A group from FRSA recently visited the Insurance Industry for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) facility in Richburg, SC. To say it was impressive is an understatement. Our group included FRSA Incoming President and Codes Subcommittee Chair, Manny Oyola, Past President and Florida Building Commission Roofing TAC member, George Ebersold and me. IBHS Chief Engineer, Anne Cope and her team were gracious hosts. The meeting presented a great opportunity to discuss issues that impact both the roofing and insurance industries.
Our day started with introductions and a safety briefing. An atmosphere of cooperation and a mutual interest in developing a better understanding of each other’s challenges and goals was obvious early on.
After introductions and initial discussions, we were given a tour of the testing facilities. Even though we didn’t get to see it in action, the wind driven test chamber was the highlight of the facility tour. It is capable of simulating wind speeds in the Category 3 hurricane range from 84 fans that are each 5.5 feet in diameter (see next page). Each vane axial fan is attached to a 350-horsepower motor. The air is driven through wind vanes that can be used to direct the flow and to create turbulence. Water can be introduced into the airstream to simulate wind driven rain; they can also introduce burning embers to simulate wildfires. The airflow is directed into a 145’ x 145’ x 60’ high concrete structure with a 55-foot diameter turntable mounted flush with the floor. Interestingly, the mechanism used is from a train wheelhouse for rotating train cars. The turntable can accommodate a full scale two-story structure. A complex array of cameras and sensors are positioned to record the effects of the testing. While no man-made device can recreate the effects that a hurricane can have on a structure, this test chamber, and a very few others worldwide, are as close as it gets.
The IBHS facility is also conducting important hail impact testing and research. They analyze the physical characteristics of actual hail and attempt to recreate it for impact testing. They are currently attempting to create a simulated test projectile that mimics the actual varying shapes and texture of hail that have surfaces with lumps and bumps and even spikes. Not only is it hard to produce, but it is also very hard to propel for testing. I feel confident that their team will overcome the obstacles and add valuable information gained to an already impressive database addressing hail damage.
For insurers who deal with property and other similar type policies, the catastrophes created by wildfires are currently front and center. Testing to help reduce claims and disruption to those occupying these structures is very important. Some of this clearly has implications for the roofing industry.
As interesting as the hail and fire testing was, for a group representing Florida’s roofing industry, our focus was on the wind effects from hurricanes. After our tour, we sat down to exchange poststorm observations and what we can learn from them. IBHS shared a presentation that they produced outlining their observations from Hurricane Ian, which was one of the most deadly and disruptive hurricanes in recent history. Having been involved in post-hurricane observations independently for FRSA as well as with the Roofing Industry Committee on Weather Issues (RICOWI) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), IBHS’s observations were of great interest to me. The reports from IBHS, RICOWI and FEMA should be of concern to our industry overall, but especially for certain material manufacturing segments. These reports generally consider any visible damage as a failure, which may tend to indicate high failure rates that are often only aesthetic. Minimal hip and ridge damage that didn’t result in water intrusion is a common observation that is classified as a failure.
Our group wanted to stress how code improvements made through cooperation between FRSA and IBHS have been proven to reduce claims and occupant disruption and explored how these efforts can continue and be enhanced. We also expressed our concerns that the value of existing viable roof coverings are being discounted too readily. This not only impacts the cost of claims through unnecessary roof replacements, it also leads to the conclusion that the effected roof type isn’t providing its primary purpose, which is preventing water intrusion. This underappreciation of an existing roof covering’s value is also leading to premature roof replacements at the owner’s expense at the behest of insurers. Regardless of who pays for it, condemning viable roof coverings is a waste of material, qualified installers workmanship and the energy used to create, transport and provide a roof system. It also generates an incredible amount of waste that ends up in landfills. It also does not take into account a sizable portion of the purchasers’ initial investment. Finding value in resilient roof coverings that provide longevity and a fair return on the owner’s investment is something we should all agree with.
Unfortunately, our industry does not have access to a similar facility that can provide wind resistant testing performed on full scale structures. IBHS uses their facility, which is funded by the insurance industry, to perform testing that insurers see as most advantageous to address their concerns.
Another reason for our trip was to discuss recent code changes that led to strengthening requirements for tile underlayment. These changes were made to enhance the overall wind resistance performance of the roof system as well as providing a secondary water barrier that is resistant to design windspeed storms. Those involved in producing the FRSA-TRI Florida High Wind Concrete and Clay Tile Installation Manual concluded that based on currently available information, having underlayment manufacturers list uplift resistance in their product approvals is prudent. We presented that position to the Florida Building Commission who concurred and incorporated it into the new Florida Building Code 8th Edition. There were others who spoke during code modification hearings who felt that some lower resistance was sufficient.
We understand that we don’t have the information that a comprehensive full-scale testing would provide and that both positions have merit; however, we felt that until we had a justification to lower resistance, it was prudent to use a more stringent approach. We hoped to explain why this type of testing could benefit not only the roofing industry but insurers as well. Discussions on the subject were very positive with many different possible methods that could be used to obtain the data needed. Some approaches would use general engineering practices based on small scale testing and extrapolation. However, we feel strongly that full scale wind testing is by far the best way to get to a conclusion that would be acceptable to all parties. Several possible approaches to accomplish this were discussed. IBHS stressed, and we understood, how busy they are with their current list of testing projects. Thankfully, our suggestion that the need for this testing is critical was not completely rebuffed; in fact, a sincere interest in our concern was indicated. We continue to explore possible ways to achieve verifiable tile system uplift resistance information. Until new information is available, we will continue to advocate for the prudent approach and use the best science and engineering principles currently available to us.
Mike Silvers, CPRC, is owner of Silvers Systems Inc. and is consulting with FRSA as Director of Technical Services. Mike is an FRSA Past President, Life Member and Campanella Award recipient and brings over 50 years of industry knowledge and experience to FRSA’s team.