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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This building houses electrical equipment such as the drives that power the wall of fans in the large test chamber.
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.
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.
The IBHS Research Center exists thanks to the generous investment of these founders.