Severe convective storms were the story of 2023. They don’t always make headlines, yet over $50 billion in insured losses made this the costliest year ever for these storms. Along the east coast, the only U.S. landfalling hurricane provided continued evidence uniformly enforced modern building codes work to reduce and often nearly eliminate damage. In western states including California, rain eased a multi-year drought, but wildfire remained front and center as homeowners in high-risk areas grappled with the challenge. And in Hawaii, Lahaina became the latest example of devastation that occurs when wildfire moves into a community. IBHS science is delivering insights and solutions to break this cycle and build resiliency into homes and businesses.
OUR IMPACT BY THE NUMBERS:
39 research projects
13,187 FORTIFIED designations, the highest in program history
Over 1,500 Wildfire Prepared Home applications in Q4
1,007 visitors to the IBHS Research Center, including 46 Member companies and 121 groups
566 engagements with Members
47,010 IBHS website visits from registered users for Member-exclusive content
79 C-suite presentations to Members and industry groups
6,926 media stories reaching an audience of more than 155 million
5,527 published social media posts generating more than 4.4 million impressions
The following is a deeper dive into the progress made in the final year of our 2021-2023 Disaster Safety Strategy, which guides the Institute’s work to prevent avoidable suffering, strengthen our homes and businesses, inform the insurance industry and support thriving communities.
IBHS SCIENCE IS DELIVERING INSIGHTS AND SOLUTIONS
Wildfire research shows mitigation actions reduce risk
With over a decade of wildfire research, IBHS has continued to advance the understanding of suburban conflagration with detailed mitigation strategies. Our science shows a system of actions addressing the resilience of three vulnerable areas of a home – the roof, specific building features and the 0-5-foot perimeter around the home – can meaningfully reduce its risk of catching fire from embers, the leading cause of home ignition. Ongoing research focusing on building-to-building fire spread advances our knowledge to better understand effective community-level actions.
The Lahaina Fire on the island of Maui was a reminder of the catastrophic and deadly results that can occur when a wildfire spreads into nearby communities. Less than two weeks after the disaster, IBHS’s Early Insights on the Lahaina Fire report detailed weather conditions, building codes, building stock age, fire evolution and, importantly, characteristics of structures that survived, further confirming wildfire mitigation actions can reduce wildfire risk.
The study’s insights aligned with similar findings from IBHS’s The Return of Suburban Conflagration, which focused on identifying the most common contributing factors associated with conflagration and mitigations that can prevent building-to-building fire spread.
At the end of the year, a team of IBHS researchers traveled to the site of the Lahaina Fire, executing one of our most challenging post-disaster investigations to date with 25 drone flights, 22 lidar scans and detailed surveys of more than 200 structures. This field research will inform future wildfire experiments conducted at the IBHS Research Center.
Wildfire Prepared Home: outreach and education to build resilience
In the first full year of the program, IBHS continued to invest in efforts to raise public awareness of Wildfire Prepared Home and further educate key audiences on the importance of the program’s science-based system of actions.
IBHS kicked off the year highlighting two Wildfire Prepared Home Plus designations – one for a retrofit in Southern California and the other for new construction in Northern California. Throughout the year, interest in the designation program rose exponentially, with an increasing number of applications submitted in the final quarter of the year as California homeowners sought science-based solutions to reduce their wildfire risk.
Simulating real-world weather and wildfire conditions within our state-of-the-art facility is critical to furthering understanding of the perils we research. In 2023, we improved the design of our one-of-a-kind ember generators to imitate ember attacks more realistically, the leading cause of structure ignition during wildfire events. This allows IBHS researchers to generate embers for wildfire testing at an unparalleled scale.
Leveraging this unique capability, we brought more than three million viewers into the peril during Good Morning America’s live broadcast from the Research Center in October, offering viewers an insider’s look on how the systems-based Wildfire Prepared Home standard works to meaningfully reduce wildfire risk. The real-time ember attack demonstrated the effectiveness of this mitigation tool in action, including the critical importance of a combustible-free home ignition zone, fine-mesh vent covers and Class A roof.
For the first time in IBHS history, our team brought the peril directly to our target audience by taking our wildfire research on the road. In September, IBHS hosted two live burn demonstrations in California and offered research-backed guidance to vulnerable communities looking for tools to reduce wildfire risk.
Held in collaboration with the California Department of Insurance (CDI), CAL FIRE – Office of the State Fire Marshal, Orange County Fire Authority and Sacramento City Fire, these joint efforts illustrated just how quickly embers can attack different components of a structure, which then act as fuel for the flames. This look into the onset of ignition was educational, even for those with many years of firefighting experience. A 28-year veteran fire chief in Southern California noted, “I’ve been watching demos for 20 some-odd years. I’ve seen everything. This one impacted me. I’ve got things to change at my house tonight.”
As we continued to grow the program, we sought to better understand the sociology behind homeowners’ attitudes toward wildfire safety and mitigation strategies. This year, our Wildfire Prepared Home team worked with San Jose State University to conduct focus groups to gain insight into the most impactful ways to disseminate information to our audiences. This research is already being used to refine program messaging to make Wildfire Prepared Home requirements easier to understand and follow, while also demonstrating why this set of actions is so important. Preliminary insights from the study show many homeowners lack awareness of the importance of mitigation actions, outlining an area of focus for the upcoming year.
Analysis of wildfire environment provides critical information
Additional 2023 reports and products shared IBHS research to explain the wildfire landscape:
- Wildland Fire Embers and Flames: Home Mitigations That Matter highlighted vulnerabilities associated with structural components of the home and the importance of an all-inclusive solution.
- A Member-exclusive four-part series on wind-driven building-to-building fire spread provided an inside look into the causes of rapid wildfire spread and how building-to-building separation can reduce the damage caused by wildfire events.
- IBHS’s Small Businesses in Residential Style Buildings: Protecting your Building from Wildfire guide offers Members mitigation actions to address common vulnerabilities to wildfire in buildings repurposed from residential to commercial use.
- In collaboration with the National Fire Protection Association and Verisk, Living with Wildfire examined vulnerability and wildfire readiness of communities in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) in 13 Western states and found few states and counties with the greatest wildfire risk are using sound regulatory approaches backed by consistent enforcement.
FORTIFIED: A record-breaking year
IBHS hit a milestone mid-year with its 50,000th FORTIFIED designation. It took nearly 10 years to issue the first 25,000 FORTIFIED designations, but interest in resilient construction has steadily increased. As more people looked to strengthen their homes and businesses to be less vulnerable to high winds and heavy rain, the number of FORTIFIED designations doubled in less than three years. In 2023, a record-setting, 13,187 properties earned a FORTIFIED designation, the highest number in a single year in program history, bringing the total number of designations to more than 57,000.
Building resilience: A FORTIFIED journey
FORTIFIED continues to grow in key, established markets, such as coastal Alabama and North Carolina, where successful grant programs are now being used as models by others.
- This year, the Fortify Louisiana Homes program joined Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina in providing grants to homeowners looking to re-roof to the FORTIFIED standard.
- Minnesota established the Strengthen Minnesota Homes program where, beginning in 2025, grants will be available to homeowners allowing them to retrofit their homes to meet the FORTIFIED standard.
- First FORTIFIED designations were issued in four new states — Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky — bringing the total number of states with FORTIFIED homes to 27.
- A record number of service providers joined the FORTIFIED network in 2023, which now boasts more than 1,000 FORTIFIED evaluators, roofing contractors and construction professionals.
- Florida’s modern and enforced building codes are now nearly identical to the FORTIFIED standard, resulting in hundreds of thousands of homes being reinforced to better withstand Florida’s weather risks each year.
FORTIFIED: The gold standard in the U.S.
As the resilient construction movement gains momentum, government agencies are increasingly turning to FORTIFIED as the benchmark of success. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced new funding for the Green and Resilient Retrofit Program, and FORTIFIED was specifically named as a qualifying expense for the $4 billion in loans and $800+ million in grants available. IBHS worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to update its Wind Retrofit Guide, which now specifically cites the FORTIFIED standard throughout. Other programs with FORTIFIED requirements administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and United States Small Business Administration (SBA) helped push FORTIFIED to a record-setting year.
This year also marked the first time lenders provided customers with direct funding specifically for FORTIFIED construction. The Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas (FHLB-D) and its network of partner banks funded nearly $2 million in FORTIFIED grants for both new construction and re-roof projects. The 2023 funds were fully committed within 30 days, and FHLB-D has announced increased funding for next year.
Resilience for all
Nonprofit organizations and government agencies across the country continue to use FORTIFIED to protect donor investment in affordable housing.
- An IBHS media activation in Birmingham, AL, highlighted a public-private partnership, including Protective Life Insurance, Habitat for Humanity, the City of Birmingham and the Alabama Department of Insurance’s Strengthen Alabama Homes program. This unique partnership filled gaps in available resources to re-roof homes to the FORTIFIED standard for residents in the City’s historic Northside neighborhoods, which had lacked investment for decades. As a result, more than 1,000 inland Alabama homes now have a FORTIFIED High Wind designation.
- Non-profits continued to take a leading role in building a more resilient future, with Team Rubicon, SBP and dozens of Habitat for Humanity affiliates now building new homes to the FORTIFIED Home—Gold standard.
- More than 1,200 families are now living in structures with a FORTIFIED Multifamily™ designation, and an additional 4,000 multifamily units are in the process of being built or re-roofed to the FOFTIFIED standard.
- 46 housing units in Louisiana will be built to FORTIFIED Multifamily—Gold, using $690,000 from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas’s Affordable Housing Program (AHP) grant program.
Advancing wind-driven rain data
In August 2023, as Hurricane Idalia slammed into the Florida panhandle as a Category 3 hurricane, IBHS and the University of Florida deployed IBHS’s Precipitation Imaging Probe (PIP) wind tower. This marked the first time a wind-driven rain system had been used in a landfalling hurricane since 2008. This instrumentation collects foundational research on wind speed, direction, barometric pressure, rainfall rates, droplet sizes and distribution. The information will help guide major improvements in testing standards and allow IBHS researchers to more realistically replicate wind-driven rain conditions in the test chamber.
Observable differences in building performance
To further understand the effects of wind-driven rain, the Observations of Building Performance in Southwest Florida During Hurricane Ian report was released to Members, providing a detailed breakdown of structural performance during Hurricane Ian. Data collected from the study shows structural damage caused by hurricanes has been virtually eliminated through the implementation and regulation of the modern Florida Building Code (FBC). Now, the issue lies in roof cover damage. Homes built prior to the modern FBC sustained nearly twice as much damage as those built under the protections of the code, yet damage to components and cladding, such as shingles, siding, soffits and fascia, was present across all eras of construction.
Our research found more than 50% of asphalt shingle roofs sustained damage during Hurricane Ian and low-slope roofs sustained significantly more damage than expected, nearly the same as asphalt shingle roofs. A modern FBC metal roof proved to be the most resilient roof cover, while tile roofs showed vast improvements in performance since Hurricane Charley (2004) made landfall in nearly the same location as Hurricane Ian. Despite specific provisions added to the FBC in 2005 to address this issue, 71% of low-slope commercial roof covers had visible flashing and/or coping damage.
IBHS has already begun a full-scale testing program to explore why the failure rates are so high and if codes have fallen short in this area. To help Members address these performance issues, IBHS developed a checklist within our Addressing Metal Edge Flashing Failures with Applied Mitigation Strategies guidance to aid in commercial low-slope roofing evaluation.
The impacts of aging
IBHS’s roof aging farms continue to grow as we advance asphalt shingle research across a variety of perils. Member-sponsored aging farms in Alabama, Ohio, Kansas, Wisconsin and South Carolina total over 100 huts tracking the natural weathering of roofing products exposed to a variety of elements:
- In 2023, 1-year short term panels were harvested and replaced with an impact-resistant product and the F-Wave, a synthetic composite not previously tested on the roof aging farm.
- Construction projects are underway to add additional panels to the Research Center aging farm, including those from the 2023 hail field deployments.
- Two 5-year harvests were completed on Member farms in Kansas and Alabama, replacing roof covers with new impact-resistant and non-impact-resistant asphalt shingles for further analysis.
- A Roof Aging Farm instrumentation system overhaul is in progress, offering IBHS researchers more accurate and consistent measurements of shingle temperatures viewable in real-time.
Growing disaster costs call for cost-effective tools
In 2023, the U.S. saw 25 weather/climate disaster events, with losses for each exceeding $1 billion, the most for any year since 1980. Unlike past high loss years, 2023 did not feature an extreme windstorm event, such as the Super Outbreak and Joplin tornado in 2011 or the 2020 Midwest derecho. The record losses were a result of an above average year across the three major severe thunderstorm perils: tornadoes, hail and straight-line winds. While 2023 did not see appreciably more days with hail than typical years, there were over 900 additional reports of 2-inch or larger hail compared to the annual average over the last decade. The record setting loss year, with more than $50 billion in insured losses, reinforces why the work of IBHS is critical in developing solutions to slow what has been an upward loss trend since 2008.
Hail field research continues to advance
For more than a decade, IBHS researchers have conducted annual hail field deployments to study the real-world characteristics of hailstones and storms. Over the years, the program’s goals have moved from measuring the material properties of hailstones to supporting the IBHS Hail Impact Test Protocol to map detailed characteristics of hail swaths. The year 2023 was no different, with both new and continuing objectives. Field experiments included the deployment of 8 asphalt shingle panels in addition to an expanded fleet of 24 hail disdrometers. For the first time since 2020, IBHS partnered with researchers from Penn State University to launch weather balloons into active storms, offering researchers a more detailed look at the atmospheric characteristics influencing hail production and severity. This year’s field study also included a short mission to North Texas, followed by a more extensive operation, taking the team more than 4,500 miles through the southern and high plains of Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming and South Dakota.
- IBHS also traveled to the National Weather Service’s Goodland, KS, office to measure and 3D-scan a record hailstone that landed in Kirk, CO. This work continues to emphasize our expertise in hail research and expand our library of scanned hailstones for research and education.
Hail losses are a persistent problem for property insurers. Historically, the focus has been on intense events as the dominant driver for the bulk of hail losses. IBHS began to look at how high concentrations of sub-severe hailstones can affect asphalt shingles through laboratory testing. An IBHS and ZestyAI joint study, Small Hail, Big Problems, New Approach, built upon these results from the lab and demonstrated small hail is a more significant contributor to future damage than previously thought. This points to an opportunity to broaden data sets and account for the cumulative effect all hailstorms have on a roof’s susceptibility to damage over time, leading to a claim.
Shingle performance ratings make an impact
IBHS continued its long-term commitment to improving impact-resistant shingle performance by releasing the second update of its Impact-Resistant Shingle Performance Ratings. In 2023, nine products received a good or excellent overall rating, but many received lesser scores in specific damage modes compared to previous years.
Over a decade of IBHS research shows that although asphalt shingles may withstand common industry test standards, their real-world performance often falls short during severe weather events. IBHS’s Impact Resistance Test Protocol for Asphalt Shingles shows the performance of materials sold to consumers with a 30-to-50-year warranty actually declines much more quickly. In 2023, the IBHS Hail Impact Test Protocol developed into a consensus standard, which enables more laboratories to apply the test method, improve awareness for consumers, serve as an initial step toward the possibility of creating hail-focused building codes and ultimately improve product performance.
Water intrusion is a big problem in severe convective storms
IBHS released the Performance of Asphalt Shingles in Extreme Severe Convective Storm Winds report on the third anniversary of the 2020 Midwest derecho, which produced the largest single event severe convective storm insured loss ever in the United States. The wind performance of asphalt shingle roofs is a dominant driver of loss in any windstorm, yet most research into wind performance of asphalt shingles has centered on their performance during hurricanes. Through the support of SwissRe and AON, 2020 Midwest derecho claims information was coupled to roof performance assessments to gain an improved understanding of water intrusion damage in a severe convective storm. Results show nearly a fourth of all homes surveyed experienced roof damage, with researchers identifying shingle age as a contributing factor to roof cover damage. The study also found homes damaged by water intrusion were 4 to 7 times more likely to be considered a total loss than homes without water intrusion.
Translating science into real-world action, researchers took the key findings from severe convective storm research and used it to develop tangible products for Members looking for solutions. IBHS developed the Apartment Buildings & Communities – Preventing Avoidable Loss from Severe Convective Storms inspection checklist, designed to help Members and their insured address common vulnerabilities on commercial structures to reduce avoidable losses caused by severe convective storms.
Uniformly enforced and modern building codes work
IBHS analysis repeatedly shows the value of uniformly enforced modern building codes in reducing property damage from severe weather and wildfire. Yet only 31 percent of Americans live in areas with them in place. IBHS continues to work closely with policymakers and community leaders to educate them on effective ways to build resilience into their communities, providing expertise and guidance for appropriate methods and cost-effective practices that ensure buildings are adequately constructed for the hazards they face.
This year, researchers looked at the effects on mortgage delinquencies in a joint research report with CoreLogic. The Influence of Building Codes on Mortgages found modern building codes decreased the expected spike in post-hurricane mortgage delinquency rates by about 50 percent. Borrowers in homes built to modern building codes — which emerged in 2002 — were least likely to experience mortgage delinquency following a hurricane when all other factors were equal.
- Our new Building Code Toolkit offers facts, talking points and research to help Members champion state and local building code adoption and enforcement.
- With IBHS input, Louisiana implemented the latest International Residential Code (IRC). Virginia policymakers consulted with IBHS to use Rating the States data to close the gap on a system of building codes and enforcement to remain a leader.
- IBHS developed 16 IWUI proposals — the most ever for a specific peril. The proposals will be presented and debated in early 2024 for adoption into the next IWUI code addition.
- In 2023, IBHS entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, with the goal of further promoting resiliency through building code adoption and enforcement.
Outreach puts research into hands of more Americans
Our outreach efforts amplify the impact and value of our research by translating our work into actionable mitigation strategies for home and business owners to strengthen their properties against severe weather and wildfire. In 2023, we reached over 155 million Americans through our relationships with top-tier media outlets, social media engagement and product development. A wildfire demonstration from our state-of-the-art test facility was broadcast on the nation’s most-watched morning news television program only weeks after we had taken our wildfire science on the road for live side-by-side demonstrations showing the effectiveness of a noncombustible five-foot perimeter around a structure.
Rounding out its first year, IBHS’s Disaster Discussions Podcast focused on providing relevant, timely information on significant weather events and science-backed mitigation actions. Each episode featured notable guests, including university professors, scientists, government officials and IBHS researchers, who explored the intersection of hazards with the built environment and different steps being taken to prevent future devastation. This year’s highlights included Alabama Insurance Commissioner Mark Fowler celebrating the growth of the FORTIFIED program in his state and IBHS’s Director of Wildfire Policy Steve Hawks and Lead Research Meteorologist Dr. Ian Giammanco discussing the early insights of the devastating Lahaina wildfires.
Guiding the way ahead
As we close out the final year of the 2021-2023 Disaster Safety Strategy, IBHS’s pioneering research continues to provide actionable solutions to stop the disruption and damage Mother Nature can make on the built environment and lives. Our scientific insights in hail, wind, wind-driven rain and wildfire form the foundation for voluntary designation programs, public policy changes and building code improvements, while our communication outreach puts specialized guidance directly into the hands of home and business owners. Your investment in IBHS’s world-class organization places our groundbreaking science at the center of narrowing the path of destruction and preventing avoidable losses in communities across our nation and, as 2023 showed, our work has never been more critical or timely.