Research Center Frequently Asked Questions

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What is the purpose of this facility?

The mission of the IBHS Research Center is to identify, evaluate, and promote effective methods of property loss reduction and prevention. Real-world application of IBHS scientific research findings will lead to more durable, sustainable communities. Research findings also will provide an objective, sound foundation for the development of solid public policy, such as enhanced building codes, as well for improving building products and systems. The building science conducted will demonstrate the effectiveness, affordability and true long-term cost-savings of better-built structures for individual home and business owners and society at large.

What will be learned from the research?

Short-and long-term goals for the IBHS Research Center include:

• Fostering public acceptance and consumer demand for better-built homes and other structures

• Enhancing property risk modeling

• Providing a scientific basis for improving the quality of building products and components in practical applications

• Providing credible ways to favorably inject loss prevention into broader public policy discussions (e.g., green/environmental issues)

• Increasing availability of reliable, affordable retrofit options for existing homes and businesses

• Strengthening and improving residential building codes and land use policies

• Improving current product and system testing standards

What is the initial focus of the research?

• Evaluating techniques for strengthening buildings to better resist damage in high winds

• Evaluating current test methods for impact ratings of roof coverings and wind ratings for asphalt shingles 

• Identifying and evaluating mitigation techniques to minimize wind-driven water entry 

• Demonstrating key building ignition sources and highlighting the importance of defensible space and fire-resistance construction details 

Who sponsored the facility and how much did it cost?

Construction of the Research Center was wholly funded by property insurers and reinsurers at a cost of approximately $40 million for construction and initial outfitting.

How does the facility work?

The IBHS Research Center campus includes a large test building, small laboratory building, an office building, test specimen construction areas, electrical substation, and a very large water tank. The huge clear span test chamber is attached to an array of 105 individually controlled electric fans housed in a towering inlet structure specially designed to contract and speed the flow of air, and an observation and control wing. Full-scale homes and commercial structures are built and transported into the test chamber using a customized moving system where the specimen is bolted down to a remotely controlled turntable and subjected to one or more natural hazards. 

Within the test chamber it is possible to generate realistic Category 1, 2, and 3 hurricane-force winds, extra-tropical windstorms similar to those associated with the passage of a frontal system or Nor’easter; thunderstorm frontal winds, wildfires, and hailstorms. Variable droplet-sized rain, hailstones, burning embers and various types of “debris” also can be introduced into the wind stream through a series of special ducts and other mechanical systems.

How many fans are there and how strong are they?

• There are 105 fans, each one is 350 horsepower and has a diameter of 5 ft. 6 in.

• Fans similar to these are typically used in the mining industry to provide ventilation for large underground shafts.

• When all 105 fans are turned on, they will be drawing the same amount of power as 9,000 individual homes and equivalent to 30 megawatts of power.

• Each fan individually is capable of pushing 230,000 cubic feet of air per minute through the test section, and together they can push 24 million cubic feet per minute through the test chamber. This flow volume is 20 times the flow going over Niagara Falls, or the same amount of air that would flow through the air conditioning systems of 10,000 homes when they are all running.

• The top speed of the wind generated in the test chamber is 130 mph. Later renovations to the facility could increase that speed to 175 mph.

How big is the turntable that holds the buildings being tested?

• The turntable has a 55 ft. diameter and a surface area of 2,375 square feet.

• There are 52 anchor points embedded in the surface for bolting down test buildings.

• The motor and structural design of the turntable is similar to those used for locomotive roundhouses.

How are full-sized buildings placed on the turntable?
A custom movement system was specially designed for the test buildings, which consists of two power dollies, two follow-along dollies, hydraulic jacks, and a truss support system. The test buildings are constructed in an outdoor fabrication area on a reusable steel foundation. The building mover attaches to the steel foundation and carries the building into the test chamber, then places it down on the turntable.

How is rain created in the lab?

The rain system consists of an array of sprinklers mounted at the inlet structure. This allows researchers to create accurate, appropriate patterns of various sized rain droplets equivalent to a rainfall rate of up to 8 inches per hour.

How are hailstones made and realistic hailstorms created?

At the IBHS Research Center, engineers are working to create the most realistic artificial hailstones possible, focusing on a variety of techniques to replicate the effects of actual hail storms on typical structures.  Real hailstones vary in density and are less dense than pure ice. The atmospheric conditions in which the hailstones are created control the density of the formed hail stone, which can vary from 0.5 g/cc up to about .7 g/cc. Pure ice has a density of .9 g/cc, and can result in much different damage patterns than the lighter hailstones, which have a smaller impact force. To create more realistic hailstones researchers at the IBHS Research Center are experimenting with freezing water in layers, varying the freezing temperature and conditions, using crushed and shaved ice to form ice balls that are then hardened in ice molds, and using mixtures with soda water to artificially introduce air into the created hailstones.  

Research engineers are also developing machines to propel the artificial hailstones to reach terminal velocity before striking test buildings and specimens, and will be able to implement these machines in the large test chamber at the IBHS Research Center for the unique opportunity to examine the effects of wind-blown hail in realistic thunderstorm wind conditions. IBHS engineers will also have the capability to replicate standards currently in use, including ASTM 3746, UL 2218, and FM 4473. Future research plans include evaluating the effects of aging on the hail performance of building components and evaluating the performance of varying methods of repair after a structure has been impacted by hail.

How are wildfire effects created?

IBHS is interested in studying two aspects of wildfire effects on structures: ember attack and torch vegetation/structure.

Ember Attack occurs when small burning embers or firebrands driven by wind penetrate attic vents, soffits, and other openings or collect on complex roof surfaces. These embers can smolder, undetected, and can eventually cause the building to burn from the inside out. There is a long, deep trench in the test chamber, just in front of the fan inlet area, where mulch burning equipment will be placed to create embers typical of a wildfire. These embers will be ducted into the wind stream to create realistic, windy conditions surrounding a structure when a wildfire passes through a community.

Torch Vegetation/Structure occurs when a shrub, bush, tree, or structure near a house burns very intensely creating a radiant heat source that can ignite a nearby building. An array of natural gas burners will be configured to create a radiant wall that will reproduce the effect of intensely burning vegetation or structures. This panel will be used to evaluate the effects of radiant heat on walls, windows and flammable materials behind windows.

Other interesting facts about the facility:

  • The test chamber is as tall as a six-story building and has more than 21,000 sq. ft. under the roof; the equivalent to one-half acre or four and one-half basketball courts.

  • The chamber is big enough to accommodate nine 2,300 square foot homes at the same time.

  • The amount of concrete underneath the fan tower is enough to fill up a 2,300 sq. ft. home to the ceiling.

  • The water tank holds 750,000 gallons, which is more water than in an Olympic-size swimming pool.