Windows & Doors: Skimp elsewhere if you must, but stretch the budget to get the best windows and doors you can afford. In storm zones, says Marc Andreas, former brand marketing manager for Pella's Architect Series windows and doors, "there's been an amazing shift in the mind-set" toward impact-resistant glass, which employs a layer of shatterproof laminate to protect home interiors from flying debris. Even homeowners who aren't required by code to beef up windows and doors have been thankful they spent the extra money. "When they're installed properly," says Marc, "these products can save entire houses." All the trusted names in windows and doors offer this option. Where temperature control is a priority, choose double-pane, impact-resistant glass. The cost differential: 50 to 100 percent more than standard glass options.
• Casement windows provide the tightest weather seal, but high-grade double-hung windows, installed properly, will stand up well to high winds and rain.
• Doors that swing out are better than in-swing doors because wind pressure supports the seal instead of working against it. If you use French doors―which can have more leak-vulnerable edges than sliders or standard doors―protect them with porch roofs or overhangs.
• Pay special attention to the manufacturer's installation instructions, including flashing and hardware recommendations. The best-quality doors and windows will still fail if they're not installed properly.
Generators: Power outages can last for days. And what you might miss most is air-conditioning. Kohler has a new 12 kW unit, fueled by propane or natural gas, designed to run a 4-ton central AC system. And the manufacturer says it's no louder than a vacuum cleaner. Visit kohler.com for a chart that gives guidance on how powerful a generator you need.
Paperless drywall: If you're worried about the effects of mold when wet weather or flooding hits your area, consider DensArmor Plus. This new drywall product uses fiberglass instead of paper, a favorite food source of mold, on the front and back of gypsum panels. Even if interiors are flooded, your walls―including the invisible back sides―won't feed the mold monster. Cost: 50 percent more than standard drywall. Visit densarmorplus.com.
Storm-rated shutters: Architects and homeowners in traditional neighborhoods have long favored the look of shutters. The trouble is, many on the market are more aesthetic than functional. But you can achieve both looks and hurricane-level security. With Bahama-style storm protection shutters from Atlantic Shutter Systems, a built-in Kevlar laminate keeps flying objects from reaching the windows. The shutters provide the bonus of shade in sunny climates, and fit in with coastal designs that imitate an island feel. Visit atlanticshuttersystems.com.
Metal roofs: Although it may cost as much as four times the money to cover the same roof area with metal as opposed to asphalt shingling, metal roofs can be the best choice long term. Not only have they proven themselves in hurricane-force winds, but they are also fire-resistant and provide energy-saving advantages in warmer climates. In areas with snow and ice, they're all but leakproof. Kevin Corcoran, vice president of business development for Englert, Inc., says his company's roofs performed well even in 165-mph winds in the Cayman Islands during the last hurricane season. After the storms in Florida, says Kevin, "we checked 360 of our jobs and had one failure." Visit englertinc.com or metalroofing.com for a general guide to metal roofing.
An extra layer of protection: Grace Construction Products' Ice & Water Shield―a self-adhering, polyethylene-coated vapor barrier―has been used for years beneath roof areas prone to ice dam (frozen water in a home's gutters). Increasingly, contractors are opting for such extra protection in storm zones. Larry Shapiro, Grace's residential business director, says, "We know of four or five instances when our product was on roofs where the surface material had blown entirely off, and the Ice & Water Shield stayed in place and protected the house." A word of caution: Since this kind of underlay blocks the flow of water―unlike roofing felt, which wicks water―pay strict attention to manufacturers' recommendations about ventilation and drainage. Visit graceconstructionproducts.com.
Shatter-proof skylights Savannah Trims, a West Palm Beach, Florida, company, has developed a number of products that offer storm protection, including a flexible curtain that can be lowered over porch openings to guard against flying objects. Of particular interest to residential homeowners, though, are the company's skylights with impact-resistant glass. A typical 2- by 4-foot skylight can cost $600 to $1,200 installed, depending upon roof style. Visit savannahtrims.com.
Composite decking: Composite decking: Low-maintenance, weather-resistant composite decking, such as the Trex product pictured, looks even better after the storm season. Already popular for their ability to withstand the punishment of the hot sun in beach environments, these decks perform well in big blows and drenching rains. While they aren't likely to satisfy purists' demands for the look and feel of wood, they also don't have wood's disadvantages when it comes to soaking up water and splintering under assault from storm-blown material. Visit trex.com.
Fiber cement siding: What goes for nonwood decking is doubly true for nonwood siding, such as the fiber cement siding by James Hardie pictured here. It doesn't rot or crack in weather. It's fire-resistant and less susceptible to wind damage. After last season's big storms, homeowners who were already leaning toward the convenience and maintenance advantage of fiber cement became even more convinced of its practicality in all coastal weather conditions. Visit jameshardie.com.