Wind and Water Issues Top FMA Agenda

Association Meets in Florida to Talk Green Liability, Changes to Wind Map, Hurricane Simulation Study
Christina Lewellen
April 3, 2009
Meetings & Events | Codes & Standards, Markets & Trends

FMA members gathered last week in Cocoa Beach, Fla., for the assoication's annual spring conference.

Cocoa Beach, Fla.–In addition to a challenging economy and a depressed new construction market, manufacturers and suppliers in the Southeast region of the country have some additional balls to juggle with changes to the hurricane wind zone map, specialized installation techniques and water penetration issues. The Fenestration Manufacturers Association discussed these topics and more last week at its annual spring conference, held here this past week.

Despite the fact that most companies in the industry are scaling back travel and meeting participation, the FMA event was well attended. The association decided to combine its two annual meetings into one event to alleviate hardship for its members. As a result, the agenda covered a lot of ground, touching on a range of topics with which members are likely to deal this year. “I think we imparted a lot of great information,” says Dick Wilhelm, executive director of FMA.

Like many manufacturers across the country, Southeast producers and those serving the Southeast region are discussing many of the pertinent topics in the industry, including the status of Energy Star criteria, the Stimulus Bill tax credits and green building practices. But special considerations and extreme weather conditions of the area, particularly in Florida give the association some specialized topics to cover as well.

The 2010 version of ASCE 7 could include significant changes to the Florida wind speed map.

Robert Amoruso, an engineer with PTC Engineering, Rockledge, Fla., reported to attendees some potential changes to the state’s wind speed maps that could take effect in the next couple of years. The American Society of Civil Engineers Standard 7, also known as ASCE 7, guides coastal builders and designers by laying out the rules for wind-resistant design. It is incorporated into the International Building Code, from which the Florida Building Code is derived. The proposed revamp of the map looks cleaner on paper, but could push requirements for coastal building design up a notch, Amoruso pointed out.

Amoruso contends that manufacturers should keep an eye on ASCE 7 as it develops so the upgrades don’t catch them off-guard. Still, he points out that making changes and getting them incorporated into the actual building codes takes time. “It will take years for this to take effect,” he noted.

WIND-DRIVEN RAIN UPDATE
Cory Salzano and Carlos Lopez, two graduate students from the University of Florida’s civil and coastal engineering program gave FMA attendees an update on the wind-driven rain study led by  Forrest Masters. Salzano investigated the performance of various installation practices, comparing exterior water barrier and drainable systems for windows and window installations, and Lopez aimed to establish performance benchmarks for existing testing standards used in the window industry.

Salzano studied the performance of 18 laboratory test walls to see how they stood up to standardized water test methods and the university’s massive hurricane simulator. He evaluated two installation approaches—the exterior water barrier method, which attempts to seal water out, and the drainage method, which is designed to manage water intrusion through the window-wall interface and redirects leaks that do occur to the drainage plane. Wood-frame construction with various drainable facade systems ("drainable wall systems") and concrete masonry unit walls with surface applied stucco ("barrier wall system") were tested and compared. In addition to installation method and the type of wall, the lab walls were unique combinations of window styles, flashing, and sealant systems. His research found that the drainage installation approach is best suited to wood-frame construction "drainable wall" types and the barrier installation method performed best for surface barrier CMU walls. “The most effective water penetration resistance occurred when the installation option and the wall system employed a consistent moisture management system,” Salzano explained.

While the study is just that—academic research with no direct impact on current standards or test methods—it was noted that the window units used in the University of Florida study validated FMA’s installation protocols and in general showed leakage only when pushed beyond normal testing conditions. “They tested the units to failure, pressures that exceed realistic exposure expectations,” explained James Katsaros, FMA installation committee chair. "The fact that many of the units did not show leakage at all, even at these high pressure exposures, is an indication of excellent performance."

Lopez’s research used the hurricane simulator to compare the peformance of various window types as tested with existing industry testing methods under simulated storm conditions. He studied the performance of windows exposed to static testing, cyclical testing and dynamic loading. Among his findings, he highlighted that “static testing more accurately indicates areas of the specimen that are prone to leaking.” Lopez defends his thesis in May and will involve FMA members in the review process.

As the University of Florida program continues under Masters’ helm, future areas of research will include a thermal aging process to see how a specimen performs after simulated environmental exposure and, given that wall units in the current studies were carefully reused, destructive testing to allow researchers to view the actual leakage paths within the installation and window unit.

GREEN LEGAL
Fenestration lawyers David Toney of Adams & Reese, a Houston, Texas, law firm, and Paul Gary of The Gary Law Group, Portland, Ore., reported that the economic crisis has resulted in cases coming their way that would have never made it to a lawyer’s hands in normal growth periods. They both attribute the uptick in cases to the likelihood that window and door companies are laying off some of their more knowledgeable and experienced employees—situations that would have been quickly remedied in the past are now resulting in lawyers and courtrooms. “In general, I’m seeing stuff on my desk that I never would have seen five years ago,” Toney said. “You have to keep your warranty folks on customer service duty to keep the lawyers out of the courtroom.”

The lawyers also had some advice for FMA attendees regarding green building claims. As the general public, building owners and developers are increasingly accepting green building practices, and as building codes around the country are calling for green certifications, lawyers are swarming onto the scene, Toney reported. In fact, he said that about 100 law firms around the country boast LEED-accredited professionals. “I think this is changing the standard of care,” he said. “Did you guarantee in your contract that you’re going to hit [LEED] gold? The manufacturers will get pulled into these suits.”

Toney also explained that a study conducted by a jury consultant that works for his firm revealed that about 78 percent of those surveyed would opt for additional government regulation of the chemical, manufacturing and construction industries. Most people also perceive companies as having endless resources to deal with legal issues, he said. “Companies are held to a higher standard than individuals,” he noted. “Keep that in mind about where we start from [with the jury pool] when we go into these lawsuits.”

Gary believes green issues are bubbling up and will likely surface in a big way in the near future. The public is beginning to question and challenge the claims made on a range of products, from refrigerators to energy-efficiency light bulbs. “I think you’re going to see these things blow up,” he said.

The key to prevention, Toney says, is including green-related clarifications in company brochures and warranty documents. This includes language indicating that window and door products are not guaranteed to help the buyer achieve a certain level of LEED certification. “To the extent you’re able to shape your customers’ expectations in a contractual document, do so,” he said. “Don’t leave it up to Joe Public to decide who assumes the risk [for attempting to achieve green certification].”

The conference also included a roundtable discussion featuring green custom homebuilder Greg Hardwick of Hardwick Construction, an entertaining presentation on generational differences in the workplace by Jeff Brainard of Catch Your Limit Consulting, and a presentation about water management in stucco applications from Don Pilz of Cemco Steel. The association’s next meeting will be April 2010 at Hawk’s Cay on Duck Key in the Florida Keys. For more information, visit www.fmausaonline.org.

Contact Christina Lewellen, senior editor, at clewellen@glass.org.