Barrier system saves Windsor Village

Necessity was the mother of invention when Lindsay Scott started pondering how to keep the sea out of his oceanfront condominium at Windsor Village during a bad storm

Lindsay Scott, left, and  Phil Thomas

Windsor Village owner Lindsay Scott, left, and strata chairman Phil Thomas stand in front of the corner unit that withstood the pounding of the waves. Photo: Alan Markoff

‘It was financial desperation that did it,’ said Mr. Scott.

His unit was washed through during Hurricane Ivan, as were most of the units in the complex. When insurance deductibles, special assessments and other costs were added up, Mr. Scott said he had to pay more than $75,000 to repair the storm’s damage.

‘I couldn’t face another hit like that,’ he said.

The problem at Windsor Village, which is at Southwest Point in South Sound, like several other oceanfront developments, is that high seas from storms bring waves that wash through the ground floor units. Seawalls help protect developments, but cannot stop the larger waves spawned by big storms like hurricanes.

Storm shutters on windows are designed to stop wind damage mostly, and provide little defence against the destructive power of the sea.

Mr. Scott reasoned that if something could shore up the strength of shutters and at the same time help keep water out of apartments, they might have a fighting chance to survive a storm.

As a result, he devised a barrier system using a special type of strong plywood that is used in concrete pours.

‘Wet cement is very heavy and this stuff can withstand all of that weight, so I thought it could withstand the sea,’ he said.

To anchor the plywood, Mr. Scott built a frame out of 2×2 wood. He secured the frame to the building using TapCon concrete screws.

Custom-made sheets of the plywood – called film plywood – are then screwed into the frame. On large openings, like that where there are sliding glass doors, reinforcing boards of the plywood are screwed behind the seams. Then all edges are sealed with silicone caulking.

Aluminium accordion shutters then are pulled in front of the barrier system.

Mr. Scott installed the system in 35 of the 36 units at Windsor Village.

The system had its first real test last week with Hurricane Dean, which brought waves of more than 15-feet high crashing into the face of the Windsor Village units.

When the storm was over, pieces of coral were strewn throughout the grounds of the development and the pool was filled with sand. Some of the hurricane shutters had been ripped from their brackets and were nowhere to be found.

But Mr. Scott’s barrier system worked almost without a flaw.

Of the 35 units that had the barrier system, 34 of them survived Hurricane Dean with little or no damage. These units had an inch or less of water in them, even though there were several feet of standing water around the units at some times during the storm.

The system failed on one unit, and it was washed through with waves.

‘I don’t know why that one failed,’ said Mr. Scott. ‘We think it got hit by a big rock or piece of coral or something.’

Still, having all but one of the units survive the effects of Hurricane Dean was quite an accomplishment for the owners of Windsor Village, especially in light of the severe damage the storm inflicted on some other wave-prone developments.

‘It’s nice to know we can survive a storm of this magnitude,’ Mr. Scott said.

The barrier system probably saved the owners of Windsor Village thousands of dollars. Instead of having to pay a $600,000 deductible if most of the units were severely damaged, the owners will now only have to split the cost of the $75,000 or so it will take to repair one unit and the landscaping.

Phil Thomas, the chairman of Windsor Village’s strata committee said the cost to install the barrier system in the 35 units was just over CI$20,000.

‘And it can be used over and over again,’ he said.

‘They’re not just for one hurricane season,’ agreed Mr. Scott. ‘They will last for years if you keep them dry and stored.’

The development had arranged with a contractor to put the barrier system up in advance of hurricane season to lock in a price. Once called into action, it took the contractor with a crew of six about 16 hours to install the barriers on all 35 units, which equates to a little less than a half hour per unit.

Mr. Scott said it was important that someone from the owners’ group oversee the process to ensure proper installation.

‘You can’t assume builders will put them up right,’ he said.

In the case of Windsor Village last week, it was Mr. Scott and Mr. Thomas who watched the installation.

Although the barrier system Mr. Scott devised is not complicated, it does require precision carpentry work to 1/16th of an inch to ensure tight-fitting seams.

Mr. Scott, who runs a construction company, said he isn’t trying to make money by patenting his idea or anything like that. But he did want to share his idea with others.

‘It’s so easy for any complex to use this system, really,’ he said.

Mr. Scott doesn’t know if the system could withstand the effects of major hurricane that hit Cayman directly, but he knows now his invention works.

‘I don’t know how it would have done during Hurricane Ivan, but I would have liked it to have been there. Maybe it could have saved some of the units.’

But based on the way the system fared at Windsor Village during Hurricane Dean, Mr. Thomas is convinced it could have helped some of the developments that did not do so well.

Mr. Scott knows exactly what the system did for him.

‘It saved me a whole lot of money,’ he said.

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