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Built to Endure Nature's Windstorms

When erecting a structure, it’s important to consider more than just reinforcing the foundation of the building. Many other building envelope components or systems come into play as well.

A white clad destroyed beach house four months after Hurricane Sandy.
May 7, 2019

In the community of Mexico Beach, Florida, one house stood alone after Hurricane Michael’s devastation. And that’s because the homeowners built it to endure even the strongest of storms by surpassing local building codes, according to The New York Times.

UL Principal Engineer David Stammen is an expert with more than 25 years of experience with fenestration products, such as windows and doors. He explained that building codes are structured to meet the minimum requirements of what can be done to keep a building safe.

When erecting a structure, it’s important to consider more than just reinforcing the foundation of the building; resilient doors, windows, storefronts, curtain walls, skylights, louvers, shutters, glazing materials, and many other building envelope components or systems come into play as well. And that’s where UL can help deliver assurance of quality and performance.

Defending against damage

Damage to building enclosure products can cause big problems. UL tests products for structural integrity as part of UL’s Windstorm Certification, which can be used for acceptance by Florida Building Code, Miami-Dade County and other authorities.

“We shoot a two-by-four at the product to simulate a storm kicking up debris,” Stammen said, adding that large-missile testing means firing wood planks through an air cannon at speeds of up to 35 mph. “Depending on the performance level, we may have to impact it multiple times.”

The capabilities of UL’s Building Envelope Performance Test Laboratories include cycle testing to determine wind load effects experienced by a hurricane event. Test materials are fixed against a wall with wind pressure applied back and forth in a cycle, testing to see if it buckles, cracks or breaks under the applied loads.

“A lot of people think what we test for is to reduce the damage to the products being tested, but the main intent is to not create an opening or void within the building envelope,” Stammen said. “Large wind pressure loads getting inside the house can potentially rip the roof off or create other openings within the building, thereby exposing the interior to extreme rainfall, and that’s what’s going to cost you.”

Related | Hurricane Florence brings out the best in UL employee

The test results can help to assess compliance with building codes, building designs and certification in addition to identifying specific products that will meet architects’, construction companies’, building owners, and homeowners’ needs.

Rain leaking through an opening once protected by a door or window can make a home uninhabitable and require costly repairs; storms are responsible for billions of dollars in loss every year.

Beyond helping manufacturers understand where their products stand, UL’s engineers can field test the products by simulating pressure, rain and air infiltration. Lab tests with full-scale mockups of exterior envelopes can test the entire building system.

By understanding what a house needs to stand up to a hurricane, UL can help keep a home safe and secure, just like the Sand Palace in Mexico Beach.

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