WDMA Summer Meeting

October 15, 2007
Meetings & Events

Cambridge, Md.—With one eye on the green building movement, the Window & Door Manufacturers Association unveiled a new strategic plan encompassing stepped up advocacy efforts at its summer meeting in August. The event also featured speakers covering new research designed to provide better understanding of the effects of hurricanes on windows, the outlook for the housing market and material trends.

Discussing strategic changes within the organization, Joel Hoiland, WDMA president, reviewed a new committee structure, separating technical committees charged with standards and the organization’s Hallmark certification program and advocacy committees, including an already active environmental stewardship group, as well as its code monitoring groups.

The industry has shied away from political activity, historically. As a result, “we can be vulnerable to bad legislation,” Hoiland noted. Through advocacy efforts, WDMA can provide a great service to its members, he continued, reviewing recent events in Minnesota in which the organization successfully lobbied to amend a bill that would have required safety screens in new residential buildings to prevent child falls (since the August meeting, WDMA announced that Hoiland has left the organization).

How individual companies and the association as a whole can respond more proactively to the green building movement was the topic of a panel discussion. Pete Walker of Huber Engineered Woods, chairman of WDMA’s environmental stewardship committee, unveiled a new section on WDMA’s Web site devoted to sustainability issues, reflecting the organization’s efforts to date to gather information and resources.

Walker also noted that WDMA plans to become more involved as an advocate in the green building arena—pointing to the need for industry representation in such organizations as the U.S. Green Building Council. Jeff Lowinski, WDMA’s technical director, also raised the possibility of WDMA expanding upon its current Hallmark certification to cover numerous other “green” issues, such as recycled content.

The green building or sustainability movement covers a whole spectrum of issues, noted Brian Strombotne of Green Builder Media. Window and door manufacturers must look beyond such single issues—like the energy efficiency of their products—to how their company operates as a whole.

Companies need to take such environmentally friendly steps as water reclamation, energy efficiency in their plants, raw materials, emissions, waste management, transportation and packaging. “You need to bring life-cycle analysis into new product development,” he suggested. “What happens when your products have finished their useful life? Do you have a take-back plan?” Suggesting that an overall goal should be a public declaration of sustainability backed by meaningful procedures and processes, Strombotne said, “You need to create a whole sustainable culture” within a company.

Green certification definitely covers a broad range of company practices, not just a product, noted Cheryl Baldwin of GreenSeal Inc. She followed Strombotne, reviewing her organization’s “leadership standards” in various product areas, including windows. GreenSeal, she continued, has been focusing its promotional efforts toward institutional customers to date, but now plans to raise the profile of its green-certification program—which covers a broad array of products—among consumers as well.

Curt Alt of the Composite Panel Association reviewed his organization’s efforts to create a green certification program for its products.

“Wood products by their very nature are green. Composite wood products are very green, because they are made of recycled content,” he explained. “So we have a very good story to tell. The question is how do we get this message out.” The association’s program, he noted, only focuses on product characteristics, such as recycled content and formaldehyde levels.

Responding to one manufacturer’s question about the how to choose between all the possible rating programs and labels that could be put on a window now, Lowinski suggested adding green criteria within WDMA’s certification program would certainly be an option if members wanted to go in that direction. As an organization, he suggested, there’s no reason WDMA couldn’t develop criteria for rating products in the various areas of concern to green customers. “We already have pieces of a green program in place. We’re already in the plant, so we have the enforcement.”

Another guest speaker, Dave Asselin of the Council of Manufacturing Associations, an arm of the National Association of Manufacturers, urged WDMA members to become more involved in the legislative process. “One thing they say in Washington—if you’re not at the table, you’re often on the plate,” he said, advising attendees to try and contact their local legislators—both at the state and federal levels—to make sure they “know your company and know what you mean to the community.” 

Mike Fischer, who serves as WDMA’s representative before code groups and other bodies, offered an overview of issues likely to face the association’s members in the not-too-distant future. The window safety issue is now being examined by a special committee within the International Code Council, and is attracting the interest of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Safety glazing, he continued, has been a dormant subject matter for some time, but may come back as an issue. Pointing to regulations in urban-wildlife interface zones related to fires, he noted that safety glazing is now being mandated in more cases for windows.

On the energy efficiency front, Fischer noted plans within the Department of Energy to strengthen Energy Star criteria. He also suggested that interior products may some day have to be rated for energy efficiency as codes evolve.
Finally, Fischer also predicted more regulations and mandates related to life-cycle analysis and the environmental impacts of products, and increased activity related to air and water quality.

“You’re industry has done a fine job addressing energy efficiency and impact resistance,” said Forrest Masters, a researcher at the University of Florida that studies the effects of hurricanes. “You have this one nagging issue—water intrusion.” How to alleviate that problem through better product design and/or better installation practices is the subject of a program he is working on now with a task group comprised of researchers, product manufacturers, code officials, insurers and others.

Specific research efforts Masters is involved with include the Florida Coastal Monitoring Program. That program includes a team which brings mobile towers to measure wind and weather data to areas just as they are about to be hit by a hurricane. A new element of that program, being funded by the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, is the use of precipitation sensors designed to provide a better understanding of actual rain behavior during hurricanes, he said. A second part of the monitoring program includes homes equipped with a variety of sensors and instruments.

“In the past,” Masters explained, “there’s been a lot of arbitrary decisions made in what we should design for.” The goal of this research, he continued, is to make it possible to “go out and test a product to something that actually occurs.”

The information gained in the monitoring program is being used to develop a new hurricane simulator, which is now being built at the University of Florida. That simulator will eventually be used to test buildings, windows and window wall interfaces to gain a better understanding of how water intrudes into building interiors during a storm, and then eventually provide guidance for designing products that can better resist the heavy rains that come with a hurricane.

Headlines related to the subprime mortgage market “may get uglier, but the damage is over at the jobsite,” according to Jim Haughey of Reed Construction Data, discussing the outlook for the housing market. There are going to be a lot more stories related to defaults, mortgage broker failures and financial institution losses, but, he told attendees, housing starts are at or near bottom, and they are likely to slowly improve through 2009.

The problems of the subprime lenders, Haughey noted, are well documented. What hasn’t been discussed as much—as far as housing market troubles—is an actual decline in the number of household formations, a basic driver of housing. The impact of rising fuel costs, he suggested, is that more young people are continuing to live with parents and more people are sharing places.

Haughey also advised that builders are going to be increasingly cost sensitive. They are facing rising material costs, due to strong global demand for such things as concrete and copper, as well as the weak dollar. Builders are also seeing labor costs rise, as the overall economy remains healthy, even while their market is week.

The world and the construction industry in particular are in the midst of a “materials revolution,” according to Blaine Brownell, an architect and author who spoke at the WDMA summer meeting. “We’ve seen more new materials in the past few years than in the whole previous history of buildings,” he noted, adding, “Architects are very interested in this development.” 

Photovoltaic technologies, including products incorporated into window glass and new product ideas—incorporating mirrored ducts and fiber optics—to bring natural daylight into a building were among the products he showcased using these new materials. He also showed an “Eco-Curtain,” a façade incorporating vertical turbine blades to harness wind power, and suggested that vertical environments in urban settings represent many opportunities for multiple functions.

Materials development is being influenced by new ideas, such as biomimicry, Brownell stated, with engineers and scientists looking at nature for inspiration. A spider web, he explained, is ounce for ounce stronger than anything, and researchers are looking to replicate that strength in new manmade materials.

Other speakers on the WDMA agenda included David Meier, a one-time Toyota manager that has gone on to serve as a consultant and author on the subject of continuous improvement. Surveying the audience, he found many attendees’ companies had implemented lean programs. Surveying them a second time to see how many of those companies were satisfied within their lean efforts, he observed that WDMA’s members were typical of the corporate world—only one in five companies that implement lean end up satisfied with the changes that come.

Many companies, Meier stated, start a program, see some improvement, but then quickly plateau, forgetting that “continuous improvement is a forever journey.” The primary cause of that problem, he suggested, is a focus on processes and not people. “There is a limit to process improvement. There are no limits to people improvement,” he said.

It requires a great deal of work to get people to buy in, train them on problem solving and then continuously encourage them, Maier stated. “The truth about Toyota is that it requires an incredible effort to maintain its system. It’s always a challenge. It requires daily effort.”

WDMA gets down to business next with committee meetings set for December 10-13 in Des Plaines, Ill. Its annual meeting is scheduled for January 27-30 in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. More information about both events is available at www.wdma.com