Hurricane Irma Puts Florida's Impact Glazing Codes to the Test

By Bethany Stough, Glass Magazine
September 11, 2017

Parts of Florida have been improving building products, including glazing systems, to withstand hurricane-force winds and pressure since Hurricane Andrew made landfall in Miami-Dade County in 1992. And beyond Miami-Dade counties and the High Velocity Hurricane Zone, building codes have become increasingly stringent following disasters over the last 25 years. 

"If anyone in the world is prepared for this we are! Good luck to everyone," said Rick De La Guardia, president and founder of DLG Engineering, and resident of Miami, in a Facebook post, dated Sept. 10. "After 25 years of analyzing, designing, testing, reviewing, certifying and inspecting installation of building envelope products we are going to find out how good a job we have done with our building codes after lessons learned from Andrew," he said in another post. 

While in many ways, it is still too early to tell the extent of damage to structures throughout Florida and the surrounding islands, including damage to glazing, industry voices remain positive. 

"I haven’t gotten any feedback or data yet, but wind speed at Ft. Myers yesterday measured 142 miles per hour gusts at airport. Study of winds compared to code, [the glass] should hold up well," says John Wheaton, president of Wheaton Sprague Building Envelope.

He reiterated this instinct on Twitter.

"Miami-Dade and Broward counties, which are in the stricter HVHZ portion of the Florida Building Code, will feel as if their codes are adequate," says De La Guardia. He offers a warning, however. "I would remind the code officials however that we dodged a bullet and that what we experienced was not a 'code testing' event, in my opinion."

"A 'code testing' event occurred in the lower Florida Keys. They experienced Category 4 winds. I expect major glass and window damage and will be curious to see how the homes built under the newer codes fared."

De La Guardia also expects "more significant damage" to glass and windows in the areas in northern Florida (outside the HVHZ), and potential code changes in the region as a result.

While St. Martin was badly hit by Hurricane Irma on Friday, Wheaton attested to impact glazing holding up. "We had a consulting Oyster Bay beach with [retrofit] impact glazing and storm patio doors...Apparently it all is intact and held up well as compared to other buildings which are largely damaged [given the] 180 mph winds," says Wheaton. "We will use this as a basis for the positive effect of using [Miami-Dade Notice of Acceptance] products and impact glass."

According to a report from The Next Miami, glass buildings in the Miami area appeared to have fared better than during Hurricane Wilma, which hit the area in 2005.