Ten years later, the legacy of Hurricane Andrew lives on. The hurricane, which trampled the Bahamas, southern Florida, and south-central Louisiana in August 1992 caused an estimated $25 billion in damages -- the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Since Andrew, Florida and other coastal regions have continued to beef up building codes to withstand the brunt of flying debris and air pressure. While the strictest regulations have been and continue to be in place in Miami-Dade County for some time, on March 1, the entire Florida Building Code enacted more stringent requirements for builders, requiring homes to withstand winds from 110 to 150 mph, depending on the county, according to PGT Industries. Window and door openings are a target not just because of flying glass but because their ability to stay intact can dictate a home's survival. If an opening is penetrated and compromised by flying debris, the highly pressurized air on the outside rushes into the house, blowing off the roof and causing the walls to collapse. New homes will be required to have approved shutters or impact-resistant windows and doors.

New windows and doors must undergo a battery of impact and pressure testing, withstanding the impact of a 2x4 hurled at 34 mph in three different places. The products also must undergo 9,000 cycles of positive and negative pressure testing, designed to simulate the pressure cycles of a hurricane. In Miami-Dade County, testing is even more intensive.

Top of the glass

Laminated glass, such as Solutia's KeepSafe, PGT's WinGuard, and Cardinal's SeaStorm, is the key element in hurricane-resistant windows and patio doors. Laminated glass features two layers of glass with a special plastic sheet or film in the middle. When impacted, the tiny pieces of shattered glass adhere to the inner layer, eliminating the chance of flying glass and, most important for coastal areas, keeping the opening intact.

In addition to offering laminated glass, manufacturers are making adjustments of varying degrees to their premium window and patio door lines. Most manufacturers offer stronger glazing to accommodate the heftier glass, as well as more durable hardware. Marvin and Andersen both offer SeaStorm glass and heavy-duty hardware upgrades. Weather Sheild's new LifeGuard windows and doors feature KeepSafe Maximum laminated glass, along with more mass, upgraded glazing, an integral nailing fin, and other enhancements. Pella's Hurricane Shield line features upgrades from its premium windows, including stronger hinges and DuPont SentryGlas laminated glass. Simonton is introducing a line of vinyl hurricane-resistant windows, StormBreaker Plus.

Special installation

No matter how strong the product is, successful resistance also relies on proper installation. "Ninety percent of the strength of the product comes in the installation method," says Chris White, code compliance manager for Pella. "You really have to modify and beef up the installation of the unit." Many of the changes, White says, are spelled out in the code, such as the use of more screws.

Code changes are not restricted to Florida. Most of the hurricane-prone areas in the United States have adopted similar regulations or will soon, including coastal areas of Texas, the Carolinas, and Long Island, N.Y.

And while hurricane-resistant windows cost more, a code requirement means that they're no longer an upgrade but a price many homeowners will have to pay.

In May, NOAA predicted that the 2002 Atlantic hurricane season, from June 1 to November 30, would be normal to slightly above normal, with about nine to 13 tropical storms and six to eight hurricanes. As the season blows in, hurricane-resistant windows are ensuring that homeowners can count on houses that won't blow over.