Last week I attended an American Architectural Manufacturers Association meeting in Charlotte North Carolina. They offered a field trip to visit the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) in South Carolina. This was a fascinating trip to a very impressive facility. It is less than a year old but they’ve already been able to stage several impressive tests. Their goal is to be able to do up to twelve different tests per year once they are fully functional.
It is far out in the country to keep noise from bothering any neighbors, and is designed with a sound barrier dirt wall near the road with the other three sides of the property heavily forested. It was quite noisy when the fans where turned on, so the logic was valid. The key feature of this large facility is a hundred and forty five foot wide by seventy foot tall wall of 105 giant five and half foot fans. They have the ability to test multiple full size houses for the effect of wind, and rain, and even hail and wild fires. These fans can create up to a one hundred and forty mile an hour sustained wind, equal to a Class Three hurricane (very few hurricanes ever get higher than class three). They then can add rain to simulate a real life man made hurricane.
The facility is fully funded and supported by large insurance companies to learn more about building techniques and materials – no government funding is involved. They showed us several videos of past tests, one showed a wild fire igniting mulch, and siding and roofing materials – predominantly from the wind born sparks. Another showed two houses, one built under the normal standard building code, and the other with a fortified version of construction. The “normal construction” house was completely destroyed in less than five minutes when the sustained winds went just over ninety miles an hour.
I believe this is the kind of private sector facility that will garner great benefits for all of us in the future. With the knowledge they can gain from these kinds of tests in a controlled environment, fully video recorded, will be of great importance to future building codes and construction techniques. The possible innovations in building products that could come from this are unlimited. If you would like to learn more about this facility and their plans go to www.disastersafety.org. You can also see some of the videos of previous tests.
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