The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety is tucked away in rural Richburg, South Carolina. The facility features a huge four-story wall of 105 fans each six feet wide. The 350 horsepower fans are capable of producing 120 mph winds. They are so loud that the facility has a berm around the perimeter of the property to to protect the neighborhood from the noise. The fans use so much electricity that they can only be used during off-peak hours.
So, what are they doing at this facility? They're creating extreme weather. Ian Giammanco, the lead research meteorologist at IBHS, says "We can simulate winds of a hurricane, we can punch up an eyewall wind record, we can recreate a hailstorm. It’s one of the only, probably the only place in the world where we get to control the weather just a little bit right here in this test chamber."
The test chamber is the size of nearly five basketball courts. It is big enough to hold two full-sized houses on a rotating floor. The wind that comes from the big wall of fans accurately simulates the turbulence found near the ground in a hurricane because of huge wind vanes in the test chamber. Because everything is computer controlled, researchers can accurately simulate past weather events. Giammanco says that they ran a 10-hour simulation of the wind and rain observed in Hurricane Florence. The purpose of the test was to evaluate roof integrity during such an event.
IBHS is funded by the insurance industry with the goal of strengthening building materials and improving building codes nationwide. The ability to test actual buildings instead of scale models makes a huge difference. Giammanco says that at full scale the building is seen as a system. All the connections, nails, fasteners, shingles and roof underlayment working together to weather the storm.
It's not just wind and rain that can be reproduced at IBHS. A one-of-a-kind machine replicates hail. Giammanco says that hail is responsible for 60-80% of the damage from severe thunderstorms nationwide. For years, steel balls were used to test the quality of shingles, but the machine at IBHS creates 1.5 and 2 inch layered balls of ice that more accurately reflect the impact on roofing materials during testing.
Wildfires are also simulated at IBHS to show how quickly fire spreads across the landscape in varying winds, and how big fire breaks should be to prevent it from jumping the line. It is vital information as fire season ramps up in the drought-parched Western United States.
Until we take decisive and effective steps to curb climate change, adaptation may be the best approach. Research at IBHS helps to limit the impact of extreme weather on your life and property.
See the demonstration below from Lead Research Meteorologist Ian Giammanco about the benefits of switching to a FORTIFIED roofing system.