Volume 12, Issue 9 - November/December 2011

Guest Column

On the Threshold
Entering a New Era in Exterior Doors
by Jim Meeks and John Westfall

Doors and windows always seem to be categorized together. They share trade magazines, trade shows and even showroom floors at times. From an outside view the industries seem to go hand-in-hand, but they actually diverged years ago when the North American Fenestration Standard (NAFS) was enforced for windows, but not doors.

Over the years, regulations have driven innovations in the window industry as companies have been forced to design and build better, longer-lasting products. On the other hand, the exterior door industry has gone off in a completely different direction. After all, why build high-performance products when no one is forcing us?

Currently, exterior door technologies that block air and water infiltration and promote energy efficiency are considered nice to have, but the lack of regulations has created an industry that is driven more by reducing costs than increasing performance. In today’s current market, the prevailing attitude is that door components are interchangeable, therefore, design decisions often are made by a purchasing agent rather than a design engineer.

All of this might sound a bit harsh because there are producers building high-quality exterior door products out there; there has just been little incentive for the entire industry to make the shift. In many ways, the industry has been driven backward instead of forward. That is about to change.

No Longer Exempt
In 2012, pre-hung door manufacturers selling into the Canadian market will encounter a game- changer that will likely impact the entire industry one day.

Canadian building codes will require that any fabricator selling into the Canadian market adhere to marking specifications and have all exterior door products third-party tested to meet minimum performance levels outlined in NAFS-08. These test areas will include: positive and negative design pressure, water penetration resistance, Canadian air infiltration/exfiltration and forced-entry resistance.

To comply, a shift in the way pre-hung exterior doors are designed will be necessary. No longer will the industry be componentized with products pieced together based on price. Rather, fabricators will need to look at the entire door system, including all materials and components, and the way they work together to meet performance requirements.

Moving Forward
In the window industry, certification requirements permanently changed the market landscape. Those lumberyards and mom-and-pop shops that built windows as a side business had a tough decision to make—go through the time and expense of upgrading designs and certifying, or outsource window fabrication. Most opted to leave window making to the window-making experts.

Immediately in the Canadian market, these small, “one-stepper” shops will be faced with the same decision when it comes to exterior doors. Will the door market go the same way as windows with smaller shops outsourcing to larger regional and national door specialists?

That remains to be seen, but there is one thing for sure. Now that the ball has started rolling in Canada, the entire exterior door industry in North America will be affected eventually. The industry will become more “windowized,” forcing fabricators to improve their designs and create better performing, longer-lasting products. So why not start now?

Jim Meeks (pictured above) and John Westfall serve as engineering manager and business development manager, door and window components, respectively, for Quanex Building Products.


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