Manmade Hailstorm Provides Unique Look Into IBHS Research Facility

By Denise Johnson | April 5, 2013

The insurance industry is creating realistic hailstorms to help keep insurance available and affordable.

The storms are occurring at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety Research Center, located in Richburg, S.C., which was designed to simulate severe weather events, including category 1, 2, and 3 hurricanes, wind-driven rain, hailstorms and wildfires.

The idea behind the IBHS facility is to provide expert information on preparing for, repairing and rebuilding structures after a catastrophe to make them more disaster-resistant.

Since construction of the facility was completed in 2010, IBHS has conducted a number of full-scale tests involving wind, wildfire and wind-driven rain.

Mark Pizzi, president and chief operating officer for Nationwide Insurance, described the intent of the most recent hailstorm research project.

“What the industry’s trying to do is ensure that we’ve got insurance availability and affordability for our members. That’s really why we’re here. There’s a cynic among us, perhaps, that thinks we’re just trying to save a buck. What we’re trying to do is make sure that people can afford insurance and that people have insurance available to them. We can save lives. We can save personal pictures. We can save mementos. There’s just so many things that we can do now with this research facility that we couldn’t before,” Pizzi said.

Pizzi’s takeaway from the hail test confirms the need for better communication all around – with builders and manufacturers about what they manufacture and to “help convince consumers that they need and can build homes differently than today, at very little cost differential to what they have today.”

Dr. Anne Cope, IBHS researcher since 2009, describes the testing conducted at the IBHS facility to date.

“It’s hard to provide a good answer for how many tests we conduct a year because our testing is so unique and different. Everything that we do is first of a kind. This [the hailstorm test] is our big media demonstration for the year. Last year we did another big media demonstration, and we do lots of science in between that’s not necessarily as visually compelling but is getting at all the answers we need to make building products more effective,” Dr. Cope said.

According to Julie Rochman, IBHS president and CEO, the hail test was a milestone for the research center.

“This hail test was really the first ever demonstration of its kind, and it had several reasons for being. One, we want to announce our capability to the world, to let the building industry, and particularly storm chasing contractors, know we’re coming. We’re going to be making hailstorms and we’ll be doing testing in a way that no one ever has before. Second reason we wanted to do this test was to really start to see our own capabilities and how we can impact roof cover, siding and get to the bottom of what is cosmetic damage, what is structural damage, which will lead to a longer term program of ‘do you repair? do you replace?’ and if so, best practices for each of those types of things,” she said.

Rochman said this hail test is different for a variety of reasons, one of which is due to the unique hail ingredients.

“All of the hail testing that’s been done to date is done with one stone at a time, either a steel ball or an ice ball. This is the first time anyone’s ever done a test with 9,000 hailstones, all released in a four minute period. Also, our hailstones are the right density, the right size, the right hardness. We very much are able to mimic what Mother Nature does in ways that other labs cannot,” Rochman said.

Besides using realistic hail, the facility is able to conduct research on a full size scale.

“The specimen today is to mimic a house. It’s about a 20 by 30 foot single story structure, but it’s a full scale house. That’s another thing that differentiates us from other labs, where they use a small section of roof cover or a small section of siding and fire one hailstone at a time at it. In this case, we can actually look at the house as a system and see how it performs,” said Rochman.

This hail test is the first in a series of planned multi-year hail research projects designed to lead to better building standards and reduced property insurance losses, according to IBHS researchers.

Researchers’ goals include developing impact-resistant standards for doors and windows, much like the standards that currently exist for roofing materials. In addition, they will look at the impact of aging on building material performance when exposed to hail damage.

Researchers also plan to document differences between cosmetic and structural damage, offering best practices to evaluate, repair and replace hail damaged components.

Lastly, they plan to offer help to those who need to better manage and evaluate risk in order to understand how different building materials can be affected by hail damage.

See the video.

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