In the Southeastern United States, a region prone to hurricanes and tropical storms, many building and compliance codes have been established to reinforce new structures and protect citizens against severe weather.  We’ll explore some of those codes as well as product compliance regulations that are enforced in these hurricane regions. 

For those people living in coastal areas that are prone to hurricanes or hurricane-force winds, there are various safety factors that must be taken into consideration when building or remodeling a home or other structure.  In 1994, two years after Hurricane Andrew struck Florida, Miami-Dade County began to establish building codes specifically focused on improving the structural integrity of new buildings to reduce damage from hurricanes. Today, these building codes and regulations have been widely adopted in other hurricane areas, and are considered the “holy grail” of hurricane protection and safety.

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The Product Control Section of the Miami-Dade Building Code Compliance Office was charged with evaluating and certifying specific building materials as compliant for hurricane force winds.  Since then, this organization has become the authoritative source for establishing hurricane safe products and building materials. Many companies that manufacture building materials, particularly hurricane shutters and shutter hardware, strive to meet the compliance codes of Miami-Dade County.  However, it’s important for consumers to remember that not all products have met the Miami-Dade criteria. Before purchasing building items, consumers must remember several important things.

If a product has been tested and approved, it will be stamped “Miami-Dade County Product Control approved.”  Keep in mind that this approval applies to a specific product design. If the manufacturer later changes the design of the product, it may no longer be approved, meaning they would have to go through the testing and certification process again.  With regard to functional hurricane shutters, there are some basic guidelines to keep in mind when shopping for Miami-Dade approved products.

The material that the shutters are made of is critical.  Hardwoods, depending on their density, are considered the best material for functional hurricane shutters, based on the established criteria of the Miami-Dade Building Code Compliance Office.  The code divides hardwoods into several categories including medium heavy, heavy, very heavy, and the strongest category which is called “ironwood.” Woods categorized as “ironwood” will actually sink in water.

Softwoods such as pine, spruce, larch, Douglass fir, and hemlock are considered less than optimal for functional hurricane shutters, and are generally not recommended.

There are some hurricane shutters on the market made of composite materials, usually containing resin-based plastic components such as ABS and nylon.  These composite shutters are usually successful in passing Miami-Dade code compliance testing.

Metal shutters can be found, and they are usually inexpensive to purchase; however, they are generally considered a last resort, or something that can be installed in a hurry if a hurricane is coming soon and there is no time for a more sophisticated shutter system.

Shutter hardware will also be rated as compliant or non-compliant with Miami-Dade building codes.  Again, the same basic guidelines apply: A stamp of approval only applies to the specific product design that was tested and certified.  If a manufacturer later changes the design, the product is no longer in compliance until it has been re-tested.

For the most part, Miami-Dade building codes as related to shutter hardware will address the type of metal used in the hardware.  The importance lies in using good quality metal that will not easily break or fracture. Cast aluminum and cast zinc should both be avoided.  Steel is considered to be the best material to use, with stainless steel topping the list as the best quality product. Stainless steel has a good tensile strength and the material will not rust or tarnish when exposed to salty conditions that are prevalent in coastal areas prone to hurricanes.  Carbon steel that is cut and formed is also a good choice because it is very strong; however, this steel will rapidly rust and deteriorate when exposed to salty conditions.

If you’re considering buying a home that lies in a hurricane zone, be sure to ask your realtor if the structure is Miami-Dade building code compliant.  If you already live in one of these areas, and you’re preparing to remodel or perhaps build a new home, consult with your contractor about the building codes, and be sure that he or she is prepared to build according to the Miami-Dade County standards.  Hurricane force winds will quickly damage property and take lives. The best way to protect yourself and your family is to heed warnings, but also ensure that your home is well built and that your have functional exterior shutters in compliance with Miami-Dade standards.

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