Back to Certification Basics

Rich Walker
January 1, 2010
COLUMN : Industry Watch | Codes & Standards

With tightening code requirements for verified window and door performance, as well as the proliferation of requirements for specialized performance targets depending on the job site, product certification is more important than ever for all players in the supply and regulatory chain.

Despite the publicity understandably lavished on energy rating, itself a corollary to the green building phenomenon, it is just part of the picture. Since 1962, AAMA has recognized that a window or door must stand up to the structural challenges inherent in being a building component and has sponsored the industry’s original third-party air/water/structural product certification program.

Based on AAMA-pioneered performance-based (as opposed to prescriptive) standards that provide a uniform, material-neutral basis for comparing different manufacturers’ products, the program has been accredited by the American National Standards Institute for responsible, credible and equitable operation since 1972.

The key point is that a window must first stand up to the structural and durability challenges of its job-site environment before its energy performance can have serious long-term relevance. The Gold Label certification program addresses core construction performance attributes of resistance to wind loading, water penetration, air leakage and forced entry.

Additional optional qualification can be achieved for resistance to impact from wind-borne debris (critical in hurricane-susceptible zones regardless of energy performance), negative pressures and for the performance of mulled assemblies. For energy performance, manufacturers may certify product thermal performance to either the AAMA 1503 thermal performance standard or to National Fenestration Rating Council requirements.

Other specialized certification programs based on AAMA standards include sound transmission performance and resistance to bomb blast. Note that the product performance ratings are based on actual laboratory tests that apply actual loads, rather than computer simulations.

By contrast, other rating programs, while obviously beneficial, focus solely on energy performance and do not address air, water and structural performance. A window or door is a complex mechanism composed of components that must interact properly if the energy performance benefits are to be realized over a long service life. In fact, AAMA alone has always recognized this and emphasized component performance as a key element of overall structural performance and durability.

A basic element of AAMA certification has therefore been the underlying performance standards for the many components–glass, coatings, laminates, screening, weatherstrip, hardware and sealants–that comprise a finished product, and which must be third-party verified as meeting their requisite standards to become part of an AAMA-certified product.

In addition, to be certifiable under the AAMA certification program, polymer-framed windows must be built from profiles that comply with the AAMA specifications for dimensional stability, impact resistance, weatherability, heat resistance, weight tolerance, heat build-up and lead content.

Certification of the durability of sealed insulating glass units–the cornerstone of energy performance and mandated for both NFRC and Energy Star approval come mid-2010–is soon to be an element as well. Together with verified components and polymeric profile certification, AAMA Gold Label certification constitutes a credible, multi-layered, third-party-validated quality assurance program for all aspects of fenestration performance.

The credibility of the AAMA program is evident in the International Building Code, the International Residential Code, state codes and federal agencies (e.g., HUD), which mandate that windows and glass doors must be tested, certified and labeled as conforming to applicable AAMA/WDMA/CSA international standards.

With nearly 300 manufacturers and 9,000 products listed, the AAMA certification program is larger than all other fenestration certification programs combined. Products displaying the AAMA Gold Label account for approximately 60 percent of all certified window and door products sold throughout the United States.

With all the various types of product certification available in the fenestration industry today, there is no need or justification to focus on a single performance attribute. Energy performance–certainly; green credentials–sure; but not to the exclusion of other more fundamental considerations, especially when increasingly sophisticated job requirements demand otherwise.

Rich Walker is president and CEO of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, 847/303-5664,