Wind simulations reveal what homes can withstand

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As homeowners in Manatee and Sarasota Counties recover from the deadly weekend tornados, a company in Tampa  continues its year-round work trying to determine how to help homes withstand the worst weather.

The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety conducts tests for insurance companies across the country;  the goal is to fortify houses against wind, fire, water and other types of bad weather.

"We're able to basically put Mother Nature in a box and unleash those forces in repeatable, meticulous ways so  that we can test different building systems, both residential and commercial," said Julie Rochman, President and  CEO of IBHS.

In tests conducted in 2010 at the IBHS facility in South Carolina, the company compared homes built to standard codes, similar to those before Hurricane Andrew hit Florida, to those built to stricter "fortified" codes.

During the demonstration, winds were increased up to 100 miles an hour -- similar to a tropical storm and about  30 miles an hour less than the strongest winds associated with the weekend's tornados -- the "un-fortified" home  was completely obliterated, while the other one barely budged.

Rochman told FOX 13 fortifying is a simple process.

"What we like to see in every home in a continuous load path, which means the roofs are tied to the walls, the  walls are tied to each other and the walls are tied to the foundation," she said. "That manages the energy and  the forces of the storm dissipates that energy so that it doesn't tear your house apart."

Rochman said a lot of homes in Florida built after Hurricane Andrew are constructed that way. Older ones can be  retrofitted.

"Here in Florida, where the codes are very strong, the difference between building to Florida codes and fortified is minimal, less than two percent," she said, adding IBHS tries urges homeowners to build to "fortified" standard.

"My hope is that as we narrow the path of storms and increase the quality of construction in this country, that  we eliminate EF-0 and EF-1 damage."

Rochman said homeowners can also purchase fortified manufactured mobile homes.

It's unclear if that was the case for the houses in Manatee and Sarasota Counties that took a direct hit.