Window Safety Touches Many Stakeholders

Rich Walker
April 1, 2008
COLUMN : Industry Watch | Codes & Standards

National Window Safety Week, scheduled for April 23-29, focuses on family safety by educating caregivers about taking a balanced approach to window safety, considering both the danger of children falling from windows and the benefits of windows as emergency fire exits. This education event is organized by the National Safety Council's Window Safety Task Force, an industry coalition comprised of representatives from the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, the Window & Door Manufacturers Association, the Screen Manufacturers Association and the National Association of Home Builders.  As this effort approaches its 10th birthday, we can look back over the intervening decade and see how these window safety concerns now seem somewhat nostalgically simple. 

Of course, preventing falls and providing emergency exits are as important as ever and deserve continued efforts at public education. The task force's Window Safety Week is timed to coincide with spring when homeowners are again opening their windows.  The Window Safety Task Force has also made educational materials available to help consumers learn about the potential risks of window falls in the home, and how to reduce those risks. The recommended safety measures are provided in a Window Safety Kit- tips, which contains a checklist, brochure and activity book. It is readily available on NSC's web site at www.nsc.org/aware/window.

Since the formation of the Window Safety Task Force in 1997, safety considerations as they relate to windows have expanded within AAMA's scope from the initial fire egress and fall prevention issues to encompass a number of things that were not present on the radar screen at that time. These considerations include:

Forced entry resistance:  While not a new concept within the last 10 years, this is an important safety aspect that gets little attention but should not be forgotten-especially for dwellings in high-crime areas.  Tests to verify hardware and frame integrity when subjected to attempted prying or forcing are part of AAMA product certification requirements.

Impact resistance: In recent years, devastating hurricanes have given rise to efforts to require stronger windows in homes located in coastal hurricane zones. Studies show that most window breakage during major storms is caused by impacts from airborne debris, not by wind pressure alone. Furthermore, when an opening is penetrated by flying debris, the resultant highly pressurized air inside the building can blow off the roof and cause the collapse of the entire structure-a safety hazard of the highest order. A solution is to use hurricane-resistant windows, which feature laminated glass, a strong framing system and appropriate sealant that together must resist both the structural and impact loads. States in these zones are busily adopting new code requirements and test standards to protect buildings against debris propelled by hurricane-force winds. Some localities, notably Florida's Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, have gone beyond the I-codes to specify even more stringent requirements.
 
Water penetration resistance: The advent of product liability lawsuits over physical damage and (allegedly toxic) mold infestation some five years ago, as well as recent hurricane damage, has promoted interest in preventing water penetration through the entire wall system, including windows.  Still more studies show that water penetration from heavy wind-driven rains happened more often than expected, leading to interior water damage that could have been prevented. Window manufacturers are paying greater attention to performance standards for water resistance and to installation practices. Recommendations likely to find their way into codes include required testing and rating of mulled assemblies and enforcement of prescribed installation requirements, including full-perimeter flashing versus head-only flashing.

Blast resistance: In the "new normal" following 9/11, AAMA's Blast Mitigation Task Group is developing a Voluntary Guide Specification for Blast Hazard Mitigation for Fenestration Systems. The guidelines are intended to educate the design community on blast hazard mitigation and allow them to specify fenestration systems for buildings that may be subjected to various levels of blast load. Some companies have recently announced lines of blast-resistant products designed to prevent injuries and fatalities of occupants under defined blast criteria. 

Balancing trade-offs
The solution to the mitigation of such hazards is not always as straightforward as it may first appear. Regardless of the unquestioned value of life safety goals, addressing them often introduces trade-offs that form the crux of disagreement among various stakeholders. The fall-prevention versus emergency egress trade-off is but one example. All hazard mitigation efforts have implications for energy efficiency and affordability. The solution to one problem often proves to be the gateway to another. Code or other regulatory provisions can become counter-productive, proprietary (favoring a single product, frame type or material) or unnecessarily restrictive of glass area in a structure. 

Please join AAMA in balancing window safety and emergency egress by observing Window Safety Week on April 23-29 and ordering a free Window Safety Kit at www.nsc.org/aware/window. You may also call the National Safety Council at 1-800-621-7619, please use product number 00006-6210. Those interested will be asked to pay applicable shipping fees.

Rich Walker is president and CEO of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, 847/303-5664, rwalker@aamanet.org.