As most you know, during Hurricane Gustav I stayed in the 10th floor condo where I live. One of the reasons I decided to stay is that this building was built to withstand Category 5 winds. The windows in our unit are also rated to withstand very serious winds. But, in addition to the strong windows, I also have roll down hurricane shutters. These shutters worked very well during Hurricane Katrina, to the point that our unit was one of the few that sustained virtually no damage at all during Katrina.
After Katrina, a couple of people in the condo decided to install roll down hurricane shutters. Most of these people had some serious problems, which became apparent only in real-world emergency use. I’m posting this so that anyone who has roll down storm shutters (or who is considering buying them) can have the benefit of what I learned during Gustav.
As I said my shutters worked fine during both Katrina and Gustav. They are simple mechanical shutters in which each section is about 39″ wide. I have to use a long crank pole to raise and lower the shutters, a process that is laborious considering that our unit has 20 separate sections. It’s a nice cardio-vascular workout, and I’m glad I’m in good shape otherwise it would be very draining. It takes me about 30 minutes to get all the shutters up or down (mostly because I take frequent breaks).
The people who bought shutters after Katrina all opted to have electrical roll-down shutters, no doubt to avoid the physical ardor of having to roll the shutters up or down by hand. As our recent brush with Gustav showed, this turned out in every case to be a serious mistake.
First of all, most of the electrical powered shutters that condo residents installed were grouped in sections of 3 or more. This made it quicker to raise and lower the shutters since more sections are moved at one time. And that’s fine as long as you are using electrical power. But what happens when you have no power (as is the case after the storm passes)?
Four or five days without power gives you time to reflect on things. Here’s what I realized in the recent aftermath of Gustav:
The electrical shutters are useless. Oh, sure they have a little hand crank knob that can supposedly be used to raise the shutters by hand. But guess how effective that is? Remember I said that my 39″ sections are a bit difficult to raise? Try raising three 39″ sections simultaneously by hand. One person in our condo had a 5 section panel, and it took three of us to even budge it. And then we quickly snapped the crank handle because there was too much force being applied. Good thing that no one was trapped inside.
If you’re going to opt for electrical shutters then make sure that the one that goes over your escape door is mechanical. That’s lesson #1. And if you plan to stay in your house/condo during a storm then consider not having ANY electrical shutters. Why? Well, because if you wind up staying in your home after the storm and power is out you’ll want to take advantage of the daylight to light up your place. Being stuck in a dark unit during the day is bad enough, and not having good ventilation makes it worse.
The funny thing about planning for emergency situations is that most people have never really lived without power for a long time. They completely forget that most of the things that we use in our daily lives require power. In an emergency you want to have tools that don’t depend on power, or have limited dependence (e.g. work on battery power).
A propane powered barbeque grill comes in handy. And if you live in a condo then you usually have a good supply of food from the residents who didn’t want to empty out their fridge before they evacuated. But after a few days of no power, you’ll be resorting to canned goods. That’s when you’ll realize the time has come to evacuate.
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Also, another thing for homeowners to consider (those with generators) is putting the circuits that have the electrical shutters on the transfer switch (if you have one and your generator is hardwired).
In addition, I have seen instances where the shutter motors plug into a wall outlet. In this case, an extension cord can be brought to the plug to power the motor.
I am looking for rollup shutters also .My situation is not for Hurricanes, But for windy cold nights up in Canada .I am looking at the aluminum foam filled design.My question is do they rattle when they are in the closed position? You can’t find much information on these for cold applications,Any input would be great.
Motors with manual overrides are almost essential for todays impact rated hurricane roll shutters due to the weight. The manual override simply turns the gearing in the motor and is actually easier to turn than most straight manual shutters with an 11/1 gear ratio. Due to a motors higher ratio (32/1 or so) the shutters do raise slowly with more turning of the handle( hint: connect to a cordless drill and it’s a breeze). Five people to turn and snapping the universal is due to poor manufacture, installation or maintenance.
Shutters are on the majority of homes in western europe. The shutters will protect your property. Do not equate property protection with self protection, or comfort. As noted, with the abscence of electricity for a few days, evacuation seems a better choice.
Good info,nothing like real world experience to determine what is really effective and useful.
Hey glad you are okay from one fellow attorney to another. I live in Dallas and getting ready for the one that is heading toward Texas. Electricity is crucial and how easily we forget how much we use it. Glad you weathered the storm okay. Kinda like handling a divorce case, it can get nuts………….
Thank you very much for this helpful post. I am considering hurricane shutters for my house currently and will definitely be getting mechanical ones. I don’t mind a little physical labor, especially when it is much easier than putting up plywood.
Thank you again for this post and the hints.
You forget to mention that those shutters are also really ugly.