As of June 1st, we have officially entered hurricane season! Welcome to some unpredictable storms, heavy rain, and strong winds. Is your house ready for all this? Many people prepare for hurricane season in a major way, and rightfully so. Storms can leave a major trail of devastating property damage that most insurance companies in Florida don’t even cover anymore! And if they do? You can bet you will have an extremely high deductible. Your best bet? Be prepared and proactive about protecting your home. It is after all one, one of the biggest assets most people own. And what is the first part of the property to get damaged? Yes, you guessed it! it is usually the screen enclosures and patios. Post Florida’s 2004 thread of horrific storms, tougher and stricter building codes were enforced. New procedures were put into effect for anchors, beam and column spans, and the screws that make the connections between the column and roof beams. Keep in mind, it does not take a hurricane to do substantial damage. Some strong afternoon storms and weaker hurricanes can take an entire enclosure down.
And in this case, bigger is not better. Taller screen enclosures are usually the most susceptible to storm damage.
Related Reading: Is Your Screen Enclosure Still Rated For 150 mph?
There are some excellent preventative measures homeowners can take to prevent storm damage before it occurs and causes you to dig into your pockets for repairs. Luckily, most screen enclosures built recently were built to withstand hurricane winds, however, with neglect and lack of proper maintenance, they may become weaker with time.
First and foremost, find out what wind speed your enclosure is engineered for, and if that measurement is with or without screens. In other words, some screen enclosures were designed to be wind rated with the screen in, and others are intended for the screen to be cut out when winds reach hurricane speed.
Per Florida Building Code Rule 61G20-1.002:
a site-specific engineered design method which allows for cutting, retracting or removing of certain sections of the screen enclosure when winds are forecasted to exceed 75 mph. The proposed alternative is limited in scope to aluminum screen enclosures and provides for labeling and replacement criteria for the screen panels that are designed to be cut.
Many homeowners unknowingly chose enclosures engineered to this lower standard to save money, not realizing the implications. As inconvenient as it may be to cut the screens, and expensive to replace them, it’s much cheaper to follow then replacing the entire structure. If you’re not sure what your enclosure is rated for, you can find out by making a records request for your screen enclosure engineering at your local permitting or public records department.
- Double check to make sure your enclosure is anchored into concrete footing (or nominal slab if it is smaller. When new the enclosures all should be properly anchored to concrete, but in some cases particularly if pavers are added, the anchors (tap-cons) may no longer reach the concrete. Go ahead and give the structure a from shake and see if it’s strongly attached.
- Hurricane Cables. If your enclosure does have these safety cables, make sure they are tight and in good condition. It is recommended to replace them if they are old, not secured or rusted out. If you don’t have any hurricane cables, you might want to make a records request for your engineering (as I outline in step 1) to see if the cage had them at one point, and then get them re-added. Of course installing extra hurricane cables is never a bad idea.
- Install wind braces (diagonals on the roof) with thick metal angle brackets at the walls and top corners which will counteract twisting wind and rain forces. Like cables your screen enclosure may have been designed without them, but added them can add some extra stability.
- Make sure all fasteners and bolts on the screen have not rusted away. The low grade steel fasteners commonly used on pool enclosures lose as much as 75% of their original strength in the first 12 months of South Florida conditions. Once rusted your enclosure isn’t even close to the strength it was designed for. If they are rusted out, replace them immediately. Be sure to see my notes on insurance at the bottom of this post.
- Trim the surrounding trees that may pose a threat to falling into the enclosure. Bring in anything that could turn into a missile and puncture the screen such as chairs, garbage cans, pots, umbrellas or even tables.
- You can consider replacing old screens prior to hurricane season, as old ones are much more susceptible to breaking and tearing with the wind. Just the wind from an afternoon tropical storm can often tear the screen (read: polyester vs fiberglass screens). If you want to keep your pool enclosure buttoned up all season, it is generally best to get a full re-screen as opposed to paying a service call charge every time you call out the “screen guys”.
In my experience point 5 is the most crucial and most overlooked. Low grade fasteners are used on enclosures all around the state, and while they look unsightly when they start to rust, they are extremely weak. It is important to also discuss insurance. While the purpose of the post is not specific coverage for screen enclosures (that warrants a whole topic of its own), if you have insurance coverage for the screen enclosure, buried deep in the fine price, they require the cage to be adequately maintain, ensuring that all the components are in such a state as that they meet their original specifications for strength. In most of the insurance claims I’ve seen for pool cages, the very first thing the insurance adjust says is “well this cage was not maintained, look at the fasteners” — claimed denied!