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New IBHS Research Facility Aims to Mitigate Risk

Source: A.M. Best

Posted on 19 Jan 2011

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One of Mark Twain's most repeated quotes is: "If you don't like the weather ... wait five minutes and it will change." But the iconic American humorist never could have imagined the Institute for Business and Home Safety's new multirisk building science research center in Chester County, South Carolina, where not only can the weather change in a matter of minutes, but does so in what can only be called Biblical proportions.

Brenda O'Connor, senior vice president of public affairs at IBHS, said the state-of-the-art, multihazard applied research and training facility will significantly advance building science by enabling researchers to more fully and accurately evaluate various residential and commercial construction materials and systems. "We can recreate inside our box as we call it, Mother Nature. We'll be looking at hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, hail and a

number of other natural hazards as well as man-made ones," said O'Connor.
The facility is entirely funded by the property insurance industry with the hope of learning how to mitigate risk caused to both residential and commercial construction. This quarter, the research center will focus on wildfire, according to O'Connor, who says the blazes have become an increasingly big problem for insurers. "What our research has shown is that homes don't burn from direct flame contact, but rather ember intrusion."

The research center has 105 fans that are 350 horse power each so as to be able to create ember showers that scientists hope will help them understand exactly how embers are getting into homes and hopefully develop new building components, or even new techniques, in affixing roof shingles that would be more wildfire-resistant.

When fully operational, the IBHS Research Center will be able to simulate Category 1, 2 and 3 hurricane-force winds. With that capability, the center will be taking a very close look at building components, particularly roofs, according to O'Connor, who says that roofing is one of the biggest sources of loss for the industry and policyholders. "About 90% of all wind damage claims have roof damage involved and it results in millions of roofs having to be replaced every year."

Testing at the lab also will enable the insurance and construction industries to learn more about "green" building components and techniques. "We've been working with the U.S. Green Building Council and others," said O'Connor. "The USBGC has done some great work promoting their LEED program which provides standards for green buildings. O'Connor is fond of quoting IBHS CEO Julie Rochman when she says that when it comes to green building, "It is not very green or environmentally friendly if your green home ends up in a landfill after a natural disaster. So, the idea is green building is terrific. We're all for it, but we want to make sure that that building component system is strong and durable as well."

So in the words of Mark Twain, "Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today." He probably would have loved the IBHS building science research center.