In This Issue

What Builds Home Safety? online extra

October 6, 2008
By Vanessa Paris

The Institute of Business and Home Safety (IBHS) is taking a lesson from car crash tests. They’re subjecting test houses to wind, water and fire to find out what materials hold up the best to property perils. Eriesense interviewed IBHS President Julie Rochman to find out more.

Interview

Eriesense: You’re fairly new to the Institute of Business and Home Safety, right?

Rochman: Yes… I’ve been at IBHS for about 8 months now. It’s seemed like a long—but quick—journey from crashing cars at IIHS to crashing houses at IBHS.

Eriesense: Tell us more about this house-crashing. Is it like party-crashing?

Rochman: We’re building the Insurance Center for Building Safety Research so that we can crash houses in the same way a natural disaster would. First, we’ll take full-scale two-story, 2,000-foot homes and let them sit on a cul-de-sac and age, like houses do. Then, we’ll put them inside the building where we can create a Category 3 hurricane with gusts up to Category 4 indoors. We’ll do wind, water, wind and water together, and wind-blown fire, which I’m really excited about.

Eriesense: How soon?

Rochman: Two years from now we’ll be fully operational. We’ll be blowing things down, burning them up, blowing them apart, drowning them—it’s going to be great.

Eriesense: Sounds like Hollywood!

Rochman: Well, we might be working with them. We’re looking into opportunities to work with the special-effects industry to help buffer costs of running the lab. The main idea is to have an applied science laboratory where we’ll look at claims data, look at what’s happening in the real world and replicate that in the lab. But it can be pretty amazing to watch—movie-like. But even more important than the entertainment value is that we’ll work with manufacturers and with builders to try and create a better product and a better building system.

Eriesense: What’s the first thing you’ll test?

Rochman: Our first program will be roofs, which we’ll be looking at for several years. About 95 percent of the times there’s a property loss, the roof is involved. The roof comes off, you’re pretty much out of luck. And the insurance industry replaces about 10 million roofs a year.

Eriesense: Why is home safety more important now than ever?

Rochman: You’ve heard a lot this past spring about flooding. It’s a record year for tornadoes. Plus, we’ve had earthquakes in Washington, D.C., and in Indiana and in Illinois… I mean, weird stuff is happening. We’d rather those events not occur—but when they do occur, the whole idea is to lessen the impact on individuals around the country. Especially since the population that’s exposed to natural disasters is growing.

Eriesense: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about home safety?

Rochman: “Nothing bad is ever going to happen to me or my house.” There’s really nothing you can do to prevent natural catastrophes from happening in the first place, but preparing for a disaster before it happens should be at the forefront of homeowners' minds.

We also hear, “Insurance will cover everything if something does happen.” The biggest mistake homeowners make is not reading their homeowners' policy until disaster strikes, and by that time it's too late. Many people don’t realize that flood insurance isn’t part of their policy. You can buy flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program, but you can’t call up when you see the water heading toward you—there’s a 30-day waiting period. And exterior flooding can happen anywhere.

Eriesense: Does that mean that if my toilet overflows or a pipe bursts, I’m out of luck?

Rochman: Actually, interior flooding caused by things such as burst pipes are covered under most homeowners policies. The average toilet-related claim is $7,000… but simple steps, such as making sure everyone in the home knows exactly where the main waterline shutoff switch is located, can prevent major damage.

Eriesense: What can people do to improve their homes’ resilience?

Rochman: Depending on where you live, the answer’s going to be different. Do you live in a high-wind area? One that gets a lot of snow and hail? Or fire? The answers to those questions will tell you what you should focus on, and we have checklists on our Web site that can help.

Making your home safer against disasters can also make it more marketable in a tough housing market. Upgrades such as installing durable, double-paned windows and making sure they’re sealed nicely and changes that bring your house up to code will increase its value.

Eriesense: How does home safety support today’s green movement?

Rochman: If you don’t build durable construction and a house blows apart, it ends up in the landfill—along with all its materials that could be dangerous to the environment.

Eriesense: What’s the most common question you’re asked at cocktail parties, neighborhood picnics, etc.?

Rochman: “What’s your house like?” They’re wondering, “Are you living what you’re preaching?” And now it’s, “Can I come watch you blow up a house?”

About IBHS

The Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) works to reduce the social and economic effects of natural disasters and other perils through research and advocating improved construction, maintenance and preparation practices. By “building solutions through science,” the Institute provides resources and information for both consumers and small businesses.

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