New Insights on Business Protection: Recent Highlights from IBHS

The IBHS Research Center provides unique opportunities for objective laboratory testing of full-scale, one- and two-story commercial and residential structures, as well as components used in larger commercial facilities. Results of these tests, along with other IBHS research, are helping insurers and business owners better understand how extreme weather—or even more common events—can damage or destroy buildings, and identify ways to reduce property losses.

In 2017, IBHS advanced several important projects to incorporate research results (and other building science findings) into actionable business protection programs. In addition, for the second year, on-site commercial lines training, focusing on the interaction of natural hazards and commercial buildings, was offered for all IBHS members interested in a more detailed understanding of how to use IBHS information to reduce loss.

Presented here are program highlights, focusing on immediate and long-term benefits of IBHS research for commercial loss control and risk management.

HIGH-WIND TESTING OF FULL-SCALE PHOTOVOLTAIC (PV) SYSTEMS

IBHS has been examining wind effects on roof-mounted PV solar panel arrays (groups of solar panels that often are seen on commercial roofs). This research is of growing importance as the number of solar energy installations is increasing rapidly around the country. Solar panels and arrays that fail or become detached can cause extensive damage to roofs, weakening a building’s protection against severe weather. They also can become flying debris, which is a hazard to anything in the vicinity.

The most recent phase of IBHS’ PV testing involved systems that use ballast (weights) to hold down the panels/arrays, and friction to keep them from sliding. In late 2016 and early 2017, IBHS installed four different ballasted roof-mounted PV arrays (using typical installation methods on a flat commercial roof) in order to test their performance in realistic high-wind conditions. Systems tested included both open and closed ballasted systems.

While recognizing that each system was unique, for all systems tested, there was both lifting and sliding of PV panels at speeds below the design level specified in their technical documents, with open ballasted systems more susceptible to lifting and closed ballasted systems more susceptible to sliding. Damage was observed to both the arrays themselves and the roof.

IBHS research is timely and important because there currently are no industry-accepted guidelines or standards for how to apply wind loads to each specific PV array, or what level of response (i.e., how much movement) is acceptable. IBHS is now working with other industry stakeholders to develop standards and guidelines that will address both of these issues.

IBHS tested roof-mounted PV solar panel arrays to see how they perform during realistic high-wind conditions.

STANDING SEAM METAL ROOFS (SSMR)

IBHS continues its research program evaluating the performance of SSMR through a collaborative research project with the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and the Metal Building Manufacturers Association (MBMA). This project began in 2015 with testing on a full SSMR in the IBHS test chamber, during which the wind forces on both the roof and connections were measured. During the summer of 2017, UWO conducted a series of experiments using this data on an identical roof system with an airbox loading system, bringing the roof to failure. Later this year, IBHS will test the same roof system using a series of standardized tests. Combining these three experiments will provide a better understanding of the failure of SSMR against real wind loads and ensure test standards are adequate in predicting their performance.

TALL WOOD BUILDINGS

Over the past decade, mass timber construction—also known as “tall wood buildings”—has become more prevalent in Europe and Canada and is receiving more attention in the U.S. Modern tall wood buildings using engineered wood products are believed to be comparable in strength and performance to structures built using materials such as steel and concrete, while offering a shorter construction timeframe, a smaller square footage foundation, and greater use of environmentally sustainable materials. However, due to fire concerns, model building codes in the U.S. (e.g., IBC and National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 5000) limit maximum height and area of wood-framed structures to six stories and 202,000 square feet, with certain exceptions. Mindful of the growing interest in this technology, IBHS is participating in several International Code Council (ICC) working groups looking at the fire resistance and structural strength of tall wood buildings. IBHS also had the opportunity to observe several full-scale mock-up fire tests sponsored by ICC to evaluate multiple issues, such as connection strength, after exposure to heat. These tests will serve as the basis for potential changes to building codes as they apply to fire protection design of engineered wood products and their application in tall wood buildings.

IBHS FORTIFIED COMMERCIAL™
PROGRAM LAUNCH

FORTIFIED Commercial is a voluntary, superior construction standard and designation program for new commercial building construction that addresses specific natural hazard risks and provides recommendations for reducing property damage. In August, IBHS began accepting applications for the FORTIFIED Commercial–Hurricane program in coastal Alabama, a region where there is already a robust market for IBHS-designated FORTIFIED homes. In 2018, IBHS will begin accepting applications for the remainder of Alabama for both the FORTIFIED Commercial–Hurricane and FORTIFIED Commercial–High Wind & Hail programs. The technical standards, forms and frequently asked questions for both programs are available at fortifiedcommercial.org.

SINGLE-PLY MEMBRANE ROOFS

During 2017, IBHS staff met again with the Single Ply Roofing Industry (SPRI) organization regarding various uplift test options and a set of action plans to better understand wind loads and performance of flexible roof membranes. SPRI has created a task force to examine how single-ply roof systems are evaluated and has asked IBHS to participate. It is possible that a proposal for testing at the IBHS Research Center will come out of the task force, advancing IBHS’ understanding of single-ply membranes.

Additionally, a best practices roofing guide for single-ply membranes, plus a majority of all low- and steep-slope roof cover systems, is nearing completion through a joint effort led by IBHS and the Roofing Industry Committee on Weather Issues (RICOWI). Several roofing industry associations are participating in order to give those who evaluate, design, repair, maintain or replace roofs common guidance; the completed content is available on the IBHS website at DisasterSafety.org/ricowi-best-practices-guide.

HURRICANE HARVEY DAMAGE ASSESSMENT

IBHS deployed a damage survey team for Hurricane Harvey in Texas to assess wind damage to residential and commercial properties across multiple wind speed zones from the first landfall location. A key takeaway was that newer buildings generally performed better than older buildings. As an example, the photographs to the right show two buildings that were located within one mile of each other. The older building had significant damage to roof cover and sheathing, while the newer building appeared to have no damage to these building features. Also, the older building had plywood added to protect the non-impact-rated windows, while the newer building had impact-rated windows; therefore, protection such as plywood is not needed.

Vulnerable components and systems for commercial structures included low- and steep-sloped roof covers, metal panel roofs, perimeter edge flashing/fascia and gutters, wall siding, unprotected windows, large commercial doors, and roof-mounted equipment. These are the same construction components addressed in the FORTIFIED Commercial standards. Based on observations of undamaged buildings without power (and therefore closed), lack of power is likely to be one of the biggest barriers to recovery. Use of backup generators, such as those recommended in FORTIFIED Commercial–Hurricane Gold, would greatly reduce business interruption losses and speed community recovery.

An example of older construction with substantial damage after Hurricane Harvey in Port Aransas, Texas.

An example of new construction with minimal damage after Hurricane Harvey in Port Aransas, Texas.

COMMERCIAL LINES—BUSINESS PROTECTION TRAINING

After a very successful pilot program in 2016, IBHS again conducted a loss control training seminar for Commercial Building Protection at the IBHS Research Center in October. The focus was primarily on commercial roof systems and their exposure to natural hazards such as wind, hail, winter weather, and wildfire, and how to understand and reduce these risks. IBHS research on these topics was framed in a practical context that can be utilized by program participants at IBHS member companies, with takeaway tools available to share with colleagues and policyholders. Attendees also gained a greater understanding of innovative research that will influence the future of commercial loss mitigation, including various ways to use FORTIFIED Commercial standards to reduce losses. Damage observed during IBHS’ post-cat deployment following Hurricane Harvey and business protection lessons learned were also discussed.

LOOKING AHEAD

As part of its strategic planning process, the IBHS Commercial Lines Committee is sharpening its focus on major commercial lines loss drivers (frequency and severity). IBHS research and other initiatives arising from this discussion should augment existing mitigation efforts by member companies and policyholders, to the benefit of commercial enterprises and the communities where they do business.