Group Has Ads for 'Hurricane Film' in Its Sights

"This is incredibly dangerous," says Bill Feeley, president of the International Hurricane Protection Association (IHPA). Feeley is holding up a newspaper advertisement placed by a Sarasota-based company advertising "Hurricane Window Film." In Florida, using the words "hurricane" and "window film" in the same sentence is risky business. The window film industry has yet to add its name to the list of impact resistant product providers approved by the Florida Building Commission or the Miami-Dade Building Code Compliance Office. This does not mean that window film manufacturers and dealers cannot advertise, sell and otherwise install impact resistant films in the state of Florida; but, it does mean that they need to be careful how they promote and sell these products in the process. Officials for the IHPA allege that some window film providers have taken advantage of the public by placing ads that imply or label their products as approved hurricane protection devices. The IHPA is a non-profit organization including more than 200 manufacturers, suppliers, contractors and government agencies that provide hurricane protection systems, information and education. A query of the association's membership list for any company name including the word "film" returns zero hits.

"A consumer sees this in their newspaper and believes that it must be legitimate," Feeley says. "Unfortunately, consumers are purchasing these products in good faith thinking they are protecting their homes and families."

Well, those in the window film business know-they are adding protection. When applied to glass, impact-resistant films and attachment systems are designed to resist impact from flying debris, smash and grab attempts, or anything else that may threaten the building envelope. A number of window film manufacturers offer these products and have gone to great lengths in order to have them tested and even rated, but none to date has crossed the finish line and had them Miami-Dade or FBC approved. And, until they do, the IHPA intends to keep them honest. A Consumer Safety Task Force for Hurricane Protection Products was formed recently for this purpose. The unit will act in unison with the Florida Attorney General's office to protect consumers who have been and are being subjected to "deceptive or misleading trade practices by unscrupulous hurricane profiteers." And window film dealers are atop the list.

"The IHPA and the Attorney General of Florida have been made aware of a continued increase in advertising and marketing misleading consumers into buying products that do not meet the Florida Building Code (FBC) requirements for hurricane protection," Feeley explains. "The difference in choosing approved or non-approved hurricane protection systems can dramatically affect the survival of a home and its contents and in some cases can be a life or death decision. This type of deceptive trade practice needs to stop and the companies profiting from this should be held accountable."

Feeley says Florida is an attractive target for deceptive schemes due to its high exposure to hurricanes, combined with a large retired population and a constant influx of new residents who serve as fresh targets. IHPA officials estimate that selling window film as "hurricane protection" to consumers in the state of Florida has generated "tens of millions of dollars" in business. Feeley points out a statement on the International Window Film Association's (IWFA) website that addresses the practice: "Statements such as 'hurricane proof' or 'meets Dade County standards' are, at best, misleading to the public or, at worst, fraudulent."

Feeley says that consumers are often surprised when they contact their insurance companies to inform them that they have added window film as a hurricane protection device to their homes and discover that the product of their choice provides no discount to insurance premiums. "Unfortunately, many consumers are not aware that they have been deceived until they contact their insurance company for a discount or have a qualified inspection and receive the form that is required to apply for windstorm credits or meet new renewal requirements from Citizens," he says. Citizens is an insurance provider. According to the company's form WBDR 1802-01-09, after-market installed window films are rated the same as having no protection at all-as in "none." Florida Office of Insurance Regulation form OIR B1-1802 concurs, and systems that do not meet the FBC or Miami-Dade approvals are rated the same.

Along with urging consumers to contact the association or the Florida attorney general's office in the event that they feel they've been mislead, the IHPA lists several guidelines that consumers can follow to protect themselves from misleading information. Suggestions include: looking for an approval number issued by the FBC or the Miami-Dade Building Code Compliance Office and determining whether the installation contractor is licensed and able to establish a permit for the installation of the product. Currently, most jurisdictions require a building permit be issued for the installation of impact resistant coverings or impact resistant glazing. After March 1, 2009, building permits and inspections will be required for the installation of required impact-resistant coverings. Until window film is relabeled by insurance companies and removed from the "none" category, and recognized as a hurricane protection device by the Florida and Miami-Dade building codes, window film dealers will not pass those suggested criteria.

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