Ask An Expert: How Does Wind Damage Buildings?

Ask An Expert is a question-and-answer column designed to address common questions related to forensic investigation and property damage. Each month we’ll feature one or two questions submitted by you – our readers and customers – and provide detailed, easy-to-understand answers. Email your questions to [email protected] or submit your questions here.

How does wind damage a building? What is wind suction and how does it work?

Shane Conklin, P.E.: As wind passes over and around a building, two things happen.  First, positive wind pressure applies to building components on the side(s) of the building that face the incoming wind (the “windward” direction).  The windward wind load is essentially the force of the blowing wind pressing on the building.  Second, negative wind pressure applies to building components on the side(s) of the building that face away from the incoming wind (the “leeward” direction).  The negative wind pressure is also known as “suction.”  The suction force will be applied to vertical surfaces such as walls, and also horizontal or sloped surfaces such as roofs.  The suction force can be thought of as acting like a vacuum that pulls on a building and its components.

During an event with moderately strong winds, building materials such as asphalt shingles or vinyl siding may displace away from the building.  Sometimes, windows break and the broken shards end up outside of the building.  In such cases, a common misconception held by many people in the construction industry is that wind must have gotten under or behind the surface of the material to “blow” it out.  However, acknowledging and understanding the concept of wind suction can explain how those materials were damaged.  Wind does not only apply a direct blowing force on buildings, but it also induces a suction force.  Depending on various factors, the suction force can be significant enough to cause damage to individual building components or the structure of the building itself.

About the Expert
Shane Conklin joined Donan in 2013 as a forensic engineer based out of the firm’s Chicago, Illinois office. He has experience in the following industries: structural design with light-gauge materials. Mr. Conklin’s area of expertise is light-gauge steel, among others, and his representative project capabilities include roof inspections, foundation issues, impact assessments, water intrusion, structural failures, and more. View Shane Conklin’s full professional profile here.

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