• Field Notes 16.07.2015 4 Comments

    Over the past couple of weeks, the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) has been in the news again. Some of the people intimately involved in the organization have left, and the July 14 piece on USGNN that NFRC is seeking more industry input is welcome. Surprised by that announcement? I am, too; here’s why.

    Because of the glazing industry’s inattention to thermal specification requirements, we’ve left the door wide open for people to ask how glass manufacturers, frame suppliers and glazing subcontractors are meeting thermal performance.  Most of us were complacent, including me at one time, believing it was enough to meet the center of the glass U-value, and never did anything more to ensure the frame contributed to higher performing walls. The architects and consultants never called us on the wall’s actual U-value, but that started to change with all the attention thermal performance has gotten in the last 10 years.

    Given some obvious holes in the Component Modeling Approach (CMA) process, such as: 1) thermal insulation not being considered in the wall’s U-Values; 2) only vision areas considered for certification; and 3) other materials, such as metal panels, stone, or other glazing substrates aren’t figured in how the NFRC calculates thermal performance, there’s a way to go yet. The foundation is there in the glass, frame, and spacer databases already established. But, before the CMA can be considered universally applicable to glazing, some of these larger holes have to be plugged, or the timetable to plug them has to be increased.

    Some of that stopped when NFRC came on the scene, and we’ve all had to buckle down and dot the thermal performance i’s by ensuring the products actually perform as modeled. None of us should back away from where we’ve come in the last 10 years in this respect. Let’s keep that going. And, I think NFRC can play a role in that.

    What was surprising in the July 14 story was that NFRC “will be reaching out to collaborate” with a range of glazing industry groups.  That’s certainly welcome.  But when did all these trade organizations become their “partners?”

    Because that certainly wasn’t the case when Greg Carney, Tom Culp, and others were trying to reach out to them when the CMA was first being developed. NFRC tried to set up CMA based on their past experience with residential windows, yet the two industries aren’t related, nor should their certification processes be. The biggest difference is commercial glazing doesn’t generally mass-produce thousands of similar windows or curtainwalls year in and year out. On this side of the fence, every job is different. I don’t know first-hand what NFRC thought about the commercial glazing industry back then, but there was certainly a lot of negative reaction, some of which tainted my perspective.

    So if NFRC is now ready, willing, and able to sit down at the table and be one of many players equal in stature in developing an industry-wide, common sense approach that contributes to building an authentic consensus program, then where do I sign up?

    The idea here is to come up with an easily understood and user-friendly program that will draw people to it, that will result in every project in the land using its benefits. Because, when it provides more benefits than it costs, it’ll be a runaway hit.

    The challenge for NFRC will be to be open to adapting the program, and maybe going back and including some of the things the industry requested initially. It’s equally obvious that the numerous recent staff changes aren’t because the program’s been an overwhelming success, and that re-tooling it is necessary. So I ask, “What can we in the industry do to help ensure it succeeds this next go-round?”

    Make no mistake, unless we get back the confidence of ASHRAE, the architects and building owners, we might be on our own in figuring out thermal performance. The CMA has an opportunity to make that simpler, and I hope it succeeds, and am willing to help where I can.

    GANA, NFRC, AAMA and IGMA: all of you have a say in this, so I hope you’ll contribute. And glazing subs, who are the real end users, please jump in, too. You bear the brunt implementing whatever program is developed, you ought to have a say in what that looks like.

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    Last year, I got all twisted up in a blog about a non-glazing company’s attempt to trademark a fairly common glazing industry term, thinking that none of us could ever refer to or use that term (“glass”) ever again. Within a couple of hours of the blog being posted, I received an email from a trademark and patent attorney pointing out the error of my ways. I came to understand that it’s not quite as complex or conspiratorial as I thought it was. Every once in a while I see the same sort of thing, and all I think is, “it’s déjà vu all over again.”

    A couple years ago, Google introduced Google “Glass,” connecting the wearer to the internet through a pair of eyeglasses. Google Glass hasn’t done so well in its marketplace, although glass appears (for the time being) to be doing fine in our world. If you go to the Google Glass web site these days, you get one of those pages that implies there’s more to come, but nothing’s available yet.

    I initially thought none of us would be able to use the name glass again if Google was granted the trademark. The attorney pointed out that like the name “Apple,” now more closely associated with phones and tablets than with fruit, the use of “glass” as a term can still be used by others, but just not as a trademark for a product. The grocery store still sells McIntosh apples (the fruit, not the computer) without fear of Apple suing them for using the term “apples” or “McIntosh” for in-store labels, coupon ads, etc. Makes sense, right?

    In another case along these line, Kellogg’s was so concerned about protecting the sanctity of its mascot for Fruit Loops cereal, Toucan Sam, that in 1995, it sent a protest letter to a band called the Toucans, a four-member group playing Afro-Caribbean music at weddings and festivals. Kellogg’s buried the band in legal papers, but the band didn’t change their name.

    According to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), “A trademark identifies goods or services as being from a particular source.”  For example, when mentioning Corvette, you think Chevy. Solarban, you think PPG, not anyone else. When you mention Silpruf, anyone with any experience in using sealant knows you’re talking about Momentive, you’re not talking about the manufacturer of 795, Dow Corning.

    Using common industry terms and trademarking them is a bit confusing to me. (ref: “Generic Terms Are Not – and Can Never Be – Trademarks”). For example, if one were to attempt to trademark “curtain wall,” thus precluding its use by anyone else in the industry, would such a general name necessarily make customers think of that company? And, one would think that common industry terms cut so wide a swath that surely the USPTO wouldn’t grant protection of the term.

    The legal implications of registering and using a specific trademark almost always requires using a lawyer to assist in the process, to avoid the pitfalls, which seems to be a cost worth bearing.

    And if you don’t use an attorney in that process, I’m reminded of an old anecdote: first thing Monday morning your receptionist calls, saying there are two parties waiting for you:

    60 minutes is here with a camera crew, and they’re asking to talk to you.

    Some attorney is on the phone, and he wants 15 minutes of your time, but he didn’t say what it was about.

    Which one do you chose? Meanwhile, I’ll go back to my day job in the glass curtain wall and building envelope biz. Sure is fun and exciting, isn’t it?

    Happy Birthday, USA! 239 Never looked so good; here’s to many more!

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  • Being a blog writer naturally entails reading other industry blogs. Two recent ones piqued my interest. One addressed what to do legally or ethically about “grandfathered” glass installed before the original CPSC Federal Safety Glazing Regulations (16CFR 1201) were first issued in 1974. The other one linked to a map showing what minimum wage would be required to earn a livable income in each of the 50 states.

    On the first topic, the blogger asked if there’s a legal or ethical obligation to comment about glass in doors and sidelights that doesn’t meet the CPSC standard if the glass in question isn’t in the present project’s scope of work. As I see it, the legalities of the issue have nothing to do with doing what’s needed to prevent someone from getting hurt. So, yes, tell the owner he has glass that someone could fall through and injure themselves. Ethically, they should change it. Document in writing that you told them.

    Even if they’re not legally required to replace the grandfathered glass in some cases, I’m surprised that the building’s insurance carrier doesn’t make that a condition of issuing a policy.

    An analogy: When the FAA and the NTSB determine the cause of an airplane accident, they have the power to mandate changes in airplanes, procedures, or maintenance. Maybe that’s what’s missing here. We know it’s unsafe to keep pre-CPSC 16CFR 1201 glass in a hazardous location, so perhaps our industry should lobby the state legislatures or possibly Congress to get these grandfathered-clause glass situations corrected. They could even allow some time to make the change. Would that work?

    Regarding the minimum wage topic, I recall my first minimum wage job was flipping hamburgers at a national chain for $2.15 an hour. No, it wasn’t a living wage; it wasn’t meant to be. It paid for the usual things for a high school kid: most notably senior prom and a NICE leisure suit. A couple of good summer jobs like that set me up to go to college, which helped me land jobs that paid better (much better) than minimum wage.

    Things have turned so far around that the unemployed take minimum wage jobs to help pay the bills while waiting for something better to come along. Unfortunately, many ended up getting stuck there, thus reducing their standard of living, because nothing better came along.

    And, it’s not all their fault, either. Corporations, in order to reduce their operating costs, often only hire part-time workers because they don’t want to have to pay a living wage and other benefits that come with full time employment, such as health insurance. That was their model for success, and they have a right to decide how to run their businesses.

    I’m not arguing that model is wrong, but what’s gotten lost is there are people working two or three of these jobs, and they’re so dependent on them to raise their families that the need for minimum wage jobs to pay livable wages is coming to the fore. They’re not able to work any one full-time job that might sustain them, so they either cut back, do without health insurance, do without a family vacation, etc.

    The cost of raising minimum wages will be that the price for a hamburger out on the street will be what’s normally charged at the ballpark on a summer night. I’m OK with that, if it’s helping working people working earn a decent living. I know of a regional convenience store chain here in the Midwest that does that, so I’m buying all my gas there. I’ll happily frequent those types of businesses.

    And, I hope that all of us in the glass biz will do that, too, as paying our employees a livable wage is good for business and for company morale. And, it should be shouted from the rooftops when we find businesses willing to do that. Granted, it’s a fine balancing act. But, there should be good publicity for those that pull it off.

    If you’re already doing that, I’ll buy anything from you that my present employer doesn’t already sell, like shower doors or skylights, if I’m ever in the market.

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