Aug. 26, 2008 With hurricane season upon us, many wonder if the roof over their heads will hold firm in the face of high winds. This week, inaugural tests at The University of Western Ontario’s ‘Three Little Pigs’ project at The Insurance Research Lab for Better Homes will begin to provide answers as researchers ‘raze the roof’.
The Insurance Research Lab for Better Homes is the first of its kind in the world to subject full-scale houses to pressures that simulate the effects of winds as strong as a Category 5 hurricane – or 200 mph – all within a controlled environment. Researchers at the $7-million facility will also be studying the destructive pathways of mould and water.
As it is too expensive to engineer an entire house, researchers hope to make them safer through basic additions and amendments, with minimal cost to homeowners. Specifically, researchers will be watching the roof fail to see how load on the house redistributes. This will tell them how failure of the structure occurs and will help answer questions about the adequacy of building codes. Ultimately, different wind damage mitigation strategies and building products will be tested in the facility.
Enclosed in a large, blue steel hanger that can be moved on tracks, the test model is a 1,900 square foot, two-storey, four-bedroom house typical of homes found in southwestern Ontario. 60 pressure boxes used to simulate hurricane-force loads are rigged to a framework that surrounds the house.
These studies build on expertise developed through 40 years of wind tests at the Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel Laboratory at Western, widely regarded as one of the best wind tunnels in the world. The project is also affiliated with Fanshawe College, the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, Cambridge Consultants, Ltd. and Insurance Bureau of Canada.
- The Insurance Research Lab for Better Homes is home to The University of Western Ontario’s ‘Three Little Pigs’ project.
- The lab is not a wind tunnel. There is no wind actually blowing through the lab, or at the house built inside the facility.
- 60 ‘pressure load activators’ create hurricane-force pressure against the house. These pressure boxes include large hoses that are able to suck and blow to simulate the fluctuating force of wind. The pressure is regulated so that each box applies different pressure to simulate turbulent wind coming from different directions and moving across the house. The pressure load actuators were developed specifically for this project and the technology has been patented.
- Apart from actually testing a house in a hurricane, these pressure boxes create the most realistic test of how a home would react to such conditions. This kind of testing has never been done before in such a realistic way on a complete house.
- The roof of the house will not be completely destroyed; rather, during testing, the roof will move approximately four inches away from the wall. This is a dramatic shift that would essentially be a catastrophic failure and you would, according to researchers be “likely to find your roof on a neighbour’s lawn.” The force of the wind, according to researcher Kopp, is like “turning the house upside down, adding weight to it and shaking it!”
- These tests coincide with the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
- History: Funded primarily by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Innovation Trust, construction of The Insurance Research Lab for Better Homes began in 2005.
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