IBHS Value to Commercial Property Protection Home Standards Capabilities Guidance Research Agenda Pathways to Preventing Avoidable Loss

A research agenda driven by real-world problems.

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) conducts objective, scientific research to identify and promote effective actions to strengthen homes, businesses, and communities against natural disasters and other causes of loss. This guidance is delivered in real time through virtual and in-person training settings in addition to digital guidance and recommendations.

In the business protection space, IBHS works very closely with member companies to identify significant loss drivers and emerging risks of concern to commercial lines portfolios. We develop solutions through research, product development, and training for our members. Further, member companies can incorporate some or all of the IBHS FORTIFIED Commercial™ building standard into their own approaches to loss control or underwriting. Here are some examples of the pathways through which IBHS works with commercial members to prevent avoidable loss.

ROOF-MOUNTED PHOTOVOLTAIC (PV) SYSTEMS (SOLAR PANELS) Members observed the failure of commercial PV systems following high-wind events in Florida, New Jersey, and elsewhere. IBHS installed and tested several ballasted commercial PV racking systems and measured lift and movement in wind speeds that were at or below their design level, information that is important from an underwriting perspective. IBHS also developed guidance documents to help loss control engineers identify problems and conduct inspections following smaller wind events. Learn more PACKAGED TERMINAL AIR CONDITIONER (PTAC) UNITS Members identified water infiltration through PTAC (air conditioning) units as a significant wind-related loss driver in hotel rooms and other multi-unit commercial buildings. IBHS designed a research project that replicated real-world PTAC units and subjected them to wind-driven rain. All of the units allowed significant water entry, but IBHS found that small changes in installation protocols can significantly reduce the amount of water that enters. The resulting report can be used by underwriters when assessing applicable properties and loss control staff when working with policyholders who are constructing new buildings or replacing PTAC units in existing facilities. In addition, a PTAC demonstration at the IBHS Research Center is a useful training tool for visiting members. Hail Performance of Roofing Materials IBHS and its members recognized the growing problem of hail damage in large regions of the United States and have devoted years to field and lab research to develop a new standard for testing the impact resistance of asphalt shingles. The performance results offer unprecedented insights into the performance of asphalt shingles labeled as impact resistant and have already motivated shingle manufacturers to remove poor performing products from the market. Impact performance testing has been conducted for low-slope metal roofing and is now underway for single-ply membranes, which are more prevalent on commercial roofs. Learn More Wildfire The catastrophic California wildfires of 2017 and 2018 focused unprecedented attention by IBHS members on understanding and reducing wildfire risk to commercial buildings. Incorporating over a decade of wildfire study and testing, IBHS produced guidance for underwriters and loss control professionals covering a range of critical topics, including defensible space; vegetative maintenance; the use of noncombustible walls, roof systems, signage, and decks; and window protections. In addition to technical content, simplified concepts are outlined in exclusive member educational materials and policyholder-oriented infographics. Learn More HIGH WIND COMMERCIAL BUILDING DEMONSTRATION Members observed a full-scale high-wind test designed to demonstrate that building performance can be significantly improved in several key areas through relatively low-cost mitigation techniques. Two full-scale strip mall–type structures were placed side by side: one with common construction practices, and the other with stronger, wind-resistant elements (with less than 5 percent difference in construction costs). Focus areas included: roof membrane and perimeter edge flashing; load path; roof-mounted equipment; overhead roll-up doors; and effects of over-pressurization. Both buildings were exposed to high wind speeds that can be observed throughout the country, as well as hurricane force winds. The “Strong Building” sustained very minimal damage and could resume operations quickly. The “Common Building” experienced a cascade of failures resulting in a total loss, with ten times more property damage and a likely loss of business operations. Many of the Stronger Building’s construction practices became the foundation for IBHS’s FORTIFIED Commercial™ standard.

A decade of value for commercial property protection.

The IBHS Research Center celebrates its 10-year anniversary in 2020. Over the past decade, the Research Center has transformed the way in which IBHS members understand how severe weather can damage or destroy buildings, and how insurers and their policyholders can reduce this risk.

The uniquely designed test chamber allows for testing of one- and two-story commercial structures that include design features, materials and components of buildings that commonly house a variety of small- to mid-sized businesses, such as small office buildings, strip shopping centers, or franchise restaurants.

Historically, this kind of testing has required exceedingly small-scale models, often the size of a shoe box, in typical boundary layer wind tunnels. At these scales, simulation of all the important building features and the effects of the flow is often impossible, and additional analysis and engineering judgement is needed to assess the performance or real building materials to the measured wind forces.

Examples of typical commercial construction materials that can be tested at full scale include single-ply membranes, metal roofs, and flashing. In addition, tests often include significant components of larger commercial facilities―for example, roof-mounted equipment, solar panels, roller doors, and air conditioning units. The following is a brief summary of significant commercial research insights; additional details are available by following the links presented.

Roof-Mounted Equipment (RME) Insight
RME was among the first commercial building components tested at the Research Center. While standards for wind loads on RME in the ASCE 7-10 (2010) were found to be reasonable, minor modifications to these code provisions based on IBHS testing were incorporated into the 2016 version of ASCE 7. 

Wind Loads on Low-Sloped Roofs Insight
This research into how wind forces are transferred through roofs and connections provided data to improve engineering models so that predicted performance from standardized tests is more representative of true windstorm performance. The full-scale capabilities of the IBHS wind tunnel allowed engineers to measure reaction loads at roof clips, which is not done at model scale because it is hard to replicate the right thickness, flexibility, rigidity or other material properties of specific components at model scale.

Photovoltaic (PV) High Wind Testing Insight
To date, this high-wind testing is still the most comprehensive investigation into wind performance of ballasted PV arrays typically found on commercial roofs. Information on lift and movement in wind speeds at or below design criteria was provided to IBHS members, along with guidance documents to help loss control engineers identify problems and conduct inspections following smaller wind events.

Roller Doors Insight
Large openings are a wind vulnerability and can lead to a cascade of failures to a commercial building. IBHS research is focused on identifying the most critical drivers of this vulnerability. We know that installation matters and to that end, we have shown that existing manufacturer guidance leads to inconsistent performance.

Patio/Sliding Doors Insight
Post-event assessments indicate the vulnerability of vertical openings to wind-driven rain. Testing is required to identify the drivers of this vulnerability and best paths for reducing risk due to wind-driven water intrusion.

Packaged Terminal Air Units (PTAC) Insight
PTAC units are individual air conditioner units found in hotel rooms, hospitality facilities, offices, healthcare facilities and condominium complexes. IBHS found that small changes in installation protocols can reduce water entry and produced members-only field inspection guidance to assist underwriters and loss control engineers in the field.

Architectural Screens and Roof-Mounted Equipment (RME) Insight
IBHS research, in cooperation with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), found that use of architectural screens reduced wind loads on RME. This insight will ensure appropriate wind load factors on both screens and RME are being used by designers, so that adequate attachment to the roof surface is specified. Often in many locations the equipment is not physically attached to the roof surface at all.  

Wildfire Building-to-Building Spacing Insight
In collaboration with research colleagues, IBHS participated in a project where three full-scale structures were ignited and burned. Data collected as part of this experiment provided insight to wildfire ignition risk as a function of building separation. IBHS has been studying the effects of fire on exterior building components since 2011 and will be participating in structure separation testing with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and US Forest Service.

IBHS research on wildfire vulnerability has provided guidance that contributed to improved building codes and practices in wildfire-prone areas. To facilitate practical application of the insights from Research Center commercial testing, IBHS has developed a variety of tools for member companies, including loss control bulletins, inspection checklists, material selection guides, and maintenance best practices. Hands-on training and the Disaster Dynamics Academy program at the Research Center lets members “get inside the risk” to see the fire perils in action, and touch and feel their effects on the buildings they insure.

IBHS Asphalt Shingle Hail Impact Standard Insight
Consumers deserve to have confidence that products labelled as impact resistant live up to expectations. The existing industry test from UL hits shingles with steel ball bearings. IBHS hits shingles with realistic hail based on actual field observations and measures their performance so that our members can distinguish products based on their performance. Commercial testing has been scheduled. Additional roofing materials are being tested as part of this ongoing program.

Business Continuity Planning
IBHS created EZ-PREP to focus on the needs of small businesses before, during, and immediately after a severe weather event. EZ-PREP takes users through the chronological steps that are needed to secure the building envelope (roof, windows, walls, and doors), surrounding premises, furnishings and equipment, and other assets. It also identifies critical safety protections for employees who may need to remain on site.

On the operations side, IBHS’s “Open for Business” (OFB-EZ) program helps small businesses take the steps they need to keep functioning in the event of a major disaster or a smaller disruption. The goal is to help maintain critical operations and communications to reduce financial losses and keep businesses open even if their facilities are damaged. The OFB-EZ toolkit helps businesses understand the risks they face and document critical business processes; key employee, vendor, and customer contacts; information technology resources; and financial/insurance accounts and policies.

Over the past decade, the Research Center has transformed the way in which IBHS members understand how severe weather can damage or destroy buildings, and how insurers and their policyholders can reduce this risk. The uniquely designed test chamber allows for testing of one- and two-story commercial structures that include design features, materials and components of buildings that commonly house a variety of small- to mid-sized businesses, such as small office buildings, strip shopping centers, or franchise restaurants. Historically, this kind of testing has required exceedingly small-scale models (1:50 to 1:200) in typical boundary layer wind tunnels. At these scales, simulation of all the important flow features and effects is generally impossible and additional computational work is needed to assess the impact of simulation distortions on load information that has been included in building codes and standards. The IBHS Research Center

Creating guidance from research insights.

Most insurance company employees focus their daily attention on distinct risks that are presented to them for a specific underwriting, pricing, or loss control decision. IBHS’s role is to take a broader view of how severe weather affects the built environment, including how and why and building systems and components fail, and ways they can be designed and built better to prevent avoidable loss.

These broader insights are particularly useful for members who are trying to incorporate building science principles into their operations—for example, underwriting guidelines, training of loss control teams, agent/policyholder communications. Some examples of insights gleaned by members during a Commercial Disaster Dynamics Academy:


“I now understand the differences between ‘common’ vs. ‘stronger’ buildings and how little it costs to make a structure stronger.”


“Hands-on training where you can touch and feel can be easily translated into what we see in the field.”


“I am working on my company’s underwriting guidelines and will use this information immediately.”


“This is cutting-edge work. It will make us smarter as we assess risk.”


“Our property underwriters need this information when analyzing risks, reviewing loss prevention reports and discussing building features with clients, agents and engineers.”


All of the perils IBHS researches (wind, rain, hail, and wildfire) are likely to become more severe as a result of climate change. IBHS is innovating and adapting to provide the deepest and most accurate insights as to how a changing climate affects buildings—this is especially important in commercial lines, where facilities have a very long useful life.

FORTIFIED Commercial

IBHS’s FORTIFIED Commercial™ program is another pathway for translating more than a decade of IBHS research into a tool that members can use to encourage and confirm superior building. FORTIFIED Commercial is a resilient design and construction standard for light to moderate commercial structures such as condominiums, hotels, franchises, strip shopping centers, and gas stations. IBHS member companies can incorporate some or all of the FORTIFIED Commercial standards into their own approaches to loss control or underwriting.

FORTIFIED Commercial was developed by IBHS to apply the same engineering-based focus developed for the FORTIFIED Home™ program to commercial properties subject to hurricane, high wind, and hail.

Design professionals can work with building owners to choose a desired level of protection that best suits their budgets and resilience goals (FORTIFIED Roof™, FORTIFIED Silver™, or FORTIFIED Gold™).

A 2018 study by the National Institute of Building Science (NIBS) found that for every $1 spent on FORTIFIED Commercial construction, approximately $4 is saved in disaster recovery expenses.