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Volume 6   Issue 9               October  2005


A Common Occurrence
Third-Party Certification

by Michael Fischer

The use of testing and product approval methods as a means of demonstrating compliance to regulatory requirements and selecting products appropriate for the end user has become commonplace. The use of testimonials as a sales and marketing tool has shifted to the use of independent third-party verification of product manufacturer claims. 

For building product manufacturers, third-party certification to industry standards has become the rule rather than the exception. As Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) rely increasingly upon accredited agencies to provide evidence of compliance, industry sponsored certification programs gain importance within the chain of commerce. 

As the International Codes gain acceptance, the ability of manufacturers to rely upon third-party certification to the I-Codes increases in importance. Streamlining regulatory compliance without the need for separate approvals for different jurisdictions helps to keep the cost of product development under control. It is important, then, that the certification programs used by manufacturers are accepted from coast to coast. 

Manufacturer Involvement 
As new regulatory requirements that affect the door and window industry are implemented, the industry has the opportunity to step up and provide regulators with the means to ensure compliance. The California EPA, for example, is developing rules governing the use of urea formaldehyde used in resins during the manufacturing of some composite wood products. Industry stakeholders are working hand-in-hand with the California EPA to promote the use of third party certification of composite products used in furniture, cabinets and other building products including doors. The Composite Panel Association has taken the position that the industry certification program is the only way that the California EPA will be able to monitor the emissions of urea formaldehyde effectively. With sources of the panels used to build products being found in other areas of the country, and overseas, the California EPA would find it difficult to monitor and inspect plants economically.

Flawed Requirement in Florida
In Florida, however, the state legislature has added additional requirements for third-party certification of windows, doors and skylights. While the code requirements in Florida are similar to the model code requirements found in the I-Codes, product approval is not. The Florida law requires that third-party certification approvals be scrutinized by the contract administrator that maintains the Florida product approval system. 

Third-party programs like WDMA’s Hallmark Certification Program submit applications on behalf of its client manufacturers into the Florida product approval system. The applications are reviewed and processed by the administrator, who then makes a recommendation to the Florida product approval committee. After review by this committee, the application is passed along to the Florida Building Commission for action.

This process is seen by some as an added safeguard for consumers in Florida. In fact, however, it adds little, if any, value. While applications are often held up for administrative reasons and corrections to standards references or other details contained in the applications are made, the cost to the manufacturer—ultimately passed along to the customer—for doing business in Florida is increased. Legitimate applications for products that are part of valid certification programs have rarely, if ever, been rejected because the product itself was found to be flawed or the use invalid. Meanwhile, manufacturers and certification entities spend thousands of dollars to monitor the Florida process and attend and participate in the committee and commission meetings. 

The building products industry has been involved in efforts in Florida that modify the way that the Florida Building Code is implemented. Recently passed legislation changed some code requirements and powers and duties of the Florida Building Commission. Door, window and skylight manufacturers will benefit from further streamlining of regulatory compliance. We hope that in the future, the certification agency label will be sufficient to demonstrate code compliance within Florida as well as in other states adopting the I-Codes. 

Michael Fischer serves as director of codes and regulatory compliance for the Window and Door Manufacturers Association based in Des Plaines, Ill. 

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