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Tough new tornado panels take a stormy beating

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UAB's new panels can be retrofitted to existing houses and offer protection from winds of up to 250 mph (402 km/h)
UAB's new panels can be retrofitted to existing houses and offer protection from winds of up to 250 mph (402 km/h)
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UAB's new panels can be retrofitted to existing houses and offer protection from winds of up to 250 mph (402 km/h)
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UAB's new panels can be retrofitted to existing houses and offer protection from winds of up to 250 mph (402 km/h)

A tornado hitting your house is no joke, but it's not always practical to build a shelter just in case the worst should happen. If the thought of jumping into a protective bag doesn't appeal, a new tough construction panel developed at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) could be a good alternative. UAB's new panels can be retrofitted to existing houses or integrated into new builds, and offer protection even in the most extreme EF5 tornado – that is, in winds over 200 mph (321 km/h).

The panels were developed following the 2011 outbreak of tornados in Alabama, which was particularly severe and led to hundreds of deaths. The researchers, led by UAB's Uday Vaidya, PhD of UAB's Department of Materials Science and Engineering, worked with specialist firms Storm Resistant Systems and Cooper Structural Engineers to develop the panels.

You could think of the new panels as being somewhat similar to a standard structural insulated panel (SIP) used in many houses, except they're tough. Like, really tough. UAB's panels meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines, and can withstand a 15-lb (6.8-kg) 2 x 4 block of wood impacting at a speed of 100 mph (160 km/h) without issue.

"During a tornado or hurricane, you get a lot of two-by-fours flying in a home; a lot of debris is picked up, and it can actually penetrate inside a house," explains Vaidya. "People die from the debris that comes through the walls or other things, so we built panels that would resist the debris completely."

The idea is, you would cover the floor, ceiling and walls of a new or existing closet or room with the panels, paint if desired, and thus turn the space into a safe room for sheltering from a tornado. They don't require any protective coating, nor will they corrode over time, and while you probably still don't have the same level of safety you'd get from a specialist underground shelter, they take up practically no additional space.

The panels are sustainable too, and produced from a discarded liner used to wrap offshore oil-rig pipes, that would otherwise be destined for a landfill. UAB reports that the thermoplastic and fiberglass resins and fibers used in the panels are stronger per-unit density than the steel used in many standard shelters, but weigh up to 80 percent less.

The UAB researchers have successfully developed a prototype safe room in Vaidya's house that was designed to remain intact even if the house was destroyed, and they report that this is replicable in other new and old homes. They're now looking to make the new panels available to purchase.

Check out the video below for more information on the project.

Source: UAB

First-of-its-kind tornado panels installed in Alabama home

8 comments
Bob809
Great stuff, how about making the homes destroyed with these panels? I cannot imagine what it must feel like to be in a position many Americans find themselves in after one of these behemoths has struck. Loss of life is far worse than property loss, so why not make the homes rebuilt different, to resist, to allow the wind to merely pass over the homes.
Check out Jacques Fresco's web site https://www.thevenusproject.com/en/ where he has one design that would be a centrally placed structure for people to go to when a Tornado is on its way.
Surely, if a dome shaped home with earth over the top was made in these areas of destruction, people would have more chance of keeping their homes and lives intact? Something needs to be done. Personally, I don't understand the reason for rebuilding the exact same design that just got destroyed. The loss of property, the stress, the emotional feelings from losing so much, over and over.
StWils
How about using the several millions of tons of Poly Ethylene Terephthalate plastic bottles that otherwise become landfill to make a fibre or stranded surface for plywood or OSB to dampen debris projectiles? Houses and all other light construction in hurricane prone areas should not be permitted to be rebuilt without impact resistant panels. There is a reason "Hurricane Alley" is known as Hurricane Alley. As a possibly more affordable alternative could PET or other recycled materials contribute to a house wrap that resists impact and wind attack as well as do the more typical job of a house wrap?
olwrench
As long as contractors continue to airstaple framing, fail to strap down trusses, & fail to provide blowout panels for equalizing sudden pressure drops caused by twisters, tornado struck homes will continue to disintegrate. I witnessed a very small one pop up one corner of a truss roof while swelling the front brick veneer off & into the yard -----in one piece !
kmccune
Have to agree with Bob809,its crazy to construct standard housing in areas were tornados and high winds have struck and why do they allow people to keep building in flood zones?I get the feeling that us commoners are not worth much sometimes.
James Turner
Over half of Alabama was hit with 200 plus tornadoes that day. You cannot say well lets not build in Alabama some of these areas had never been hit some had. North Alabama is like Oklahoma it is tornado alley but still it has few deaths. I have lived in Huntsville for 40 years and been through 5 or so but only one caused major damage to my rental home, at the time I was in college. I was not at home went to help with rescue an seen the tornado that hit my home but would not know to 4 am that my home was gone. Neighbors finally got in touch with me at my parents home they wanted to make sure no one was home because 3 cars were still there but we had 5 cars and two of us were in the two missing, the other person was with his girlfriend at her house and they went in her car. Yes we had several deaths in 1989 but it hit at rush hour and the tornado went down a major road going to the hospital and several Doctor's offices and shopping centers. A lot of the deaths were from people in cars although a friend of mine was killed when his shoe store was hit.
technotard
We are about to bring construction from the 18th/19th into the 21st century. We have already developed a roof system that has taken over 200 mph winds in the Pacific. Oregon has passed basically a one page performance based building code that has been accepted by Washington state. In addition to the wind, per the new code, it must also survive a seismic 7 earthquake while successfully resisting a 150 pound snow load. Per physical and dynamic engineering tests, our about to be introduced transformational interlocking componentized construction system will do just that. As a bonus, because it is C-2-C, following the flood waters receding, you will be able to dismantle the structure, dry it off, and reassemble it in its original or a new configuration. Or move it, including the foundation to a new location. Technotard
kilroy
These panels were developed in 2011. It is not 2015, 4 years later and just now making the news, at least on the Weather Channel? WHY has this great development not been trumpeted far and wide? I searched for FEMA contractors, the UAB storm panels, and the combination of FEMA contractor and the panels and got ZERO returns. Is no one installing these life-savers or is FEMA being so restrictive in its requirements that no one can qualify to be an installer.
Don Duncan
Since the fifties I have wondered why people build vulnerable houses. Many technologies exist, some increasing cost 20%, some not. Even for 20% more it's life insurance. And it never expires. The added value is sellable.
With these new low cost panels, I expect to see retrofit businesses.
And why all those "weak point" windows instead of skylights? Plan ahead people!