• Field Notes 09.12.2009

    Just a quick word to our friends at Arch: none of us like to have our laundry hung in public. But we’ve all been there. Hang in there, the cream rises to the top. At least from this limited perspective, the old adage of “When the going gets tough…” applies. Hopefully we’ll soon see a tougher Arch, then watch out!

    Thus, on to more mundane matters. When an earthquake occurs at sea, one of the things scientists are getting better at predicting is the resultant tsunami that may occur. Until the tsunami reaches the shore, it is virtually invisible. But when it arrives, there’s no doubt that it’s real, and it becomes devastating. Same with an earthquake on land – we don’t know it’s coming until it hits, and when it does, hold on for dear life.

    One tsunami that’s coming is the NFRC certification program that’s about to roll out and be required in a limited number of states come 1 January 2010. It’s out there, it’s virtually invisible to most of us in the industry, but when it hits shore on New Year’s Day, the implications are really scary.

    One, as an employee of a frame manufacturer, we have products we want to include in the NFRC database so our customers can get NFRC certifications on their projects. So making the people at NFRC mad at me has some implications.

    Second, as I said when I wrote a letter to the editors of the glass mags back in July, I think a rating system to verify/certify the actual thermal performance of site-built curtainwalls is a good thing. With energy concerns becoming a larger issue, why not provide products to assure that?

    So what’s the dilemma with NFRC? There are too many open issues, and the wave is about to come ashore. For example:

    1. Curtainwall U-values are based on an 80” x 80” test window, which is somewhat arbitrary. And, currently, there are no provisions for testing the actual window sizes of any given project. The resulting U-values from the test window may or may not be higher or lower than that of an actual wall when installed onsite. For example, the ratio of glass to frame, when the glass is significantly larger, improves the U-value. If a window doesn’t test out at the 80” x 80” requirement, the certification cannot be obtained, but an actual window as built onsite could model out to be better than the tested window.

    2. Ambiguities exist as to who the role players are: 

        a. Who is the “Responsible Party” for obtaining the certifications? The Architect? The GC? Or the glazing sub? This has to be defined probably in the contract documentation of a given project. If the glazing sub is designated in the specs as the responsible party, better know what that means. As the certification is going to be required by code, the “responsible party” is not going to be able to duck this by qualifying the bid.

        b. “Specifying Authority:” This as yet undefined entity would be responsible for taking on the task of making sure the NFRC procedures have been followed and hiring independent validating entities, either test labs or 3rd parties, to verify the work of the “responsible party.”

    3. It’s my understanding that none of the glass spacer people have agreed to be part of this process, and have not to date gotten their products “certified” within the NFRC database. This begs the question as to whether or not they are purposely holding back, and I don’t care to speculate if they are. But if the Computer Modeling Approach (referred to as CMA by NFRC) requires the spacer as one of three components (glass and frame are the other two) to be included in the process to obtain certification, yet isn’t in the equation, how does the “responsible party” obtain certification if the manufacturers aren’t going to participate? That’s like trying to buy a car without an engine. 

    4. Spandrel issues have yet to be addressed in the curtainwall. Currently, there is no way to include:

        a. Insulation in the rating/certification program. Does anyone not believe insulation in the curtainwall application positively impacts the thermal performance of the wall?

        b. Spandrel materials other than glass, such as metal panels or stone. So how do you separate out a frame that holds glass and spandrel materials and just model only the glass portion, and how does that verify the thermal performance of the actual wall system being built onsite?

    5. NFRC just announced their election results. And, to date, no one from the curtainwall industry has been able to make inroads to serve on the board. Traco and Guardian don’t count in my book. NFRC was established in response to the residential window market, and they’ve done a great job of bringing a standard set of rules for thermal performance to that industry. But applying that model to the commercial window industry doesn’t work for the real world. We don’t build the same thing over and over again; each project is new, unique and not likely to be repeated ever again. 

    Questions to NFRC come back with answers like, “that’s a known problem and our best people are working on it.” I went to the fall GANA Conference in KC to specifically ask the NFRC representative, who was a guest speaker, and have gotten no additional clarification. When asked about item 1 above, I basically got the answer of, “yes, we know that.” That was the extent of the answer. I gave up asking any more questions after that.

    I don’t know what shape or context this wave will take after January 1. The problem is, it’s not clear where the high ground is to run to. Excluding the certification from the bid appears to be the only recourse, but if that doesn’t get back through the General Contractor to the owner and architect, there’s going to be some subcontractors that are going to have a bad experience bringing this system on line.

    I hope to high heaven I’m wrong. Totally, unequivocally, absolutely proven to be dead wrong on this. Only time will tell. There’s been enough discussion within the industry about this coming, so there are no excuses for any of us. Hang on, the next few months as this comes on line are going to be, in the words of Artie Johnson, “vedy intresting.”

    Posted by Blogger @ 11:31 am

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