Sunday, August 21, 2011

We Dodged Our First Tropical Storm

I spent the better part of my birthday, getting ready for tropical storm Harvey, that ended up hitting the southern part of Belize. All we got was a little rain, but surprisingly, no wind. But it was a good dry run for when the first tropical storm or hurricane, does come.

We were trying to decide on the type of hurricane shutters we wanted to protect the doors and windows, and we wanted to make the decision before hurricane season started on the first of June. Well that didn't work out and it was nearly the end of June before we actually made our decision on which way to go.

Our first thought was plywood. It was not overly expensive, easy to cut and I could get it right away. But the drawbacks were storage (we don't have a garage yet), treating it for bugs and rot, the large panels were heavy and it would make the house seem like a cave, which means lots of candles or a generator going full time. If we went with plywood, our cost, including installation, would be around $1500US.

The second option we looked at were aluminum panels that attach to a permanent railing system. The panels are light weight, strong and easy to store, with minimal maintenance. They can be installed in a fairly short time and even quicker if there are two people. The down side is, the feeling of being in a cave, the rather high cost of the panels and the time it takes for the company to cut it to size and installation. If we went with aluminum panels, we were looking at around $7000 - $8000US, including installation and three weeks before they would be ready.

Our other option was semi-clear polyurethane panels. Florida rated, they could be bought from Home Depot or Lowe's, online. A permanent attachment system would hold the panels to the window and door frames, so installation of the panels before a storm would be quick and easy. A full 4X8 sheet of polyurethane panel weighs less than 20 lbs. They are thin and easy to store. No worries about bugs or rot. They're simi-clear, which allows light in during the day. The only down sides were the cost, about $3000US (including shipping, duties, taxes and installation), it being twice the cost of plywood but less than half of the cost of aluminum panels, and the shipping time. From the order date to delivery in Corozal would be about 5 to 6 weeks.

After careful consideration we decided to go with the semi-clear polyurethane panels, from Home Depot. They came in a contractor pack of 5 - 4X8 sheets for about $715, before taxes, and we decided to buy 3 packs. Home Depot delivers free on orders over $250, so we had them ship it to Marage Shipping, in LA for no charge. From there, Marage would ship it to Belize in a container, that would take about 3 weeks, then they would unpack the container in Corozal and then call us to pick up the panels a day or two after that. It wasn't the quickest way to get ready for hurricane season, but if we could dodge any hurricanes until August, we might be OK.

So that leads us to now. The hurricane panels arrived in early August and we had no threatening tropical storms or hurricanes up until then. If it would just hold off until I could get them installed. I needed a permanent attachment system first and I have to work with what they have here in Belize. I went to our local window manufacturer to look at aluminum rails then to all the hardware stores in town to find stainless steel nuts and bolts (we don't want them rusting in a few years). After looking at a number of options, we decided on the rails we wanted but ended up having to order the stainless steel nuts and bolts. More waiting time. No hurricanes in sight, but now we were starting to press our luck. Sure enough, as soon as the bolts arrived, we get notice of a new tropical depression forming off the leeward islands, and it was headed our way, over warmer waters. Was this going to be the first hurricane of the season? Was it going to hit Belize? Was I going to be ready?

As luck would have it, the answer to all three of those questions was "no". The storm did hit southern Belize, but only as a tropical storm. And a good thing, as we were not ready for it. I had just started cutting the panels to size, but had not even began to install the attachments.

So that is where I am today, rushing (in Belize time) to get the panels cut and installed. I have installed almost all the panels for main windows and tomorrow I will start on the small windows and doors. I hope to have this all wrapped up in two or three days. At least no tropical storms or hurricanes are headed our way.