Volume 12, Issue 4 - July/August 2008

Final Barrier
Film Still Can’t Get “Passed” the Dade Test

by Les Shaver

In the film world, its probably best described as The Last Frontier. The film industry has been able to do a lot in protecting against fade, cutting down on ultraviolet (UV) light, and even mitigating the damage of bomb blasts. But the Miami-Dade County standards are still one hurdle the industry hasn’t yet cleared and there hasn’t been much public progress recently.

“Officially nothing has changed in the last three years,” says Darrell Smith, executive director of the International Window Film Association and manager for the Window Film Committee of the Association of Industrial Metallizers, Coaters and Laminators (AIMCAL). “Nothing really has changed.”

But that doesn’t mean manufacturers aren’t working on ways to meet the Miami-Dade standards. In fact, they’re working very hard on it. But for film to become more prevalent in hurricane-prone areas, it may take some movement from the jurisdictions that require Miami-Dade level protection. And, those in the industry will have to learn to represent what their product can and can’t do accurately.

The Problem
In some respects, one of the problems with what’s going on in Florida is just semantics. Some people selling film in Florida, mistakenly or not, say it protects against hurricanes. That’s a big problem.

“You have to be very careful,” says Rafael Fernandez, president of Confianza Window Tinting, a Miami-based security film dealer that also has produced a film product. “The term hurricane-proof only hurts our industry. Because we have so many people against our industry, we have to be extra cautious in how we present the product. It can come back on us and hurt us.”

aware of false hurricane protection claims with all products. “In Florida, to call it hurricane protection, you must be able to get an approval sticker,” Smith says. “You can say it helps protect you against glass breakage, but to turn around and say this is a hurricane protection device is a legal fine line the Florida State Attorney General’s office is against. If you don’t have approval, then you really can’t call it hurricane protection in Florida because the state will come after you.”

That doesn’t mean that window film can’t play a role in hurricane defense. When an initial two- or four-and-a-half-pound two-by-four is sent at the window at 140 feet-per-second speeds, it can withstand the blow. It can even withstand the initial blow of a nine-pound two-by-four. It’s what happens after that blow that causes the problem. Unfortunately, Miami-Dade County only measures the nine-pound twoby- four. Since film can’t withstand the cycling after that blow, it isn’t getting that coveted sticker of approval.

“Window film does give a high level [of protection] during hurricane or any kind of high-impact window event, when the window is first impacted,” Smith says. “After that, eventually if there’s enough cycling, the broken glass fragments being held together over time will start to cut and tear the film. Once the film gets cut and torn and it makes a big opening in it, that is a failure.”

But film’s competitors do withstand these forces. “If the storm lasts long enough and there are enough cycles, eventually the film will fail, where the windows and shudders supposedly will not fail when subjected to the same testing,” Smith says.

And everything has to withstand that. “The whole window—not just the glass and not just the frame— has to withstand it,” Smith says.

While Smith and other film industry professionals think this cyclical motion may be “overkill” when it comes to simulating a hurricane, they acknowledge it is the standard they have to follow at the moment. But they insist that film can serve a purpose during a hurricane.

“In terms of retrofitting a [commercial] structure, it’s hard to beat the effectiveness of eight-mil film (both clear and reflective) and structural silicone, for an economical, totally passive protection,” says Kent LeMonte, executive vice president for Enpro, a film distributor in Houston. “Film and a mechanical attachment on large commercial windows are even stronger, but considerably more expensive.”

Economic Woes
Even without Miami-Dade approval, Darrell Smith, executive director of the International Window Film Association and manager of the Window Film Committee for the Association of Industrial Metallizers, Coaters and Laminators (AIMCAL), saw a major change among film dealers after four hurricanes blasted Florida in 2004.

“There were people who quit doing solar control film and were 100-percent safety film,” he says. “At one point, I’ll bet it was 20 to 25 percent of all window film sales in Florida.”

Others saw this as well. “[The dealers] went crazy after all of those hurricanes they had down there; business was great,” says Carl Kernander, technical services manager for Madico, a film manufacturer based in Woburn, Mass.

But after a couple of years without hurricanes, things have changed. “It’s probably back down where it normally would be—in the 5- to 7-percent range,” Smith says. “When it got to 25 percent [of business], some people went 100 percent into safety and security film. Now I think they’re back to selling energy control, fade control, auto and decorative films.”

Manufacturers are finding this to be the case as well. “We’re still selling a fair amount of hurricane film,” Kernander says. “There’s no question about that. But it’s not like it was after those hurricanes crossed Florida [in 2004].”

Why have people suddenly quit considering window film less than five years after the Florida hurricanes and Katrina? “Americans have a very short memory,” Kernander says. “It was the same after 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing. Everyone was very conscious about blast protection for a year or two and then it went away. In the United States, people lose their fear very quickly.”

But a short memory isn’t the only reason Floridians have slowed down their purchasing of safety and security film, especially for residential applications. “Florida has been hurt by a number of things,” says Rafael Fernandez, president of Confianza Window Tinting, a Miami-based security film dealer that has produced a film product. “It’s not just that we haven’t had any hurricanes. If you are losing your home, you’re not thinking about window film.”

That’s probably why LeMonte doesn’t list homeowners as one of the big consumers of security films. “Demand is primarily commercial, coming from retailers, banks, hospitals and the hospitality industry,” he says.

Right now, Fernandez is leaning on commercial accounts. “As tough as the economy is, commercial accounts are steadier than homeowners,” he says.

He also is trying to sell the energy savings of his security film. 3M is using the same strategy to sell its security films. “Window film is not an approved hurricane product; it does offer a measure of protection and provides added benefits to consumers that approved hurricane products do not,” says Colleen Harris, a spokeswoman for 3M, a film manufacturer based in St. Paul, Minn. “Safety is just one aspect of the benefits that offers value to customers.”

Working for an Answer
Just because film doesn’t pass the current Miami- Dade standards doesn’t mean manufacturers aren’t actively trying to crack this code. For right now, though, things don’t seem close at all. “No window film meets code, and a breakthrough in technology would need to occur to meet this code,” says Colleen Harris, a spokeswoman for 3M, a film manufacturer based in St. Paul, Minn.

Manufacturers know this and many of them are working feverishly for an answer to the Miami-Dade riddle. “All of the manufacturers spend a great deal of time and effort in research and development and safety is a big part of that,” says Carl Kernander, technical services manager for Madico, a film manufacturer based in Woburn, Mass. “Everyone is working on the next generation of safety film.

Fernandez sees this as well. “I strongly believe that the industry will continue to work harder and get closer and closer,” he says.

But hurdles definitely remain. “The problem with the Miami-Dade criteria is two impacts on the same piece of glass,” Kernander says. “You impact the center of it, which films made today can withstand. But after the glass is broken, it has to withstand the impact in the corner. In the corner, you don’t have any give. You really have to have an attachment system to hold the film in the corner and you have to have a really tough film.”

This problem is especially acute on residential windows, according to Smith. “The only way it really works long-term is to be able to attach the film to the frame,” he says. “On a standard residential window, that’s hard to do, other than a silicone attachment.”

Kernander thinks film manufacturers will also have to find a new form of film to pass the test. “You can’t do it with a very thick film,” he says. “My personal feeling is that it will be a new type of film, combined with the PET we use today. But I think it will be a different chemistry.”

Kernander does think film manufacturers will eventually find an answer to this dilemma. “I’d be very surprised if it [doesn’t] happen eventually, but I don’t see it happening in the immediate future,” he says. “It’s a tough test. As far as a time frame, I couldn’t tell you.”

Meeting in the Middle
Of course, there’s another way film could move into many of the jurisdictions that stand behind the Miami-Dade standards that doesn’t require any technological advancements. It just requires some give from the jurisdictions.

Already Kernander sees some insurers passing different standards than Miami-Dade. “Miami-Dade only recognizes the nine-pound two-by-four, but a lot of insurance companies are starting to recognize the lesser impact,” he says.

Fernandez thinks municipalities could soon follow. “I think both worlds are going to come together,” Fernandez says. “The industry will continue to work with cities and counties and code compliance and will see there’s a need [to change the standards]. The code compliance will be a little bit more lenient, but I believe it will only be in certain circumstances where they are not going to be able to allow a medium missile.”

Fernandez uses Florida statute 117 as an example. “That has a provision for window film in lieu of shudders,” he says. “As they pass the applicable building code on 30 feet [off the ground], most manufacturers have already passed that anyway.”

Why would localities change their thoughts? Fernandez says there’s a class of buildings that approved Dade County current methods don’t help. That leaves film as a solution.

“In South Florida, there a bunch of places where you can’t put shudders,” Fernandez says. “There are a bunch of places where you can’t put impact glass. How do we deal with those people? Do we just say a prayer and get out of there? That’s not fair.”

Kernander sees a need as well. “Safety film is a legitimate product,” he says. “There are a whole lot of people who can’t afford hurricane glass.”

But for the film industry to capitalize on these opportunities, Fernandez thinks it must be proactive and use its successes with bomb blast to sell its hurricane capabilities. “We have to take action and go after the insurance companies and FEMA and other people to show that security film has been incredible for bomb blast situations in buildings,” Fernandez says. “We have to go toward code compliance people and work with them to come to a happy medium.”

Fernandez eventually sees a lot of potential for film in hurricane-prone areas. “We have nowhere else to go but up,” he says. “The potential is awesome. We’re at the tip of the iceberg of what security film can mean to our industry. I see an incredibly strong future and huge potential in security film.”

WINDOW FILM
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