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Why, When, & How to Board Up Your Windows

Sep 13, 2019

The why of it all seems pretty cut and dried, doesn’t it? Whatever the reason behind it, you board up your windows to bar access to your home’s interior. We see abandoned buildings boarded up or perhaps there’s been a forced entry through a window and it’s awaiting repair.  Around here, though, it’s a pretty good sign that there’s a hurricane heading our way.

Weather forecasters have the ability to accurately predict a hurricane’s path and give people time to prepare. Some have hurricane resistant windows installed to stand against wind-tossed debris. Others lug the storm shutters out of storage. However, using plywood to board up your windows is still a viable choice.

Depending on the strength of the storm, it may not prevent all damage to your doors and windows, but it definitely helps!

What works best?

Actually, plywood is ideal for the job. It’s usually purchased in 4×8 foot sheets and can easily be cut to size. Plywood is inexpensive, readily available, — if you don’t wait until the last minute, of course, — and has 30% greater impact strength than oriental strand board (OSB).

Purchase plywood that is 5/8-inch thick at the minimum. That’s the thickness recommended by FLASH (Federal Alliance for Safe Homes). You want it to hold up and do the job instead of breaking apart when the storm hits. It also needs to be exterior grade.

It’s best to purchase the supplies you’ll need before the threat of an oncoming storm because the mad rush may leave you hanging in an entirely different sense of the word. Besides, having everything you need on hand when you need it provides a sense of accomplishment. You could even go so far as having your plywood sheets cut to size and ready to go up saving you even more time if you need to cover up quickly.

Tools needed for the job

Hanging plywood requires more than a hammer and nails. If you haven’t yet sized the plywood to fit your window, you’ll need a circular saw. Of course, in a pinch, even a hand saw will accomplish the job.

In addition, you’ll need to gather the following:

  • Ladder
  • Measuring tape
  • Drill
  • Nails
  • Screws or bolts
  • Window clips or anchors

It’s a pretty short list and DIY’ers will have no problem carrying out the procedure. There are many tutorials found online to guide you through the process if seeing it works better for you then written instructions.

But, since you’re here…

Measuring up

First things first, if you haven’t done so already, measure each window and exterior door that contain glass. Get those skylights figured into the mix as well. For that matter, boarding up your roof and gable end vents provides measurable protection too.

Your goal is to block any opening that allows wind to enter your home.

Once that happens, your home and family are at the mercy of the storm. When hurricane force winds gain access to a home’s interior, they immediately rush upward looking for an escape. All the while flinging storm-borne debris everywhere endangering everyone in the home.

In the attic, the wind begins to squeeze its way through tiny cracks and crevices. It creates pressure that continues to build in the home. Meanwhile, the storm continues to rip at your roof from the outside. The combined force may rip your roof from your home.

Before you cut a thing

There’s a saying in the construction industry, “Measure once. Then, measure again.” Precise measurements make all the difference in the success or failure of any construction project.

Making a mistake when measuring plywood to board up your windows could be a costly one indeed. If there’s no more plywood to be had within hundreds of miles, you might have to leave your home unprotected through the storm.

Measure every opening you intend to cover horizontally inside the exterior trim and, then, vertically from the sill to the bottom of the top trim. Add eight inches to both the height and width providing a four-inch overlap on each side. If your windows have an extended sill, measure from the top of the sill to the top of the window. Only add four inches to the sides rather than eight.

After you have your measurements, gather all the tools you’ll need to complete the job.

Hang ’em high

You’ll need a helper to board up your windows. It’s a two-person job. We suggest boarding up the windows before the wind picks up. The plywood can be hard to hang onto making the job pretty difficult. Not to mention, more dangerous.

First, pre-drill holes the same diameter as your bolts or screws two inches from the edges of the plywood on each corner and at 12-inch intervals around the entire piece of plywood.

Hold the plywood in place over the opening and mark where to drill the mounting holes.

  • If the window sill is flush to the wall, attach the plywood on all four sides.
  • If the window sill extends out, secure the plywood at the top and sides.

Wood frame homes

If you live in a wood frame home and your windows are smaller than 3 feet by 4 feet, use 1/4″ lag screws and plastic coated anchors to install the plywood. The lag screws should penetrate the wall and frame surrounding the window at least 2 1/2 inches so they don’t pull free.

Larger windows need a 3/8 inch screw. Still, make certain that they penetrate the window and surrounding frame 2 1/2 inches.

Masonry homes

If you live in a masonry home and your windows are smaller than 3 feet by 4 feet, use 1/4 inch expansion bolts and galvanized permanent expansion anchors to install plywood. the bolts should penetrate the wall and surrounding window frame at least 1 3/4 inches.

Larger windows require using a 3/8 inch lag screw that penetrates the wall and window frame at least 2 1/2 inches.

Windows and doors that are larger than the sheet of plywood require joining two sheets together with 2×4 bracing along the seam. Using the widest side of the 2×4, run it the length of the entire seam. Attach the 2x4s to the outside of the plywood panel with 10 gauge galvanized screws that are 2 inches long. Space them at 4 inch intervals.

If you’ve prepared your plywood coverings ahead of time, marking them with the name of the opening they’ll cover makes for quick installation when a storm is approaching. You could even take time to waterproof the plywood with a sealant or paint.

Go time

Even if you intend to board up those windows and hunker down, if an evacuation order is given for your area, please, heed it. It’s not worth risking your family’s safety to stay put. If you have enough time to safely board the windows first, okay, do it.

But, then…

Grab the family and pets, check on the neighbors to see if they need a ride, and get out of there!

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