Storm-proofing garage doors can save a home

Storm proofing! Did you know your garage door may be the most vulnerable part of your home to hurricane damage?

That's because it is typically the largest opening in a home. If left unsecured, the garage door is susceptible to 100-plus-mph winds that can cause it to buckle, allowing wind to penetrate the garage, potentially rip apart a roof and eventually the rest of a structure.

How does a homeowner secure a garage? How much does it cost? Do you have to hire somebody, or can you do the work yourself? For answers, we turn to experts such as Jack Stumpff, president of Secure Enterprises. The Plantation company is a local manufacturer of garage door bracing systems that can withstand hurricane-force winds.

"As much as 80 percent of the dollar damage to residences in Hurricane Andrew was attributed to garage doors. There were garage door failures also reported in Charley and Wilma and other major storms," Stumpff said. "If the garage door fails, the roof is likely to be damaged and then the damage to the home is severe."

While replacing a garage door with one that is rated to withstand high winds can cost $2,000 or more, there are alternatives that cost much less — and can be installed by do-it-yourselfers.

"Braces are the cheapest way to go when securing a garage door, the most expensive being replacing an old garage door with a wind-rated door. Everything else falls in between," said George Palmer, owner of All Florida Hurricane Depot, which sells various hurricane-proofing products for garage doors in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

"The main idea is to secure a garage door so it is resistant to strong winds and will not blow in or suck out," Palmer said. "Protecting your garage ultimately means protecting your home."

Both Palmer and Stumpff say there are at least four choices for consumers to consider when it comes to fortifying garage doors in a home or condominium:

Consider purchasing an impact-resistant garage door. Prices start around $900 for a single-car garage door without windows that can withstand winds of 150 mph and the blow of a 9-pound, 2-by-4 wooden stud traveling at 34 mph, which would meet Miami-Dade and Broward County building code requirements. The price of a double-car garage door can start around $1,500, including installation. It pays to shop around, and you may be able to get a better price outside of hurricane season, which runs June through November. For more information, check the Florida Emergency Management Agency Web site at http://www.floridadisaster.org.

Add braces to a garage door. Jack Stumpff’s company manufactures what are called Secure Door Vertical bracing systems, which are sold at Lowe's home improvement stores in South Florida, local dealers and online at www.securedoorbraces.com. The cost is about $158 per brace, and Stumpff recommends at least one brace for a single-car garage and up to three for a double-car garage to meet wind load standards in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The same is true for some parts of Palm Beach County, but consumers may be able to use fewer than three braces for double-car garages because standards vary throughout Palm Beach County and other areas of the state. To be safe, check with your local code enforcement department, he said.

You can hire a professional to install such braces, or if you are handy with tools, install them yourself by drilling into the garage floor and top of the garage door frame (called the lintel) to attach brackets that hold the braces in place. The braces can be easily removed and are only attached when a storm approaches. Each brace takes about five minutes to install.

Install hurricane panels. These systems use a series of metal or aluminum panels affixed to the outside of the garage door and secured with screws, clips or track systems. These are the same products many people use to secure windows and front doors. The cost for metal panels can start around $300 for a single-car garage and $500 for a double-car garage. The cost for aluminum panels can range from about $400 for a single-car garage to about $600 or more for a double-car garage. Check whether your condominium or homeowners’ association regulates the types of panels that can be put on your home, or if local building codes require special permits to install panels.

Install garage-door netting. The cost for these fabric-like products starts at about $10 per square foot, which translates to about $600 for single-car garage and $1,200 for double-car garage, Palmer said. Netting should only be attached when a storm is approaching, however homeowners should practice attaching beforehand to get an idea how long it will take to get the job done in an emergency.

While it may cost cash to secure your garage door, the good news is that after doing so you may be in a better position to request a discount from your home insurance agent, Palmer said.

To be as safe as possible, look into hiring a home inspector to check your garage opening and the rest of your home. A private inspector generally charges about $300 to examine a three-bedroom home. A more thorough inspection by an engineer can cost about $1,000.

dvasquez@tribune.com, or 954-356-4219, or 561-243-6600, ext. 4219. To see more columns from Daniel Vasquez, go to SunSentinel.com/vasquez.

Check out Daniel Vasquez's Consumer Talk blog for ways to spend your money wisely, use technology to make life easier and keep your family safe and healthy at SunSentinel.com/consumerblog.

By Daniel Vasquez