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The IBHS Research Center

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Built in 2010, the IBHS Research Center is a state-of-the-art research facility located on a 90-acre parcel of land in Chester County, South Carolina (approximately 45 minutes south of the Charlotte airport). This unique facility will significantly advance building science by enabling researchers to more fully and accurately evaluate various residential and commercial construction materials and systems.

Entrance to the IBHS Research Center

Office, meeting and training space.

This facility is also a tangible, very public demonstration of the property insurance industry’s deep commitment to reducing and preventing losses that disrupt the lives of millions of home and business owners each year. IBHS’ scientific research will influence residential and commercial structural design and construction for decades to come. Resulting savings on natural disaster-related losses—which totaled more than $21 billion across the U.S. in 2013 alone and are expected to double every decade—will “pay for” the lab many times over. At the research center campus, IBHS researchers evaluate various residential and commercial construction materials and systems under realistic re-creations of hazards ranging from wildfires to hurricanes.

Full-scale Testing

Large Test Chamber

This structure is a specially designed wind tunnel that is exceptionally large—6 stories tall and 145 feet wide by 145 feet long. This equates to more than 21,000 square feet under the roof, the equivalent of 4 ½ basketball courts.

IBHS is the only lab in the world that can test full-scale one- and two-story residential and commercial buildings in a controlled, repeatable fashion for highly realistic windstorms, wind-driven rain, hailstorms and wildfire ember storms utilizing the unique features below.

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Interior of the Large Test Chamber at the IBHS Research Center.

Small Laboratory

In this building, IBHS evaluates individual components of construction materials through highly controlled experiments. For example, our researchers create and store artificial hailstones—created to resemble the size and density of real hailstones we collect from storms—and then fire them at roof shingles using a hail-firing cannon. Experiments like this allow us to precisely replicate real-world conditions while testing common building materials.

IBHS Lead Research Engineer & Director of Hail Research Dr. Tanya Brown conducting UL 2218 steel ball impact testing on an asphalt shingle sample.

Testing in the Small Laboratory.

Tools

Wall of Fans

The large test chamber is easily identified by its enormous wall of 105 fans—each nearly 6 feet in diameter and equipped with a 350 HP engine. Together the fans can replicate realistic weather conditions including Category 1, 2 and 3 hurricanes (with winds up to 130 mph), extra-tropical windstorms, wind-driven rain conditions, and straight-line windstorms (also called derechos).

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Turntable

A 55-foot-diameter turntable allows researchers to completely rotate test structures in the large test chamber. This ensures all sides of the test structure are fully exposed to our replicated weather conditions, like high winds, rain and hail, to create the most realistic results.

FIRETEST

Ember Generators

During wildfire-related testing, our researchers use 7 ember generators to blow burning wood embers into the large test chamber. This allows them to see how and where embers enter test structures and spread fire under realistic circumstances.

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Rain System

The rain system is an array of mounted sprinklers that allows researchers to create accurate, appropriate patterns of various sized rain droplets equivalent to a rainfall rate of up to 8 inches per hour.

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Radiant Panels

The radiant panel is 50 inches wide and 63 inches tall, and consists of 50 infrared natural gas burner heads. The panel allows researchers to subject different building components to the radiant heat characteristics of a wildfire.

A hail cannon mounted on the catwalk at the IBHS Research Center.

Hail Cannons

To study hail damage, our researchers use hail cannons to shoot realistic, lab-created hailstones at test structures in the large test chamber, re-creating the effects of a hailstorm.

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COMET Apparatus

The COMET (Component Materials Evaluation Testing) apparatus consists of a single fan, similar to those in the wall of fans, which is used outdoors to test individual components of a structure such as roof shingles.

Outdoor Roof Aging Area

Much of today’s building science focuses on brand new materials and systems and does not take into account decay and deterioration caused by severe weather, UV exposure, and temperature fluctuations. To address this gap in research, part of our campus is dedicated to our “roof farm” project, which consists of residential and commercial roof sections that are subjected to natural aging. This project allows us to conduct long-term testing and analysis of the roofs at specified time intervals (e.g., 5, 10, 15 and 20 years) for wind, hail, and wildfire performance.

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Campus

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Building D

This building will soon be equipped with a new airbox system capable of producing wind speeds equivalent to a category 5 hurricane, allowing researchers to test roof structures under realistic wind loads.

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Building E

This building houses electrical equipment such as the drives that power the wall of fans in the large test chamber.

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Building F

This structure houses the fire pump that attaches to a 750,000-gallon water tank—larger than an Olympic-size swimming pool—in case of fire during wildfire testing. The water tank also supplies huge amounts of “rain” during severe storm testing.

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Building G

This newly constructed 3,520-square-foot metal-clad building shell includes a covered area (30 ft x 40 ft) for production technicians to build large test structures in an enclosed area not exposed to the weather. The building may later house a chemical analysis lab and a fire test lab.

Founding Members

The IBHS Research Center exists thanks to the generous investment of these founders.

AAA – The Auto Club Group
AAA Insurance – Auto Club Insurance Company of Florida
AAA Mid-Atlantic Insurance Group
ACE Tempest Re
Alfa Insurance Companies
Allstate Insurance Company
American Agricultural Insurance Company
American Family Insurance
American Insurance Association
American Modern Insurance Group
Amica Mutual Insurance Company
The Andover Companies
Aon Benfield
Aspen Re
Auto-Owners Insurance Company
Bankers Insurance Group
California FAIR Plan Association
CSAA Insurance Group
COUNTRY® Financial
EMC Insurance Companies
Enumclaw Insurance Group

Erie Insurance
Farm Bureau Property & Casualty Insurance Company
Farmers Insurance
Florida Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company
Gen Re
Guy Carpenter
The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company
Holborn Corporation
Insurance Information Institute
Interinsurance Exchange of the Automobile Club
Liberty Mutual Insurance Group
The Main Street America Group
MetLife Auto & Home
Mississippi Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company
Munich Re
Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia Fund of The Community Foundation
National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies
Nationwide Insurance
The Norfolk & Dedham Group®

Ohio Mutual Insurance Group
OneBeacon Insurance
Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI)
Quincy Mutual Group
Reinsurance Association of America
RenaissanceRe Risk Sciences Foundation, Inc.
Rhode Island Joint Reinsurance Association
RMS
South Carolina Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company
South Carolina Wind & Hail Underwriting Association
State Farm Insurance Companies
Swiss Re
Travelers Companies, Inc.
USAA
Verisk Insurance Solutions
Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Companies
W. R. Berkley Corporation
Willis Research Network
XL Group
Zurich

An Introduction to the IBHS Research Center