Disaster Safety R&D: Innovations in Business Protection from IBHS
The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) Research Center celebrates its second anniversary in October. The Research Center provides unique opportunities for objective laboratory testing of full-scale, one- and two-story residential and commercial structures, along with components used in larger commercial facilities. The testing is conducted during simulated varied and sometimes extremely high-speed wind conditions based on real-world weather events, as well as during simulated wind-driven rain, wildfire, and hailstorm conditions.
In 2012, IBHS conducted important commercial research that provides new property protection insights for insurers and policyholders. This research followed a successful first year, which focused on several high-profile residential demonstrations and the scientific validation of Research Center processes for creating and calibrating realistic weather scenarios. Along with ongoing residential research outputs from the Research Center, this recent commercial focus is helping IBHS realize its goal of creating a society that is better prepared to protect residents and maintain critical business infrastructure when disasters strike.
This article reviews all of the 2012 commercial research projects conducted at the IBHS Research Center, including lessons learned and how these lessons can improve commercial loss control and risk management.
High Wind Demonstration Highlights Ways to Improve Commercial Building Performance
Wind-related damage is quickly rivaling fire as the leading source of loss for commercial properties. In 1989, $7 billion in commercial losses were due to fires compared to $2 billion in losses due to wind; by 2009 wind losses had surpassed $7 billion, while fire losses were approaching $8 billion, according to data from ISO’s Property Claim Services®. By focusing on several key components when constructing a new business, including the roof, doors and walls, business owners can significantly improve commercial building performance in high-wind events through relatively low-cost mitigation measures.
In July 2012, IBHS conducted its first full-scale, high-wind test of commercial structures. The test compared and contrasted the performance of two full-scale commercial strip mall-type masonry structures in high-wind conditions inside the IBHS Research Center. One structure was built using “common practice” construction methods, which were widely used 20 years ago and are still used in areas that are not following up-to-date code requirements for masonry construction; while the second test specimen was built using “stronger” current code requirements for masonry construction.
The two buildings used the same basic roofing materials and roll-up doors. Both specimens were lightly furnished to resemble small restaurants, but were similar in overall construction to many retail and service establishments typical in small towns and suburban locations throughout the U.S.
Examples of the “stronger” wind-resistant construction details and installation techniques used include additional steel reinforcing and better detailing of the reinforcing in the masonry walls, enhanced perimeter anchorage of roof membrane and flashing, anchorage of roof-top equipment, and wind locks on roll-up doors. A more detailed description of all of the “stronger” features is available at: http://disastersafety.org/wp-content/uploads/construction-details-revised_IBHS.pdf.
IBHS tested the two structures shown above to demonstrate the differences between a “common practices” construction building and a “stronger practices” construction building.
Objectives for IBHS’ first commercial high-wind research project included demonstrating the following:
Better built structures are needed to protect consumers and workers in commercial buildings.
Small business owners, who want to stay in business and quickly recover from catastrophes, should lease, buy or build stronger, safer structures.
Carefully following high-wind construction guidance and choosing slightly more expensive products and systems can produce significantly stronger, safer buildings.
For less than 5% of the total cost of the building used in the IBHS test, business owners can have a stronger, safer structure that is more disaster-resistant than if they chose to construct a building using common practice construction.
Highlights of Test Sequence Results
For the test, IBHS placed the two one-story masonry specimens side by side on a 55 ft. diameter turntable in the Research Center’s large test chamber, then subjected both structures to wind conditions that scientifically recreated actual thunderstorm and hurricane events.
Severe Thunderstorm Scenario
During 70 mph wind gusts, the equivalent of 57 mph one-minute sustained winds, pieces of flashing failed. In a real-world event, this could result in loss of roof cover, water penetration, and significant interior damage.
During 110 mph wind gusts, which data from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration reports have occurred historically during derecho events (straight line wind storms), the roll-up door failed. In a real-world event, this would have resulted in significant loss of inventory stored at the rear of the building and could lead to structural failures depending on the size and layout of the building.
Both structures survived the initial peak wind speeds of the hurricane test record, which included wind gusts of 127 mph or the equivalent of 103 mph one-minute sustained winds, although the “common practice” building continued to accumulate flashing and roofing damage.
The three images above show the “common” building’s wall collapsing during the first high-wind commercial test at the IBHS Research Center.
After exposing the buildings to this initial peak wind gust, a 2” x 4” piece of wood – intended to simulate a tree branch – was launched as a projectile to shatter the front window of both buildings, as often happens with flying debris during a severe windstorm. With damage to the front window allowing wind to pressurize the inside of the building, the “common practice” specimen suffered significant damage.
At a 105 mph wind gust, the equivalent to 85 mph one-minute sustained winds, the wall separated from the “common” building and the masonry side wall collapsed. By contrast, the “stronger” building would have lost some inventory after the 2” x 4” purposely shattered the window, but the roof and walls remained firmly intact, even against peak gusts of 127 mph, the equivalent of 103 mph one minute sustained winds.
Property Loss Cost Estimates
Property loss cost estimates assembled by an experienced catastrophe claims adjuster immediately after the test found almost 10 times more physical damage to the “common practice” building than to the “stronger” building: $44,769 vs. $4,660. This comparison does not take into account contingent business interruption or other losses associated with a longer shut down – or worse, business failure due to significant damage and a long period of inactivity.
Key Business Protection Lessons Learned
This test demonstration showed the importance of not only using the right building components, but also installing them correctly to improve performance during high winds. While some differences in construction, such as reinforcing masonry walls, must be implemented at the time of construction, others (e.g., roll-up door locks or improved roof cover and flashing anchorage) can be put in place as part of a periodic repair or retrofit project. Also, both test structures would have benefited from stronger window protections that could have prevented the 2” x 4” from breaking the front window glass, although damage sustained in the “common practice” building was much worse. Find additional guidance from IBHS about protecting commercial windows and doors.
Additionally, the demonstration underscores the power of wind and the importance of business continuity planning, even for businesses housed in stronger buildings. That is why IBHS makes the Open for Business® program freely available to all businesses.
Commercial Rooftop Equipment Testing
Rooftop equipment (RTE) is exposed to all weather elements, and therefore it is vital to make sure it is well designed and securely attached. In 2012, IBHS initiated a series of RTE tests at the Research Center to measure wind loads and their effects when equipment is subjected to straight line winds. This testing focused on very precise measurements of wind flows on carefully instrumented test specimens. This type of testing allows IBHS to analyze whether existing test standards, which form the basis of building codes and industry protocols, are adequate to provide needed protection for this important, yet vulnerable, component of almost every business.
To conduct the tests, IBHS researchers used actual equipment (e.g., HVAC units, exhaust fans, ductwork) and one specifically created box built to the size and shape of typical RTE. The box was used to compare full-scale measurements in the IBHS large test chamber with those obtained from small cubes used in tests of scale models. Fourteen different objects were tested; allowing for evaluation of size, shape, elevation, multiple units, and other key features.
The picture above shows some of the tools that allow IBHS to measure various wind loads on rooftop equipment during tests at the Research Center.
Researchers did not attempt to blow equipment off the roof but, instead, measured wind loads on the various specimens. This enables IBHS to determine whether current wind resistance standards based on smaller scale testing accurately reflect real-world wind conditions. Once completed, this analysis can form the basis of IBHS recommendations for refining current test standards and/or improving securement standards for RTE.
The RTE testing at the Research Center dovetails with IBHS’ focus on commercial roof installation, maintenance and repair during the Institute’s designated “Year of the Roof.”
Examples include several short articles for loss control professionals and commercial policyholders on topics such as “Protection from the Top,” “How to Protect Your Business from Storm Damage,” and “Benefits of Properly Maintained Rooftop Equipment.” All of these articles stress the importance of the roof as a commercial building’s first line of defense from natural hazards, potential vulnerabilities, and the need for strong construction, maintenance, and repair in order to prolong the useful life of a commercial roof and make sure it does its job in protecting the business and its bottom line.
Hail: The Next Big Thing at the IBHS Research Center
Significant hailstorms result in millions – and sometimes billions – of dollars in damages to commercial roofs, siding and outdoor and roof-mounted equipment. That is among the reasons why hail is a top priority for IBHS. After more than two years of planning, the Institute is finalizing and validating procedures to recreate actual hailstorms, using hailstones of the right size, hardness, and density, propelled at the correct vertical velocity, and combined with realistic thunderstorm winds. The first full scale hail demonstration test is scheduled for early 2013.
IBHS engineers have developed the tool shown above to test the density of hailstones used during research in order to accurately replicate hailstones in a controlled setting.
In order to better understand hail damage to commercial roofs, IBHS participated in a Roofing Industry Committee on Weather Issues (RICOWI) Hail Investigation that surveyed damage caused by a hailstorm that swept through the Dallas-Ft. Worth area in May 2011. RICOWI’s report was published in June 2012.
The survey included 16 low-slope commercial buildings featuring modified bitumen systems (MB), built-up roofing systems (BUR), and single-ply sheet membrane systems. Observations of commercial roof performance included the following:
Of the MB and BUR with gravel surfacing that were observed, the BUR roofs with well embedded gravel were the most hail resistant. Newer MB membranes performed better than older ones.
There was more damage to low-slope roofs at areas where there was weaker or no supporting substrate; e.g., where a horizontal surface, such as the roof, meets a vertical surface, such as a parapet or curb of an air conditioning unit, and the roof membrane curves up from the horizontal to vertical surface.
Roof-mounted equipment and roof components including light gauge metal also were damaged.
Commercial skylights that were not impact-resistant cracked or were severely damaged upon impact. In some instances, older skylights that had become brittle over time were completely shattered.
Hail testing at the Research Center eventually will include a number of commercial roof materials, RTE configurations, and aging scenarios. Unlike the RICOWI hail investigation, IBHS research will be designed not only to assess damage, but also to identify ways for business owners and commercial landlords to reduce it, with special emphasis on the issue of “repair versus replace” and the effects of aging.
Translating Research into Action
Recognizing that most business owners have limited time to review technical details of property protection research, IBHS has many communication tools to help businesses understand why mitigation is important and cost-effective. These include powerful images and dramatic video of Research Center tests and practical suggestions for implementing lessons learned; media coverage from national and regional broadcast outlets, and a wide range of social media outlets that feature, follow, like and share information about IBHS’ commercial property research.
Together, these resources combine to help business owners easily access and understand how IBHS research benefits their bottom line. The starting point for learning more is www.disastersafety.org.
© 2012 Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety