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Island reinsurers back work to weather-proof US homes

It's a tale of two houses, captured on a dramatic video.

Two wooden, three-bedroom houses, side by side, when a 95 miles per hour wind starts raging.

Within a few moments one of the homes is reduced to a pile of debris by the violent gusts, while the other stands firm through it all.

The event was filmed inside a test chamber the size of four-and-a-half basketball courts at the South Carolina home of the Institute for Business and Home Safety Research Center (IBHS). And the violent winds were produced by a bank of 105 fans driven by 350 horsepower motors.

The $40 million facility, located about 45 minutes south of Charlotte airport, tests different construction techniques against hazards such as high winds, hail and even wildfires.

Financed by the insurance industry, including several of the major players in the Bermuda reinsurance market, IBHS conducts research aimed at finding ways to build safer homes.

The backers, which include RenaissanceRe, Ace Tempest Re, Aspen Re, XL Re, Tokio Millennium Re, Endurance and PartnerRe, as well as many US insurers, pay out billions of dollars in property insurance claims for damage caused by weather hazards.

If the findings of the research find their way into state building codes, then a lot of that damage can be prevented, insured losses will come down and so will insurance premiums.

Natural disaster-related losses in the US totalled about $26 billion in 2009 and are expected to double every decade.

Timothy Reinhold, senior vice-president of research and chief engineer of IBHS, was in Bermuda yesterday for a meeting with some of the institute's insurer backers.

In an interview with

The Royal Gazette, Dr Reinhold said the differences between the two houses in the video were based partly on the use of straps, stronger nails, staples for roof sheathing and a door that opened outwards instead of inwards. So what was the cost difference?

“If you're building from new, there would be a cost difference of about $3,000 between the houses,” Dr Reinhold said. “The house doesn't look any different, so people can't see the extra value, but it will survive an event much better.”

The IBHS hopes to create demand for the safer methods and encourage states to incorporate them into their building codes.

The video, which has been shown on NBC's Today programme, as well as CBS and CNN, among others, is part of the institute's campaigns to raise the appreciation of the value of the safer techniques, in order to stimulate demand. Dr Reinhold is hoping the visual impact of the video will help to do that.

“Builders are not going to spend the extra unless people are willing to pay for it, so there has to be demand,” he said. “The IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) have managed to create demand for safer cars through showing videos of car crash tests. We're hoping that we can create demand for safer homes with our videos.”

IBHS is able to simulate many kinds of weather hazard that lead to building damage, including category one, two and three hurricanes, thunderstorm frontal winds, wildfires and hailstorms. Various droplet-size rain, hailstones, burning embers and other kinds of debris can be introduced into the wind stream through a series of ducts in the test chamber.

Dr Reinhold said he was meeting with IBHS members and funding companies yesterday to update them on progress made.

Tale of two houses: One house collapses, the other stands strong, in the powerful winds generated by fans at the IBHS, a US facility partly funded by Bermuda reinsurers.

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Published December 08, 2010 at 1:00 am (Updated December 09, 2010 at 2:33 pm)

Island reinsurers back work to weather-proof US homes

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