IBHS opening blows everyone away

Mother Nature was unleashed Tuesday afternoon.

Only this time, her acts of destruction were recreated.

The Institute for Business and home Safety held the grand opening of its multi-risk building science research center on S.C. Highway 99.

During Tuesday’s grand opening, the 105 American-made fans were turned on to simulate the equivalent of Category 3 hurricane force winds. The winds were used to test two 1,300 square foot, newly constructed Midwestern style houses, also typical of houses built on the coast.

Both houses were built the same with the exception that one was built to conventional construction standards and the other was constructed with fortified materials. Both houses were placed inside the facility’s 21,000 square feet test chamber and slammed with hurricane force winds.

The house built with conventional standard materials was demolished when the winds reached 96 mph. The house constructed of fortified materials withstood the winds.

To make the fortified house more resilient to the types of severe weather events, the house included straps that tie the roof to the walls, the top floor walls to the bottom floor walls and the bottom floor walls to the foundation. It was also constructed with high wind-rated siding, high wind-rated roof covering, a front door that opens out instead of in, 8d ring shank nails instead of staples to strengthen the connection of roof and wall structural members, a secondary water barrier on the roof and 5/8 inch plywood roof decking instead of ½-inch decking.

IBHS President and Chief Executive Officer Julie Rochman said there is only a $2,000 to $3,000 price difference in the cost of the two houses.

IBHS is a state-of-the-art, multi-hazard applied research and training facility that will advance building science by enabling researchers to more fully and accurately evaluate various residential and commercial construction materials and systems. The facility is entirely funded by the property insurance industry.

“At the IBHS Research Center, we will learn how to substantially reduce some of Mother Nature’s most potentially devastating impacts on residential and commercial property,” Rochman said. “The research findings will change the built environment for the better.”

Rochman said IBHS is trying to recreate what Mother Nature does. “But we cannot ask her for help,” she said.

“People ask why Chester County,” Julie Rochman said. “Why the hell not?”

Rochman said the facility needed to be away from the coast.

“We are not an entertainment facility. We are a test facility,” she said.

When fully operational, the IBHS Research Center will be able to simulate Category 1, 2 and 3 hurricane-force winds, extra-tropical windstorms, thunderstorm frontal winds, wildfire ember showers, wind-drive rain and hailstorms within its 21,000 square-foot test chamber.

These capabilities largely derive from a massive array of 5 ½ ft. diameter electric fans that can be accelerated up to 140 mph. The laboratory’s 750,000 gallon water tank will supply the test chamber’s 200 nozzles, capable of creating “rain” at a rate of up to 8 inches per hour.

Rochman said the fans pull up to 30 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 9,000 houses. She said IBHS has a “deal” to run the fans for four hours a day from 1 until 5 p.m. with Duke Energy. The research facility has its own substation to generate electricity, she added.

In addition, hailstones, burning embers and different types of “debris” will be introduced into the wind stream via a series of special ducts and other mechanical systems as part of a variety of tests.

“The new lab is a tangible, dramatic, generous demonstration of the property insurance industry’s deep commitment to reducing and preventing losses that disrupt the lives of millions of home and business owners each year,” Rochman said. “We are confident that IBHS’s scientific research will greatly improve residential and commercial design and construction – and we are very excited to get to work.”

“We are experts. We are not pretending. This lab is literally going to change the way properties are built,” Rochman added.

Initial research at the IBHS Research Center will focus on improved roofing performance. Because roof covers are replaced more frequently than any other building component, changes in roofing products and installation requirements can produce significant paybacks within a short period of time.

Priority areas of testing include looking at performance of shingles in various windstorm conditions, exploring the effects of short and long-term aging on roofing material and systems, developing cost-effective methods to retrofit various systems to reduce damage and losses.

“In addition to wind alone, damage from wind driven hail, water and fire will be core components of our research programs,” said Dr. Timothy Reinhold, IBHS senior vice president of research and chief engineer.

“There is so much to be learned about new construction as well as how best to retrofit existing buildings now that we can closely watch building materials and entire systems perform in real world conditions. We are pleased that even at this early point in our initiative, we already are able to forge significant partnerships with leading public, private and academic institutions who appreciate the quantum leap forward the findings from our lab will mean for building science in this country.”

Rochman said Reinhold was the mastermind, the visionary, the engineer, the scientist and the “god of wind” behind IBHS.

“This has been his brainchild. He doesn’t just ask why, but how we can make it better,” Rochman said.

Farmers Insurance Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer Kevin Kelso said catastrophes and severe weather events are costing more now than ever before. He said that more than $26 billion in property claims were paid in 2009.

“This center is funded entirely by the insurance industry,” Kelso said. “And it is one of the coolest investments we’ve ever made.”

Kelso said consumers will benefit from safer homes and businesses and will ultimately save in the long run.

Testing at the lab will also enable stakeholders in the insurance and construction industries to learn more about “green” building components and techniques. Research will focus on the durability and resiliency of sustainable building technology, with particular emphasis on the potential for a technology to reduce or increase property losses.

Rochman said it took about 2 ½ years to build the research center on the 90-acre parcel of land in the Chester County Research and Development Park.

“We want to be able to export the knowledge we gain here right out the door,” Rochman said. “We want to be a training facility.”

By Nancy Parsons, Staff Writer with The News & Reporter