WMU studying techniques for longer-lasting, sustainable buildings

Kalamazoo County

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Western Michigan University’s Bronco Construction Research Center is looking for solutions that could help buildings better survive the impacts of global climate change.

The university has the only dynamic wind uplift table in the United States. The vacuum chamber can simulate the changing forces from severe weather events like hurricanes.

The director of the center, Brian Montgomery, says these events are becoming more common.

“Not only is the frequency of these systems increasing, but the violent nature of these systems or the damage … is also increasing,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery says learning ways to improve buildings to prevent structural damage helps protect human lives, makes repairs easier and reduces the amount of waste because a full rebuild may not be needed.

“The current model is build, destroy, rebuild, and many times, it is in the exact same place that the damage occurred, and our model here is to build, sustain, and survive,” Montgomery said.

Building a better roof can have a big impact to protecting the building’s structure, which has some of the costliest repairs.

“In hurricanes or wind events, typically we see that the roof has been removed and a good substantial portion of the damage is done by the pieces of equipment that is destroyed in the process, not by the roof itself blowing off,” Montgomery said.

Research Associate Bilal Alhawamdeh says the testing they conduct is dynamic, meaning it simulates the changing forces in a storm and gives a better picture of how a roof structure will perform.

“Most of the failure during the high wind events happen under a wind load less than the design load,” Alhawamdeh said.

The site also tests more sustainable materials and adhesives that could reduce the carbon footprint of a building project.

“What we’re trying to do here is outside-the-box thinking,” Montgomery said.

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