The Atlantic hurricane season doesn't end until Nov. 30, and 2017 is on track to rival the most active years. As of Sept. 18, there were 13 named storms, seven hurricanes and four major (Category 3 or stronger) hurricanes.
In Sarasota, Fla., the small staff of Hurricane Safe Products Inc., a manufacturer of storm and security shutters that does business as UltraTek Worldwide, has been busy filling orders and preparing for the launch of a new product created to help those same homeowners. The privately held business says it is the largest buyer of PC in the state, and it is getting into a new material.
Co-owner Steve Motosko said corrugated PC shutters are his best-sellers, but the company's patented flat PC shutters introduced 11/2 years ago are being used increasingly to secure upper-floor and arched windows in homes and businesses. The clear panels are unobtrusive and can be left in place over windows that are a hassle to cover in a hurry.
UltraTek will be out with its next product — a patented motorized hybrid shutter — in a couple weeks, Motosko said. It has impact- and heat-resistant chlorinated PVC material on the exterior-facing side of the slats and high-strength aluminum on the interior-facing side.
"We just got Florida building code approval. It's unlike anything out there," Motosko said in a phone interview.
Called GreenTek, this rolling shutter will keep houses in warm climates cooler all year, improve security and protect against wind and storm damage during hurricane season, according to Motosko.
"PVC doesn't transfer heat like aluminum, so that will save on electricity," he said of the potential to reduce daily use of air conditioners. "And, it's hurricane rated for the high-velocity zone."
In these zones, which includes Broward and Dade counties and the cities of Fort Lauderdale and Miami, structures must stand up to hurricane winds of at least 130 mph and critical infrastructure must withstand winds of at least 156 mph.
GreenTek buyers will be able to control the shutters with their smartphones if they want to block the sun to watch TV outside of the hurricane season or if they need to block wind, hail and objects-turned-projectile. Motosko said the shutters have passed large missile impact tests and pressure cycle tests.
UltraTek sold out of all of its products, including scrap, as homeowners raced to protect their windows from Hurricane Irma in Florida.
UltraTek was spared damage and disruption from Hurricane Irma, which was good for both the product launch and the people who turned to the business in a scramble to protect their homes. On Sept. 15, they bought pretty much everything.
"Every single panel in the whole facility, every piece of hardware was gone," Motosko said. "People came in frantic taking everything, even our old scraps. We had some laying outside that we gave away. People were totally desperate. A lady came in with two kids and a dog sitting in the car. She bought several thousand dollars worth of panels for her husband to put up."
He remembers searching for hurricane shutters when hurricanes Charlie, Frances and Jeanne posed a triple threat in 2004. Motosko said he was disappointed there was a four-month wait for the product he wanted and he realized he could expand the security business he already had with hurricane shutters and fill an unmet demand.
Motosko later became a board member of the International Hurricane Protection Association, a nonprofit group that represents industry manufacturers, contractors, architects, testing labs and code writers.
As a manufacturer, he and his half-dozen-or-so employees have been keeping up with PC shutter orders thanks in part to automation. UltraTek buys truckloads of coiled PC, slits it to the proper width, then cuts it to size and forms it on a custom machine with a patent pending.
"We're able to do it automatically and quickly, but it's not thermoforming," Motosko said. "We don't have to heat it. That's a slow process. With the process we developed, we can make a panel in 20 seconds. We're upgrading now with automatic cutting, too."
UltraTek started out selling hurricane-rated products directly to consumers and offering an installation service. The clear corrugated panels were introduced about 10 years ago, and the company has been manufacturing them for dozens of companies.
"My supplier has told me that I am now the largest buyer of polycarbonate in the state of Florida," Motosko said, declining to give any numbers. "We're going through so much, it's unbelievable right now."
He described UltraTek's geographic reach as extending north to coastal Maine and west to coastal Texas.
"One of our distributors supplies Home Depot," Motosko said. "We have a really big customer in New Orleans and people in the [Florida] Panhandle. Probably 100 different companies supply panels from us."
The first version of UltraTek shutters were a corrugated pattern. The company now makes a flat version as well.
Plywood has been the go-to material for covering windows and doors, but PC has been gaining market share as more stringent building codes are adopted and the advantages of clear plastic spread by word of mouth.
PC shutters also are replacing metal shutters during home renovations. Motosko said builders often install shutters made of steel and aluminum because they are cheaper, but a lot of buyers eventually upgrade with PC that costs about twice as much.
"Once you go through a storm with a regular panel and you can't see anything because it's blacked out and you don't know what is going on, you realize the benefit," Motosko said. "It's like a cave inside, while clear shutters are like glass."
Ultratek says its flat ClearTek panels are as clear as glass and the corrugated ClearTek PC panels have almost no distortion.
"When you dent a metal-corrugated shutter, it loses its integrity," he explained. "Polycarbonate bounces back."
UltraTek business has been growing every year for at least a decade with sales of mostly PC shutters but also polypropylene wind screen for lanais.
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