Several years ago, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) introduced a new method for sealing the windows of vacant buildings under its control, known to the fire service as the HUD cover. This method was designed to prevent squatters, vagrants, and vandals from entering the buildings and to protect the structures from the effects of weather. Some local housing authorities have also adopted the HUD cover. In Washington, D.C., for example, the District of Columbia Housing Authority has standardized the use of the HUD cover in securing the vacant buildings under its control.


There are two types of HUD covers, standard and reinforced. The standard HUD cover consists of a 3/8-inch- to 1/2-inch-thick sheet of plywood or oriented strand board (OSB) that is placed over an opening and fastened in place with four long carriage bolts. The carriage bolts’ rounded heads are visible on the exterior of the cover, which distinguishes it from ordinary nailed-in-place coverings. The carriage bolts pass through the plywood and are secured with washers and nuts to two 2×2 4 wood studs located on the inside of the opening. These 2×2 4s are usually placed horizontally, spanning the width of the opening near the top and bottom. The cover is essentially clamped onto the frame of the opening. Reinforced HUD covers use the same fastening methods as the standard type but are also reinforced with 2×2 4s on the exterior of the cover.

HUD covers may be found on private dwellings and on multiple dwellings. For firefighters unfamiliar with them, these covers can be difficult to remove and pose significant problems in accessing and ventilating vacant buildings.


Both types of HUD covers cannot be manually removed from the exterior of a building by conventional methods (e.g., prying off from the face of the building with a halligan bar or other forcible entry tools). However, the standard HUD covers can be removed using an eight- or 10-pound sledgehammer or maul.

The sledgehammer is used to drive the heads of each of the four carriage bolts through the face of the plywood, which will release it from the opening. If only one side of the cover is accessible, such as when operating from a portable ladder, use a sledgehammer to drive the heads of the two carriage bolts on one side of the opening through the plywood. Insert the sledgehammer handle into the holes created by driving the bolts through, and rotate the now-detached ends of the lower and upper 2×2 4s up and down, respectively. In this manner, the cover is “unclamped” from the building and can then be removed from the opening.


Power saws can be used to remove standard and reinforced HUD covers. Several types of gasoline-powered saws and blades can be used for this operation, including the standard chain saw, the rotary-type saw equipped with a carbide-tipped blade, and the rotary-type saw equipped with an aluminum-oxide-composite blade.

A chain saw can be used to make three shallow cuts through the plywood (and exterior 2×2 4s on the reinforced covers) to create a triangular cutout around each bolt head. This will free the cover from the opening. However, take precautions when using a chain saw in this manner. The depth of the cuts should not exceed the thickness of the plywood because metal casement window frames and even security bars can sometimes be found behind these covers. If the bar of the saw is plunged deeply through the cover, it may come in contact with one of these objects and damage the saw or cause it to kick back and injure the operator.

A rotary saw equipped with a carbide-tipped blade can be used in the same manner as the chain saw; take similar precautions. A rotary saw equipped with an aluminum-oxide blade can be used to cut the bolt heads to release the cover. This can be done by holding the saw at a sharp angle to the cover and making a near-perpendicular cut through the bolt, at a position just behind the head.

The manual methods for removing HUD covers may require a considerable amount of physical exertion and can be somewhat time-consuming compared to the power saw methods. Their use is only recommended when power saws are either not available or not safe for use in a particular situation.

The power saw methods should only be used when operating at ground level or when operating from off a porch or addition roof, an aerial ladder, or a tower ladder bucket. It is not recommended that they be used while operating from portable ladders.

As in all fireground operations, safety should be the firefighter’s primary concern. Some safety points to remember when performing the operations described here include the following:

  • Always wear full protective gear, including eye protection.
  • Stay to one side of the opening when physically removing the cover to avoid the outrush of heat, smoke, and other products of combustion.
  • Always use a leglock when operating from portable ladders.
  • When operating on upper levels, avoid dropping the covers to the ground after they have been released. This poses a serious hazard to members who may be inadvertently passing or operating below. If possible, push the cover back into the opening.
  • Personnel not involved in the operation should keep clear of the area until the operation has been completed.
  • Shut off saws when not in use.
  • Keep saws clean and inspect them at the beginning of each tour of duty and after each use; start and test saws according to the manufacturer’s recommendations; immediately replace worn or damaged chains, belts, blades, and other parts.

Thanks to the members of District of Columbia Fire Department Engines 15 and 32, Truck 16 and Tower 10, Platoon 4, for their input and assistance in preparing this article.

DANIEL M. TROXELL, a 23-year veteran of the fire service, is a captain with the District of Columbia Fire Department, assigned to Engine Company 15. He is a Level II instructor and has a bachelor of science degree in fire protection engineering and a master of science degree in applied management, both from the University of Maryland. Photos by author.

Previous articleFE Volume 154 Issue 7
Next articleICC Will No Longer Compete with NFPA National Electrical Code

No posts to display