Following the construction industry and related legal topics in the United States.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Florida Researchers to Huff, Puff, and Blow Houses Down

The Wall Street Journal reports that Florida International University and a reinsurer (providers of insurance for insurance companies) are finding ways to help buildings survive hurricane season. They have developed a tool, dubbed the Wall of Wind, to test the effects of hurricane force winds and rain on full-scale, low-rise residential buildings. The Wall of Wind is nothing more than six gigantic fans, each 8 feet tall, set in a two by three array. When powered they can create wind gusts in excess of 130 mph (equal to a category three storm). Florida International intends to eventually expand the Wall of Wind to an array of 18 fans with high-speed cameras and monitoring equipment, and install it in a structure similar to an airplane hanger.

The project is part of an effort to change the public's perception of building safety during hurricanes, and to find the least expensive way to shore up older homes and commercial structures (those built before the advent of stricter building codes) against the effects of hurricanes. Specifically, researchers are looking at the performance of roofing materials, roof uplift pressures, wind load on roof top equipment (e.g. air conditioner), and roof to wall connections.

Researchers liken the Wall of Wind to shake table testing, which revolutionized performance-based earthquake engineering, and believe these tests will lead to developments that will cut the number of deaths associated with hurricanes and reduce property damage (about $35.5 billion over the last five years).

Sources: WSJ, International Hurricane Research Center @ Florida International University, Air Currents


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