IBHS Research Center Grand Opening
By Dr. Anne Cope
A question often asked by reporters is, “What’s the most surprising thing that has happened in the research you do?” The answer to that question is pictured in one of the first images from the IBHS Research Center grand opening events. It was shocking and surprising to see the home on the left ripped into shreds in less than 5 seconds. We had done the math and calculated the wind loads. We expected damage to the regular home and we expected to demonstrate the strength of the FORTIFIED home in comparison. We never expected the front door to pop open under the wind pressure, and the speed in which we saw the winds tear open and destroy a typical American home took our breaths away.
I remember walking out to the debris pile of what was built like someone’s real home in middle America with several thoughts bouncing around in my head, one of which was, “Dang, there goes the budget for this project. It’s going to take more than patchwork to be ready for media day.”
We repeated the test with a new conventional home on the left, and the same FORTIFIED home on the right. Actually, we repeated the test five times for the grand opening events. The first audience to see the winds in action was the Research Advisory Council. We also hosted CEOs of member companies, media, local officials instrumental in helping us get up and running in Chester County, and home builders. The pictures here, taken on media day in mid-October 2010 show the stark difference in performance of a typical code-compliant home in middle America and a FORTIFIED home in the same neighborhood. We intentionally opened the doors of both homes in this demonstration, but it could have easily been a broken window that led to the same outcome.
We learned a lot from the series of tests we did to celebrate the grand opening of the IBHS Research Center. A critical piece of information was learned in the inspection of the FORTIFIED home in this picture after the fans were turned off. Hard hats on, we walked in the house. What we saw on the second floor told an incredible story. The FORTIFIED home was in the process of coming apart. The wind pressure that ripped the typical home to shreds was also slowly but surely pushing the walls of the FORTIFIED home out, separating them from each other with a force bigger than the capacity of the small number of nails holding the second story in position over the first story. A quick trip by Tim Reinhold to the local home supply store and $20 worth of straps were added to provide a more robust link between the upper story and the lower one. The adding of the straps was difficult, not because the hardware was hard to install, but because the wind damage caused the walls to be out of alignment. The carpentry team jacked and pushed the walls back into place and put the building back together with the straps so we could test the fix.
In the next demonstration, the FORTIFIED home did well, and the typical home failed spectacularly, this time with the roof peeling off. Since our curiosity had been peaked, we moved the FORTIFIED home to the middle of the turntable after the rest of the demonstration events and battled with it. We turned it this way and that, we opened doors, and we pummeled it with high winds. We broke windows and caused damage, but the house stood, and the walls did not separate. The new strapping solution was immediately incorporated in the FORTIFIED program.
That grand opening series of tests showed us, in remarkably vivid ways, that what we know about wind design may be insufficient, that missing one piece of the puzzle can have devastating results, and that solutions can be both easy and inexpensive. We have continued that line of thinking and questioning as we research roofs and garage doors. We’ve improved our FORTIFIED program, and we have developed guidelines for homeowners, including low-cost tips for preparing for hurricane season. We’ve shown people that simply closing interior doors can prevent wind pressure from running wild throughout a whole house as it did in the grand opening events. The simple act of closing interior doors may save roofs and keep structures from tearing apart. We’ve successfully incorporated the FORTIFIED sealed roof deck provisions into areas of the International Residential Code and Florida Building Code, going into effect in 2021.
Even with these successes in codes and in providing low-cost tips for homeowners, the fragility of many homes in America remains startling. Lose a window, a door, or a garage door in a high wind event, and the outcome can be devastating. In a matter of seconds what was a home becomes a pile of debris. It doesn’t have to be this way. This knowledge drives our passion to continue to learn more and relentlessly develop affordable and easy-to-install solutions that give our homes a strong, fighting chance against the winds that blow through our country – on the coast and in the wide-open Great Plains.
Anne Cope, PhD, P.E.