Oversized severe weather chamber begins testing buildings next week

By Taylor Kearns - bio | email

RICHBURG, SC (WIS) - Storms, fire and wind are some of the harshest conditions a home can be put through, but researchers in Chester County are simulating those conditions in tests that could affect design standards down the road.

It's mother nature in its most violent form, a torture test for houses that's hard to predict and harder still to recreate -- until now, at the Institute for Business and Home Safety's catastrophe lab. "This facility is incredible, its unique," said researcher Anne Cope. "There's none like it in the entire world."

Cope is one of the researchers who will use more than 100 fans, water cannons and flaming embers to generate natural disasters in the lab's gigantic box. "Now is the time to take a bigger step forward and put a full scale building into a lab like ours to be able to see what's going on in mother nature," said Cope.
To do that, fans will produce winds of up to 140 miles an hour -- the same as a category 3 hurricane. Homes will be built, brought inside and bolted to a remote-controlled turntable. Researchers will throw in debris like flaming embers and hail. "We'll be able to simulate hail strike building components and design better ways to prevent hail damage every year," said Cope.
Hail damage is just one of many aspects researchers will tackle. Dr. Tim Reinhold says testing full-sized components is critical, because some items like shingles can't be realistically scaled down. "We know from a calculation standpoint what we expect to happen, but seeing it in the demonstration will be new to us as well," said Reinhold.  
Those results could mean changes to building codes and design standards, progress researchers hope to make when the lab goes online later this month.  

The lab will hold its grand opening and a demonstration on Tuesday.

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