Volume 15, Issue 5 - September/October 2011


Tint vs. Tornado
Would Window Film have Helped in Joplin?

Residents in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Joplin, Mo., can tell you first-hand that being in the path of a tornado can mean complete destruction. Splintered wood and leveled houses are all that is left behind. The concern among consumers about specific property damage, like broken windows, is just not there when the house is destroyed.

However, outlying areas that experience strong winds from tornadoes are a different story.

Can and Cannot
While window film can do little to help a building in the path of a tornado, those areas experiencing strong winds and flying debris could benefit from the product holding their window in place and in one piece.

“Film can, under wind speeds around 100-110 mph and lower, do a great job holding glass fragments together,” says Darrell Smith, executive director of the International Window Film Association (IWFA). “If you live outside of the direct path, maybe a mile or two away from the storm, you could still have 65-75 mph winds and a lot of slower moving debris in the air that might break windows or glass. Even though you are not in the path your windows could be breaking out.”

These are the type of situations where window film can make a difference. Outlying areas that don’t experience the path of the tornado, but see higher winds and some flying debris can benefit from window film. Film can keep the building envelope secure and prevent rain or debris from entering the house.

“[What happens if the glass breaks] would depend on what kind of glass it is on, whether it’s annealed, tempered, heat-strengthened or laminated glass,” says Smith. “Annealed windows break in shards and usually when that happens some of the shards vacate the window opening, but much of the glass can go into the gaskets or the sealant around the window. If you walk up to a window and tap it with a baseball bat or a wrench, glass in the center may fall out, but you will have jagged pieces still hanging in the window frame.”

While film can help in outlying areas, being in the path of a tornado is a different story. The higher winds and larger flying debris can demolish a house quickly and film will not be able to provide much protection to those inside.

“If you are in the path of a tornado you will not get protection,” states Smith. “We are dealing with wind speeds of 200-250 mph in an F5 storm. At that point you are not concerned with what was on the window when the building blows away. Whenever a windstorm event has the capacity to take down a structure you are not even talking about any glazing options or anything else.”

“Whenever a windstorm event has the capacity to take down a structure you are not even talking about any glazing options…”
—Darrell Smith, IWFA

Window Worries
Forrest Masters, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering at the University of Florida, thinks that keeping the building envelope secure is crucially important to those inside.

“Even if the optimal home is designed, if the windows don’t hold up that system can fail,” says Masters. “If the windows break you will have a dominant breech in the building envelope.”

Protecting homeowners from flying glass or from the danger of the elements and other debris can make a big difference.

“If you are near the window and a wind storm came up quickly and the glass broke you could have personal injury as a result of breaking glass,” says Smith. “Often tornadoes pop up in the midst of a severe storm as well. If a window breaks in a 40-50 mph wind speed and that glass falls out of the window you now have wind and rain damaging property inside the building. You can have personal safety issues and property damage. We know that even in minor hurricane conditions test results from Applied Research Associates shows that, next to plywood shutters, in those lower wind speeds window film was one of the most cost-effective technologies to reduce property damage.”

Richard Hollocher is owner of Midwest Window Film Supply with locations in Houston, Tex. and St. Louis, Mo. He tries to truthfully explain to customers the benefits they can get from installing film.

“I don’t want to give someone perceived security when it’s not something I can guarantee,” says Hollacher. “I try to always explain to them that hurricane-resistant doesn’t mean hurricane-proof.”

Hollacher’s company deals with hurricane issues in Texas and tornado worries in Missouri.

“We have been working with the city and the airport to try to just help educate them on differences between window film and laminated glass,” says Hollacher.

Realistic Results
Protection against other natural disasters, including hurricanes and tsunamis, made news in the window film industry as well. In September, the Florida attorney general warned Floridians about window film companies that claim the product offers hurricane protection. Reportedly, some window film shops had been selling window film to customers as a hurricane-proof product. More recently, a law was passed in the same state that makes it a violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, to advertise, sell, offer, provide, distribute or market any product as hurricane, windstorm or impact-resistant unless it is in compliance with the provisions for product approval in the Florida Building Code (for more on this story see page 16).

After the tornado hit in St. Louis, Hollacher says he has had more people inquiring about the product. He is careful about how he explains the product to them.

“It’s like comparing apples to oranges,” says Hollacher. “If a tornado is going to hit your house it will be gone. We tend to work the angle that some protection is better than no protection.”

Hollacher experienced a personal scare in his house when a window fell during a storm right over a crib. Luckily, no child was in the crib and the window had been filmed so it left the building envelope in one piece.

“If you are in the direct line of a tornado it won’t matter what you do,” says Hollacher. “However, if you live on the outskirts it is worth trying to protect. That’s what we try to tell people.”

However, film’s greatest strength will be its combination with other protection products. Window film used with attachment systems can help hold glass in place, even when a window breaks. Stronger doors and windows can make a home more secure against the elements.

“The next frontier is to look at tornadoes, but it will take a group effort. It will take all of the different trades to work together. In an event like this, if one system doesn’t work it doesn’t matter. The system is only as good as the weakest link,” says Masters.

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