Video: New "Disaster Lab" Simulates Hurricanes, Destroys Entire Houses

By Andrew Moseman | October 20, 2010 12:13 pm

The insurance industry’s weather simulator is more awesome than your weather simulator. It can hold nine houses, create hurricane-force conditions on its interior via 750,000-gallon tanks of water, and it just opened.

The Institute Business & Home Safety, an organization backed by the insurance industry, built the $40 million hangar of destruction in South Carolina.

With an update next year, “we’ll shoot hail down from the rafters of the building to simulate hail storms,” said Tim Reinhold, senior vice president of research at Tampa-based IBHS. The goal is to improve building codes and maintenance practices in disaster-prone regions. Such labs, insurers say, help reduce their exposure to catastrophic losses—even at a cost of $100,000 for each large hurricane simulation. [Washington Post]

IBHS conducted its first tests yesterday, blasting a normally constructed house and another made of stronger materials with winds stirred up by 105 giants fans.

The conventional house took minutes to collapse in 96-mph winds. Chief engineer Tim Reinhold says the stronger house cost about $5,000 more to build. It suffered only cosmetic damage in the same winds. [BusinessWeek]

The insurance industry built this gargantuan science lab because it has a huge stake in these tests, having been left on the hook for billions of dollars when past major hurricanes wreaked havoc in the United States. Using the data it gathers during its indoor storm experiments, the industry will push for building codes that could save more homes from catastrophic damage and save insurers a lot of money.

Property and casualty insurers are looking to reduce their risk on the $9 trillion in U.S. property exposed to hurricanes from Texas to Maine. Insured catastrophic losses were $7.9 billion in the first half of 2010, up $200 million from 2009, according to the Insurance Information Institute in New York. [Wall Street Journal]

IBHS’s test center won’t just test hurricanes and houses, either. The industry intends to use its monster warehouse to test the mettle of airplanes, trucks, and even wind turbines.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Top Posts
  • http://www.houstonsafeandlock.net locksmith houston

    Cool video!!!

  • Cheyanne

    Fortified with what?

    Will ins. companies reduce preminums for the fortified home?

  • http://DISCOVER HYLAND DELL

    BULLS..T !!!!
    THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF GEEWHIZ SCIENCE!
    THIS WILL BE USED TO VALIDATE THE INSURANCE INDUSTRIES POINTS!
    WITHOUT ANY PERTENANT INFORMATION BEING GIVEN TO THE VIEWER
    AS TO THE DESIGNED TO FAIL CARPENTRY USED ON THE DEMOLISHED HOUSE!

  • Greg Yetsko

    What are the specification details of fortification?

  • david

    Very cool, but should have shown more camera angles, especially inside ones showing the structural failure.

  • dan

    I frame houses with and without “fortification” and I can gaurantee this house was tacked together by an insurance suit with a stapler. Complete horse hockey. These ham wallets will ruin carpenters and framers with their propaganda. Some one needs to regulate every step they take. Dan Swiatkowski D&M Construction framing and remodeling contractor, Cape Cod MA.

  • Clint Huling

    This “tool” looks like it could have some good practical application, but this was not it. I have to agree with Dan from Cape Cod. The house that fell down was built by an insurance suit.

    I have lived in the city of Unalaska (Dutch Harbor) for 29 years. I have seen many roofs blow off and several walls blown down. I have seen 1/2″ plywood and OSB sheeting literally ripped in two by the wind. I can tell you, in our city, that house would get blown down every month from November through March and on some months in the summer.

    In all of the destruction I have seen, I have never seen a first floor wall get swept off a deck like that. Even a few nails have more sheer strength than that. What normally happens is that the wall is pushed from the top, lifted by the roof, or a window or door is blown in and the back wall is pushed out.

    The number one rule to prevent catistrophic wind damage is to tie EVERYTHING to the ground. Number two is to give it some sheer, so it won’t tip over.

    I would like to see some practical tests done that show various types of tie-downs and anchors coupled with varying construction techniques. Then we could see what works better and best.

    Clint

  • Kelly

    I agree with the other carpenters. Whose agenda was this house built to suit? Could it be the insurance industry — which doesn’t want to cover losses? What monkey framed the doomed house and did he use more than one nail per board? The two homes were mirror images of each other and right on top of each other, was the “bad” house blocking the wind for the “good” one? The exterior door on the exposed side of the “bad” house, did that make a difference? The front doors are open (presumably blown open) but most new construction has a dead-bolt on the front door, and I can tell you mine is dead-bolted 24-7.

  • Kelly

    Also, the houses are extremely close together, did that affect wind velocity between them? In terms of timing, where did the first failure occur on the doomed home? At what wind speed did the fortified home fail? If you are going to come out with a study and make claims, you should provide more detailed information.

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