricanes. First, we disconnect the power to the operator to prevent damage from lightning strikes. If locks were removed when the operator was installed, we replace them. We then lock the garage door.

If a door has vertical reinforcement as an add-on product, that reinforcement must be installed, making sure all the hinges are properly fastened. Door preparation procedures are normally done while boarding up windows, closing the storm shutters, dropping swimming pool levels, filling bathtubs with water, and locking all gates and doors.

Whether staying or evacuating, thorough preparation is a must. Anything that comes loose during the storm usually cannot be repaired.

My Ivan experience made me think that DASMA should generate a checklist to guide consumers on how to prepare a door for a storm. Beyond that, we could develop a guide on how to assess the condition of the door before trying to operate it after a storm.

At the DASMA Commercial & Residential Garage Door Technical Committee meeting in October, I shared these ideas about homeowner preparations of garage doors. The Committee agreed that DASMA should consider producing these guidelines, particularly if the homeowner doesn’t have enough time to get help from a local dealer.

Questioning Wind Speeds

Another new lesson I learned was relating to the actual winds near the ground versus winds that are reported in the media. I attempted to determine the different wind velocities at various elevations useful to our products.

The National Weather Service commonly measures wind speed at 33' above the ground. However, most of our commercial door products are around 12' to 14' high, and our residential door products are around 7' to 8' high.

Therefore, I mounted wind speed measuring devices at 7', 14', and 33' in the vicinity of a particular door. The wind speed measuring device at 33' failed at 106 mph around 1:45 a.m. on Sept. 16.

The other two continued to monitor wind speed without failure. The 14' device recorded a maximum wind speed of 76 mph at 2:15 a.m., and the 7' device measured 52 mph at 3:10 a.m. Reported winds were much higher than what I measured.

Door Survivors

Inspecting inland neighborhoods not far from my home, I estimate that we lost 3 percent (1 out of every 33 or so) to 4 percent (1 out of 25 or so) of the garage doors in this area. From what I could see, they were all below the code requirements.

Here’s something else I learned. Inland homes built to the 1994 Standard Building Code performed well. (This 1994 code is the predecessor to, and the original model code for, the Florida Building Code.)

New inland homes had little or no damage to any portion of the home. In my opinion, the codes work when they are adopted and enforced by code officials and when they are followed by manufacturers and installers.

Code Contradiction

One final observation. There appears to be a conflict in the building codes pertaining to garage door performance in high winds in coastal areas.

On the one hand, the codes want garage doors to resist wind pressure and wind-borne debris. On the other hand, the codes promote break-away construction in a flood zone, which includes almost all Florida coastal areas. When storm surge causes hydrostatic pressure on a structure, break-away construction relieves stress on the overall structure.

Here’s the problem. Break-away construction is normally designed to break away around 10 pounds per square foot (psf) of pressure. However, the wind load requirement for the door is around 36 psf.

You can’t have it both ways. I believe this matter needs to be resolved in the codes.

I’m hoping I can apply all of what I learned from Hurricane Ivan to my personal property, the work for my company, and the work I’m involved with through DASMA. Living through Hurricane Ivan certainly strengthened my convictions about doing things right … both for our industry and for my own home.