EXTREME Field Test!

© 2004 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Winter 2004
Author: Mischel Schonberg
Pages 38-39

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.”