Volume 7 Issue 6 June 2006
The Rate Debate
Following the Advice of Thoreau
by Jim Benney
More than 100 years ago, Henry David Thoreau offered his famous advice to humanity: “simplify, simplify, simplify.” Today, the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) is taking Thoreau’s advice to heart.
Like many other fenestration-oriented associations, NFRC deals with some highly technical, complicated stuff. Just because we debate, discuss and decide complex matters, though, doesn’t mean that using our programs and procedures to rate and label the energy performance of fenestration products needs to be complex too. In fact, in order to be successful and to serve the widest possible audience we need to make our rating and labeling system as easy and straightforward as possible.
We’re doing that in two important ways:
1) We’re communicating with our external customers much differently than we communicate with ourselves. It seems obvious, but we need to remember that people who use NFRC’s ratings to make informed product choices or to verify code compliance are not fenestration engineers.
2) We’re looking for ways to streamline our rating and labeling system and the procedures and processes that support it. This has been a top priority for our chair, Marcia Falke (who as an accredited inspection agent knows full well how difficult it can be for manufacturers to comply with rating and labeling requirements) and the entire NFRC board of directors for more than two years.
I want to share what we have done as a way to show how important and effective simplification can be. Here are just a few examples:
• When NFRC launched its rating and labeling system, we required two physical tests to verify simulated ratings. Since then simulation techniques have improved dramatically, and last year we reduced the required number of physical tests to one. As we contemplate changes to our recertification program, we are examining whether or not simulation techniques have advanced to the point where no physical test will be necessary.
• It may seem superficial, but the specific words we use are important. Our program documents often incorporate the many edits and changes that occur as they move through our subcommittee and committee process. They often become bulky and cumbersome; in other words, just plain hard to read. So we’ve hired a technical editor to review all of our written documents to eliminate superfluous information and to make them easier to read, understand and use.
• We’re taking full advantage of the Web. By moving much of our business online, we’ve been able to cut the number of membership meetings that we hold from four to three. This saves our members money and time and makes us more productive as well. Our website, completely revamped less than two years ago, allows us to conduct more work over the Internet, including task group meetings, discussion boards, document management and meeting registration.
• As part of our Internet upgrades, we have overhauled our database. These changes streamline data entry for our Inspection Agencies (IA) and offer a much better tool for everyone who wants to use it to search for product ratings. We’re working now on phase two of the overhaul, which will expand the number of data fields and allow for more comprehensive product and rating searches.
A Special Focus on Participants
This is an impressive, though not quite comprehensive, list, and we’re far from finished. Our members and participants have recommended a wide range of additional simplification measures that are now under consideration. These include reducing testing requirements for each product line; reducing duplicative simulations; improving and simplifying grouping rules; analyzing NFRC’s relationship with IAs and labs in light of new, simplified procedures, and replacing manufacturer testing (to validate simulations) with a comprehensive NFRC sponsored testing program.
We’re open to suggestions from all our customers. If you have recommendations for other ways we can simplify, please let us know. All we ask is that you keep your recommendations, well, simple.
Jim Benney serves as executive director for the National Fenestration Rating Council.
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