AAMA and IGMA Review NFRC Commercial Rating Program
Huntington Beach, Calif.—Industry frustration with the National Fenestration Rating Council’s new program for commercial products dominated much of the discussion at the American Architectural Manufacturers Association and Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance meetings held concurrently here last week.
A Possible Alternative
Within the AAMA meetings, the discussions centered on AAMA 507, an alternative method for rating the energy performance of commercial products, supported by many AAMA members that manufacture such products. At the recent International Code Council hearings, efforts failed to have AAMA 507 referenced in the next edition of the codes along with NFRC’s system. Stating that AAMA 507 is already used and accepted in the marketplace, while NFRC’s program is not yet complete, AAMA’s commercial and architectural product manufacturers urged the association to try to get the document accepted during the next code change cycle. A motion passed by AAMA’s architectural products council concurred, and urged AAMA to ask NFRC if it would consider making use of AAMA’s methods.
AAMA’s residential window council passed a separate motion, however, urging the AAMA board to move cautiously on this front. On the residential side, the association has a considerable stake in NFRC as AAMA functions as an independent Inspection Agency for the rating council. AAMA members who obtain NFRC certification for their products through AAMA do not want to see the AAMA/NFRC relationship put in jeopardy. NFRC has a clear mandate from the U.S. government and recognition from energy code officials in key states like California, it was noted. If a perception develops that AAMA is opposing NFRC, it would hurt AAMA’s reputation and potentially provide grounds for NFRC to no longer allow AAMA to serve as an IA.
During the last code cycle, the use of AAMA 507 was proposed by organizations other than AAMA. Although AAMA has yet to decide on specific plans for the next set of code hearings, its board of directors responded to the two separate motions from its residential and architectural councils by issuing the following statement: “AAMA reaffirms its commitment to acting as an IA for the NFRC thermal certification program. Within the confines of its contractual relationship with NFRC, AAMA will promote the use of AAMA 507 as a rating method for architectural products.”
In an IGMA session reviewing the latest draft of the NFRC component modeling approach to rating the energy performance of commercial products, as well as NFRC’s first draft budget for the program, Margaret Webb, IGMA executive director, reported that IGMA along with AAMA and two other groups have told NFRC they have serious questions about the viability of its planned launch. While NFRC had funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to get its residential system started, as well as support from the industry, the estimated $2 million cost to launch the commercial rating system across 18 months is currently expected to come entirely from participant fees, she noted. Reporting on discussions between leaders of IGMA, AAMA, the Aluminum Extruders Council and the Glass Association of North America, Webb said there was agreement that the proposed fees would be burdensome to manufacturers, particularly for smaller companies.
Looking at the fees to be paid to NFRC to participate, a number of attendees at the IGMA session highlighted the fact that those fees are only a portion of the cost of actual participation, as they did not include testing, simulation and assorted other fees. A number of attendees also suggested an NFRC rating will primarily be a “duplication of efforts” already undertaken in the commercial market. Others noted that increased costs associated with using the new rating system could actually end up discouraging use of energy efficient products. “Architects can do trade-offs,” one person noted. If high performance products become more expensive, commercial building owners are more likely to look at other building elements for saving energy instead.
Generally, the four associations see NFRC’s plan as “overly ambitious,” given the fact that there is no outside funding and little immediate demand for certified product ratings in the market now, Webb said. The four associations have communicated to NFRC their concern that the large investment NFRC will make in the program makes it somewhat risky for the NFRC organization as a whole.
NFRC’s new program was certainly not the only thing on the agenda in California. In addition to AAMA 507, other potential AAMA proposals for the next ICC code change cycle were reviewed. It was decided that a task group should examine whether to propose expanding references in the code to the AAMA/WDMA/CSA 101/I.S.2/A440 standard beyond windows and sliding glass doors to include side-hinged and/or non-glass doors. That was the eventual goal when those products were included in the standard, but the infrastructure for rating and certifying all aspects of their performance is still in development. The door task group will examine where sufficient progress has been made on that front, among other issues, to see if further code changes are warranted now.
Separately, members of AAMA’s skylight council looked at alternatives for getting more widespread recognition of 101/I.S.2/A440 in the codes for skylight products. Additionally, members discussed concerns about more stringent U-value requirements for skylights passed for the next edition of the International Codes.
An AAMA task group is also examining recent proposals from an ICC committee to look at the potential for secondary latches to prevent child falls from windows. Julie Ruth, AAMA’s code consultant, noted that within ICC there is recognition that the recently enacted windowsill height requirements may not be that effective in preventing such falls, pointing to a number of states that have enacted the latest edition of the code, but decided to omit the sill height requirements.
AAMA also voted to form a new green building committee to better enable the organization to follow activities within the U.S. Green Building Council, as well as the joint efforts of ICC and the National Association of Home Builders, and potentially provide input.
Other developments within AAMA included completion of a new acoustic rating method document, plans to publish a commercial installer reference guide, and completion of a forensic field testing document that will be sent out for ballot shortly.
NFRC’s commercial rating program was not the only item on IGMA’s agenda either. NFRC’s board of directors recently voted to require IG certification as a prerequisite to getting an NFRC-certified rating and label on a product. IGMA members reviewed specific recommendations that IGMA, in conjunction with the Insulating Glass Certification Council, would put forward to NFRC regarding IG certification, suggesting that such requirements only apply to IG units incorporating low-E and/or a gas fill.
Following up on discussions of IGMA’s glazing guidelines for residential and commercial IG units, Tracy Rogers of Edgetech I.G., chair of IGMA’s technical services committee, suggested the organization develop guidelines for the use of capillary tubes. It was agreed by many that recommendations for when they are needed, based on elevation differences between a factory and the job site, unit size, glass, and various other considerations would be valuable.
Also discussed was a proposal to examine the use of the Gasglass device to determine percentage of gas content in a unit in the field. A researcher looking for support and input from IGMA proposed a study that would examine units in the field every day for a year to see if the device is consistent and reliable when there are changes in temperature and other weather conditions, time of day, solar incidence, building orientation and other factors. While the device is effective in the lab and even at the factory, there was agreement among attendees there are still significant questions about its field use and that IGMA should form a task force to look more closely at whether to support such a research project.
IGMA and AAMA business meetings occurred separately in California, but the two groups gathered for social events and luncheon speakers. Providing an overview of purchasing trends in the low- and mid-rise commercial markets, Robert Brockley of Commercial Building Products Magazine asserted that architects are playing a shrinking role in controlling exactly which brand of product a builder uses. One reason for this, he suggested, is that building owners and developers are demanding that architects suggest multiple brands in specifications. Building owners often have a big say in choosing materials, he continued, pointing to preferred vendor lists for retail and hotel chains, but the builder/contractor “controls the lion’s share of the brand selection process.”
Noting the results of a recent survey conducted by his magazine, he said brand substitution occurs 72 percent of the time. Eighty-one percent of the time, it’s the contractor making the switch, and the biggest reason is product availability, Brockley reported. Pricing is a factor, he added, but others such as quality, delivery and service levels are often more important.
Looking at the current market, Brockley noted that 2006 and 2007 is the best two-year period the commercial building market has seen since the early ‘90s. Office demand is very strong now, he said, and the long-term outlook for both the nursing home and school markets is extremely positive, suggesting that commercial demand overall should remain healthy for some time.
AAMA also heard from Jerry Heppes of the Door and Hardware Institute, which represents distributors of commercial hardware. Given the events of 9/11 and more recent, school-related incidents such as the Virginia Tech shootings, legislators and building officials are much more focused on life safety and security issues, he reported. “We’re even on Capitol Hill now. There’s real interest in what we do.”
While much of the attention goes to metal detectors and security cameras, he continued, the crucial role hardware can play in enhancing security while not compromising life safety is being more understood. “There’s a huge change in attitude toward our industry,” Heppes stated, pointing to strong response to recent educational efforts geared toward school safety officials and fire marshals.
Another example of the increased understanding of hardware’s role, he said, are new requirements with the National Fire Protection Association code requiring annual inspection of fire door assemblies. “People recognize when doors fail, people die,” he said, and regulators are beginning to recognize that locked fire doors “are more common than uncommon.” This fall, DHI is launching a certification program for individuals to offer such annual inspection services.
The concurrent meetings of AAMA and IGMA were the result of numerous discussions between the two groups to work more closely together. Although no formal agreement has been reached, Rich Walker, AAMA executive director, said the two organizations would continue to explore ways they can work together to benefit the members of each.
AAMA next meets October 14-17 for its national fall meeting in Orlando, Fla. More information is available at http://www.aamanet.org.
IGMA’s next official meeting is scheduled for January 28-February 1 in Sanibel Island, Fla. Other upcoming IGMA events include its day-and-a-half Preventing Insulating Glass Failures educational seminar, to be held in conjunction with GlassBuild America in Atlanta, September 10-11. More information about those events is available at http://www.igmaonline.org. JGS