Extreme Science

American Family supporting new research center focused on better building materials, safer homes

American Family is participating in an industry research center that will test the impact of wind, hail, rain and fire on siding, roofing and other home-construction materials.

The center is being built in South Carolina by the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), of which American Family is a member.

The goal of the research center is to help develop better building materials to make homes safer and reduce losses in the property and casualty industry, while helping companies hold the line on expenses.

A ceremonial groundbreaking for the research center was held Sept. 16. Construction is expected to be completed in spring 2010.

"This industry-owned and -operated research facility will allow testing of all kinds of extreme weather conditions on a variety of structures and building materials," says American Family Vice President Joe Zwettler, a member of the IBHS board of directors. "The findings will lead to enhanced property risk modeling and ultimately help us reduce property losses."

Scientists at the center will be able to subject one- and two-story buildings of up to 2,000 square feet to winds and wind-blown water similar to a Category 3 hurricane, realistic hailstorms and wind-blown fire embers. Industry backers hope the center will have a similar impact as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, whose car-crash tests have had a major impact on improving auto safety and forcing automakers to make better cars. If it does, the center could save customers and insurance companies millions of dollars.

IBHS, based in Tampa, Fla., is an independent, nonprofit, scientific and educational organization supported by the property insurance industry.

The organization works to reduce the social and economic effects of natural disasters and other risks to residential and commercial property by conducting research and advocating improved construction, maintenance and preparation practices.

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Rendering of IBHS Center

Research center details

The lab will include 105 powerful fans, each 7 feet in diameter.

Research specimens will reside on a 52-foot-wide turntable inside a 145-foot-square, 70-foot tall test chamber.

The center will include an outdoor specimen-aging area.

High-speed cameras will record the testing, so consumers, insurers, public policymakers and other stakeholders can view it.

The center is being built in Chester County, S.C., south of Charlotte, N.C.

The center will employ about 20 people.

Construction will be environmentally friendly, using natural sound barriers and landscaping, renewable energy, and reclaiming/cleaning of water and air used in testing.