Oversized test chamber will help rate buildings for severe weather

By Taylor Kearns - bio | email

CHESTER COUNTY, SC - CHESTER COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Creating a catastrophe in a box, a massive lab in Chester County will soon be testing homes against everything mother nature has to throw at them.

Deep in the heart of Chester County, mad scientists are controlling the weather. Well, not really. Don't dial the Bat-Phone just yet.

"It'll be a hurricane in a box, in a sense," said Dr. Tim Reinhold.
It's the catastrophe lab, a testing facility built by the Institute for Business and Home Safety.

"Everything about this lab has been a real challenge," said CEO Julie Rochman. "We're gonna look at how to build better going forward and how to retrofit existing structures to make them stronger and safer."
To do that, they'll use more than a hundred gigantic fans. They can generate 140 mile an hour winds, the same as a category 4 hurricane.
In the crosshairs will be a full-size home or business on an enormous turntable. Researchers will see how the buildings hold up against wind, water, hail and even flaming debris.

"We're seeing the wildfire spreading by the embers going some distance and igniting the house so we want to look at the ignition potential and ways to try and reduce that," continued Reinhold, who says it's the only facility of its kind in the world.
He says the size will allow for more realistic testing of building materials.

"We've seen products that are rated for 150 mph coming off at 115 mph," he said.
And better materials, Reinhold says, means safer buildings.

Things will get a little more windy when the plant goes online near the end of June.

"It is very similar to what we've done with autos with the insurance institute for highway safety, we have changed the way autos are manufactured and the way people shop for autos in this country, we're gonna settle for nothing less on the property side," said Rochman.

Rochman says the facility will only run at full strength during off-peak electrical hours. That's because it'll draw enough electricity to power 9,000 homes.

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