Hurricane window controversy pitts big business against mom & po - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Hurricane window controversy pitts big business against mom & pops; customers lost in the middle

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - A controversial change in Florida's building code continues to cause chaos in the hurricane window industry.

The code change follows national guidelines and requires hurricane windows to be more energy efficient. The result is insulated impact windows.

Many in the industry say they're not needed in our warm South Florida climate and they're prone to breakage. Soon, customers may not have any right to choose. 

"The last hurricane that we had I had to throw the couch against the windows because it was bowing," George Grana and his wife say that's when they decided they wanted hurricane windows in their Boca home."

"So I did research and found these guys," says Grana, referring to a company called Florida Home Improvements.

"We don't know when the next hurricane is going to come but we certainly know when the next energy bill is going to come," said Tat Granata, VP of sales for Florida Home Improvements.

Granata showed us some simple tests to demonstrate how a hurricane window with insulated impact glass could make your home more comfortable and lower your energy bills. He ran the tests on a window sample similar to the windows Grana had installed in his home. The sample window consisted of a layer of impact glass designed to stop a 2X4 fired at 50 feet per second and an additional piece of non-impact glass with a reflective coating used solely for insulation. Granata says the window sample is designed specifically for our sweltering South Florida heat. Granata held the insulated window sample in front of a heat lamp and placed a heat meter on the other side of the glass. The meter registered nearly no heat, demonstrating the windows ability to reflect radiant heat away from your home.    

Grana says, before he had the insulated impact windows he used to keep his thermostat around 69 degrees in order to stay comfortable. He says that is not the case anymore.

"The thermostat right now is set at 78 (degrees) and I'm pretty sure you're comfortable," Grana said with a smile.

Many in South Florida are less excited about meeting the standards of the new energy code.

"If we're forced to sell insulated glass it's going to increase the cost by anywhere from 25 to probably 35, 40 percent," said Ryan Mills, owner of OAO Construction. He's in the middle of installing traditional impact windows in a beach side condo in Juno. A job he says is already costing the owner around $30,000.

"If it was insulated (impact glass) it would probably increase anywhere from $7,500 to probably almost $10,000."

Mills says that cost increase would put the upgrade to impact windows out of reach for many of his customers. But initial cost isn't the only concern.

"Glass is glass, glass will always break," said Melissa Sun from Window Doctor in Lake Park.

She points out traditional impact glass is extremely hard to break, or even crack with rocks, baseballs or any another daily hazard. That is not the case with insulated impact windows. The outer pane of glass is intended only as an insulating layer and will break as easily as any regular window in your home. The difference is, the insulated impact windows are extremely expensive and once the outer pane breaks the whole window must be replaced.

"Why are there so many companies that have told us the same thing, that this just doesn't make sense in South Florida?" asked Contact 5 Investigator Jared Werksma.

"The issue is money," Granata replied.

Industry giants Custom Window Systems and PGT tell NewsChannel 5 they spent tens of millions of dollars developing insulated impact windows ahead of the energy code change in Florida.

Mills says smaller companies like his could never hope to keep up. Something he feels is big business strategy more than responsibility.

"In my opinion, yes. The larger companies having the deep pockets (are) petitioning to push things in certain directions," said Mills.

Mills and Sun both believe that direction  is away from consumer choice.

"It doesn't make sense, it's not logical. I think that a lot of consumers are going to be outraged by the price," said Sun.

Right now, building inspectors across the state are interpreting the building code change differently. In some places consumers shopping for hurricane windows are already required to get insulated impact windows. In places such as Palm Beach County,  there are loop holes which allow home owners to install non-insulated impact windows as long as the renovation doesn't cost more than 30 percent of the homes value.

The Florida Building Commission is set to weigh in on the debate October 15 in Tallahassee. Both sides of the argument are hoping the building commission will, at least, offer clarity on how to interpret and enforce the code change so it will be implemented more consistently.


experts and consultants from the impact glass industry say they have been asked, by the Florida Building Commission, to attend the October 15 meeting.

Public comment is also strongly encouraged.

Copyright 2015 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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