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NEW YORK - There were more than 7,000 severe hail storms in 2012, creating costly repairs on the ground.

NBC took a look inside an insurance industry's testing chamber in Richburg, S.C. In this testing facility, houses are blown with hurricane-force winds, sprayed with flying embers from "wildfires" and pelted with two-inch balls of ice - which is fired from high-powered air cannons.

To replicate actual hail, which can have bubbles of oxygen inside, engineers use both pure water and seltzer water. The rest is a complicated physics calculation of size, mass, terminal velocity, speed and air drag.

The insurance industry says hail causes $1-billion worth of property and crop damage each year. The Great Plains states, especially Colorado and Wyoming, are known as "Hail Alley" because they receive the biggest hail.

But in Texas, hail is the No. 1 cause of homeowners' insurance losses.

"It's just unacceptable that we are spending so much time and energy and money to replace and repair building materials that really should be able to withstand an injury of an inch-and-a-half hail storm," Julie Rochman with the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety said.

Which is why the insurance institute is firing hail in their testing facility. The question for researchers: How much of the damage exhibited in the test facility could be prevented in the future with newer, more robust building materials? Hail can vary in size from pea-size to golf ball-size to softball-size. The question insurance adjusters often ask is whether the damage to a home is cosmetic or serious enough to let in the rain and the wind.

"We want to make sure we understand the difference between real damage and something that just looks bad," Rochman said.

Because, in the end, all of us pay for hail damage with higher premiums.

There are no hail insurance standards right now, like there are fire and wind standards. This process is all about learning which materials hold up well and which prove too brittle or fragile in a hail storm.

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