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September - October 2002

THE RATE DEBATE

Not Mind Readers
Manufacturers—”Tell Us What You Need”
by Jim Benney

Over the last 20 years, manufacturers have brought an astounding array of new fenestration devices and technologies to market. Newer and better low-E glass, self-cleaning glass, window attachments, electrochromics and lots of other cool gadgets and toys.

Of course, a building inspector doesn’t care what’s between the lites of glass or whether the glazing can change from transparent to opaque at the flip of a switch. He wants to enforce the code, which increasingly means confirming that the product meets certain energy-efficiency standards or, at a 
minimum, carries National Fenes-tration Rating Council (NFRC) certification.

To potential window buyers, the add-ons and new features provide a wider selection and better overall product performance. When it comes to energy performance, they still need a way to compare different products on an apples-to-apples basis—and in the case of builders and contractors, to confirm that a product meets code.

NFRC—More Than Windows
As I travel the exhibit circuit and meet with representatives from all fenestration industry stakeholders, I’m often surprised at how many people think NFRC standards and certification programs apply only to companies that manufacture windows. In fact, like other certification organizations, we’ve worked hard to keep up with the industry’s innovations.

There’s our relatively new site-built program, which addresses curtainwall and storefront systems. We have a new door label (see graphic below) to support door manufacturers. We’re also in the process of developing testing and rating procedures for what we call “dynamic glazing technologies,” of which electrochromics is a prime example.

nfrcdoor
NFRC’s new door label is one example of how it keeps up with innovations in the industry.

Most recently, NFRC developed rating procedures for “Tubular Daylight Devices.” It’s a story worth telling, because it points out the pitfalls and challenges involved in getting a new procedure approved—a process in which your company may one day become involved. As is often the case, this procedure grew out of a request from a manufacturer to bring his product under the NFRC ratings umbrella, which brings us to the first rule of NFRC procedure development.

Rule #1: Unless someone asks, NFRC isn’t going to develop a procedure on its own.

Manufacturers will sometimes come to the organization with a new product and say, effectively, “Here, rate this,” to which we reply, “Sorry, we don’t have a procedure for that.” Manufacturers shouldn’t assume that we’ve already thought about their new products and are just waiting to rate them. We’re happy to address all industry needs, but we need to know what they are.

With the request in hand, NFRC formed a task group, and there the proposed language languished. And that runs us straight into the second rule of NFRC procedure development. 

Rule #2: The success of a new procedure depends in large part on the involvement of the affected parties. 

Industry representatives who seek the new procedure must take an active role in its development. This helps to ensure that the procedure receives the proper level of attention and meets all stakeholder needs. Even the folks who come to most NFRC meetings don’t know everything about the industry—and particularly about technologies and products that are often proprietary.

After a number of task group meetings, the U-factor subcommittee considered the proposal for approval. Initial balloting revealed some concerns, which were addressed. The procedure then went to the technical committee and over to the ratings committee, which handles certification and labeling procedures. Ultimately, the NFRC board of directors bestowed its blessing at our last meeting in April. It then takes the system some time to set up the necessary training process and paperwork. So, this leads us to the final NFRC procedures development rule.

Rule #3: Be patient. It takes time to develop a rigorous, accurate and valid procedure. 

This same process currently is underway to develop procedures for attachments, such as window films and screens. Calls for rating other products have begun, including glass block and garage doors. 

In addition, NFRC has been asked to assist in the rating of double-envelope building systems and exotic fenestration systems (such as perforated metal sheets) on commercial buildings. 

So when you think about the NFRC, think about all the new technologies that continue to arise from the industry; and remember that NFRC is there to provide a credible rating for communicating the performance of that technology to your customers. 


Jim Benney is director of education at the National Fenestration Rating Council in Silver Spring, Md.

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