The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety has a huge, beautiful lab in Richburg, S.C., that it built to simulate heavy wind, rain, hail and firestorms for destructive testing of building assemblies.
The IBHS used its lab on July 17 to put a pair of newly-built, full-scale, commercial construction, strip-mall style buildings through the documented winds of a particularly intense thunderstorm and a hurricane.
Until now, the lab, which opened last year, has concentrated on testing residential construction. But this time it went for a side-by-side demonstration of the relative survivability of a structure built to low, but "common" commercial construction standards, and another built with wind resistant detailing.
"The IBHS is correct in saying that's common practice in a lot of places," confirms Andrew Alosi, president of Alosi Builders Inc., a Charlotte, N.C.-based concrete masonry contractor who built both structures for the test. Although in many areas codes call for stronger construction than the "common" test subject, in practice, there are many still built that way and lots of older structures that certainly were. Alosi described examining the wreckage of a Lowes store hit by a tornado a couple of years ago as an example of a recently-built, real-world commercial building constructed just the same way.
In this era of ever more frequent and more violent weather, this was a timely demonstration. And while designers and builders may not be surprised that the "strong" building performed very well, while the "common" building went to pieces, it is rarely designers and builders who control whether local jurisdictions adopt and enforce strong building codes. It is the folks who do, who need to be well informed.
And while the destruction may not have been surprising, one thing it certainly was, was dramatic. Video of the weaker building peeling and flapping and then having a wall collapse with a bang is pretty convincing for those who haven't yet gotten the message. (Be sure to watch it in full screen mode.) And check out the IBHS website for more details.
And build strong.