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By David Colmans

Officially this huge complex in Chester County is known as a multi-peril research center. When I look at it, there is a giant wall with 105, five-and-half foot fans capable of generating up to 140 mile-per-hour winds. The facility is cavernous. What goes on there is a real-world demonstration of how disasters affect residential and commercial structures.

The Tampa, Fla.-based Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) opened the center by literally blowing away a traditionally built home. Two homes were placed side-by-side in the facility's test chamber - one built to conventional Midwest building codes and the other built to IBHS' code-plus Fortified...for Safer Living®standard.. Guess which one was still standing and in good shape after the demonstration? To see the test, go to http://www.giis.org and view the video.

This applied research and training facility, according to IBHS, will significantly 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.

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-driven rain and hailstorms within its 21,000 square-foot test chamber.

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. 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," said Julie Rochman, IBHS' president and CEO. "We are confident that IBHS' scientific research will greatly improve residential and commercial design and construction - and we are very excited to get to work.

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 studying performance of shingles in various windstorm conditions, exploring the effects of short- and long-term aging on roofing material and systems, as well as 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."

Testing at the lab also will enable 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 either reduce or increase property losses.

"The research findings will change our buildingenvironment for the better," Rochman said.

David Colmans is the executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service. Contact him at 770-565-3806 or e-mail dcolmans@giis.org.

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