High-tech window screens can replace steel bars in securing homes from burglars

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - In an NBC Action News Consumer Test, cannon propelled two-by-fours, sledge hammers, crowbars, and even high speed hockey pucks failed to break through a new high-tech window screen that is now available in Kansas City.

By the time 6-foot-4-inch and 233 pound Missouri Maverick Carlyle Lewis resorted to multiple failed 90 mph slap shots to try to break through a new Kansas City screen door, he'd already given up attempts using a claw hammer, crowbar, and sledge hammer to defeat the high-tech stainless steel wire mesh.

"We'll be here all day," Lewis said after about 15 minutes of trying to break through the screen. "I don't know, it seems really sturdy."

Lewis' repeated hits with claw hammers and crowbars eventually created a few quarter sized holes in the screen, but he couldn't get the holes to expand and he couldn't get inside.

Our own NBC Action News crew tried striking a sledge hammer with full force against a crowbar we had anchored into one of the holes in an effort to tear away at the exposed mesh.

Firefighters who had gathered to learn about the new screens and the on looking homeowner exchanged laughs at our expense.

The material didn't budge.

"It'll definitely give me a great piece of mind knowing that nobody can get in our door," said resident Michelle Williams. "We've had attempts through the back door and the side door and side windows."

"I'd probably have to shoot about 3,000 of  them, get a weak spot, maybe," Lewis said before giving up on hockey pucks and crowbar strikes.

Lewis' high speed pucks and claw hammer strikes were not the only forces we used in our effort to beat the screen's defenses.

Air pressurized cannon fires 2-by-4s at the hurricane rated screen

Twice, Tapco Screens, the manufacture fired 2-by-4 wood planks out of high pressure air cannon at speeds designed to mimic hurricane wind forces.

WATCH | Watch the cannon demo in the video player in the upper-right of this page

"That's equivalent to about 140 mph winds blowing a 2-by-4s directly at the screen," said Mississippi based Tapco Manufacturer Don Roberts. "Most of the times when the wind, a storm like that, the debris is gonna come in and hit it at an angle. That was a direct shot at it."

Although both cannon shots made direct hits and slight indentations at the screen's center, neither broke the screen's metal mesh.

Roberts said even the claw hammer holes Lewis made don't pose a threat because the sharp edges of the damaged steel would slice a burglars hands like jagged razors.

"It'll cut you up if you try to reach through there," Roberts said pulling away a bloody finger from one of the exposed holes. "And that's the thing about it. If you make a hole big enough to get in You're gonna, you're gonna leave DNA everywhere"

"For every one inch square, you have 12 vertical lines and 12 horizontal lines of .035 stainless steel wire," Roberts said. "Stainless steel's not going to rust and it just won't tear."

The screen's appearance doesn't hint at its strength, so we invited KCMO rescue crews to observe our demonstration as a training exercise.

"The screen looks like a regular screen," said KCMO Fire Department Battalion Chief Joe Vitale. "So until you go to make entry, and work with it, you don't know that you're dealing with special circumstances."

Roberts said the screen is designed to be used to protect homes during hurricanes and is certified by Florida state codes to stand up against gale-force winds, but is now being used more often in place of security bars on windows and doors.

Resident's fears lead manufacturer to provide free sample

"In the past six months, we've had several attempts at break-ins." Williams said. "The neighborhood has changed a lot."

When Williams mentioned her fears to Southtown Glass Owner Ron Rose during a conversation at church, he remembered conversations he'd had with a representative of Columbia Glass and Windows about the new security screen manufactured by Tapco Screens.

Columbia recently acquired a deal to distribute the screens in Kansas City.

Rose made a few calls and soon, Columbia and Tapco were at Williams' home installing a security screen on her lower level sliding glass door and a window on the master bedroom for free.

They also promised to replace Williams screen when our test, finally resorting to highly trained rescue crews with specialty tools, ultimately broke through.

"This is primarily to keep people out of your home." Roberts said. "The idea here is to slow a robber down, or from someone trying to break in. I feel like we did that."

Screening one home could cost thousands

Even at what would likely be a cost exceeding several thousand dollars, Williams said she is considering replacing all her screens with the new security screen.

"It's actually made me think about investing and getting the windows all around," Williams said. "I mean, but it's like, for peace of mind and replacing, you know, I would rather have the peace of mind in knowing that nobody can get through the screen to even get to the window to get in the house."

One window screen can cost a couple hundred dollars, but representatives say costs increase with size and a sliding door screen like Williams' would quickly exceed $1,000.

The manufacturer is also promoting the screens for business and industrial use.

In public housing or buildings where vandalism, hard use, or poor maintenance create routine labor and replacement costs, salesman at Tapco say their screen, when purchased once, and installed once would be cheaper than the constant replacement of standard screens.

Fire department uses our test to train rescue crews

Although several manufacturers are starting lines of security screens, Kansas City Fire Department officials said until we tested the screen at Williams' home they'd never had an opportunity to test one.

"They haven't been installed yet in Kansas City, so it's a good opportunity to get out and get hands on experience with them," said KCMO Fire Department Battalion Chief Joe Vitale. "We're videotaping as well, and we'll use it awareness for our personnel."

Manufacturers say the screens are designed so residents can get out quickly from the inside and rescue crews can break through in an emergency.

"I do not think it creates a threat for them, but I do think it's important that awareness of the product is in the hands of the emergency responders," Vitale said.

As fire department trainers watched and crews videotaped, fire fighters used rescue tools to break through the screen in 30 seconds.

"In this case they utilized the halligan tool like an axe, the axe end of it, and a sledge to actually strip the screen down, could use power saws, hand power saws to gain entry," Vitale said.

Williams' home was the first home in Kansas City to get the new screens and officials say they'll be replacing the one we damaged within the next few days, again for free.


What do you think about the potential of this kind of technology?  Would you install these at your house?  Leave a comment below.

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