Volume 40,   Issue 4                             April  2005

The NFRC’s Non-Residential Energy Rating and Certification Program:
How Will Commercial Glazing be Affected?
     by Max Perilstein

Editor’s note: This article began originally as Max Perilstein’s bi-monthly “From the Fabricator column.” However, due to the significant effect the NFRC’s non-residential certification and rating program could have on commercial glazing the column evolved into a full feature article.

This article was a tough one to write. While it concerns a subject of which most of the commercial glazing industry has very little knowledge, it could have a very intense effect on our industry. I have literally written 20 versions attempting to deliver an effective message about a program that will become a big part of all of our lives, unless we make our voices heard.

Meet the NFRC
Fellow commercial fabricators, component manufacturers and, most importantly contract glaziers, get ready to deal with the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC). A lot of folks are already familiar with this organization and/or have seen its initials occasionally in a spec, but a majority of our industry really does not know much about this group. 

Based in Maryland, the NFRC is a non-profit organization that administers rating and labeling systems to measure energy efficiency for windows, doors and skylights. Mostly known in our circles as the group that administers the energy rating on residential units, it is now headed to the “non-residential” side or, for more practical terms, the commercial glazing industry. This is a very powerful group. Scary, actually.

The NFRC is made up of a very diverse group of people, some of whom truly do have the desire and drive to do the right thing for the public they serve. In the big picture, however, there’s a lot of troubling issues surrounding the NFRC, and those issues could have an adverse effect on our industry and the public we serve.

The NFRC wants to bring to the commercial side of the business an energy rating system similar to the one it has for the residential side. Earlier this year, the committee charged with developing this system was rolling along quietly, but by the NFRC’s meeting in March, those efforts were slowed thanks to organizations such as the Glass Association of North America (GANA) and manufacturers and fabricators shedding light on the issues surrounding it. The reason for the commercial industry’s objection was due to the fact that they had been allowed little to no input regarding the matter. Thankfully, the NFRC’s board of directors was able to address that issue.

Why You Should Care
By now you are probably asking yourself, what’s the big deal here? Well here are some questions to consider: The NFRC has been working on implementing a rating system based on what reason? What benefit to the commercial glass industry has been shown? Why does the commercial side even need this? Whenever the proposed program has been discussed in magazines or at trade-related meetings the NFRC has said its development is due to a “mandate” from the Department of Energy for a rating system to measure the energy efficiency of the commercial building products. However, when researched, I found no “mandate” on the commercial side; only for residential. Then we were told that the codes were the reason for this program, which, as proposed, could be very expensive and very cumbersome to our industry. Specifically, the NFRC said the IECC and IBC were demanding it. I’ve talked with many people attending NFRC task group meetings, and never once has anyone told me they heard that reason. It also came as a surprise to the many people who attended an NFRC speaker session at Glass Week. The speaker, Jim Benney, the NFRC’s executive director, failed to mention the codes as the impetus. 

And how about this: the minutes from the NFRC’s January 12 meeting—that were to be approved during the Hawaii meeting— (available on their website, www.nfrc.org) offered the following nuggets of wisdom:
“Gary Curtis (current board member) discussed energy ratings and the building code official. Gary noted enforcement was crucial to NFRC’s success …” 

“Chris Mathis (former board member) noted attendees should not discuss minor details at this point but should focus on the bigger picture of rating products in untouched markets for the good of NFRC and the public …” 

You see, the commercial industry is an “untouched market,” so why not jump on in?

Keep in mind, the goal of the NFRC and legitimate energy concerns is the good of the public and, in our case, our public is building owners and developers.

I realize this is not a “Who Shot JFK?” issue, but it is a major issue for our industry. Think about it. The NFRC is trying to implement a system of dubious necessity that will cost glaziers, fabricators and manufacturers significant monies, yet they have shown no real, true reason for its need. If indeed codes are calling for it, why was that not announced and promoted from the beginning? 

A Step Further 
My curiosity about the NFRC got the best of me so I dug into the make-up of the NFRC. I thought about joining the organization so I could get involved and find out what was really going on. At that point, I was amazed by the decision-making structure and composition of a group that holds a lot of our future in its hands. It appears the NFRC is dominated by members from testing labs and consultants from the residential industry. Those testing labs push for more testing. More testing leads to more business. And the best part? A testing lab can join the NFRC as a voting member for just $400 annually Everyone else who joins pays based on overall sales volume, which, for a lot of our industry, could add up to as much as $17,500 (see chart below). In essence, for $400 a testing lab can join this group, develop power in this group, push for more systems and ratings that need its programs and get paid for the work it is doing. Not bad for a $400 investment! But on the flip side a glazier can join, be woefully out numbered by the labs, consultants and residential players, try to have a voice in the process and end up paying through the nose. Why the disparity on the cost of being members—it’s one thing if it’s measured in sales across the board, but surely there is another way of doing it.

This group can make rules, which they will market heavily. They will go to the states and get these enacted and they will go to CSI and AIA and get them specified. Why? Is it for the best interests of the consumer (building owner, developer, etc.) or is it in the best interests of certain members of the NFRC? If you don’t think they will be successful, let’s go back to the meeting minutes I quoted before. The NFRC has a plan that includes a “code official outreach” and “going through states one by one to get the word out” and lastly “new marketing directions—implementation focused, grassroots, rifle vs. shotgun—hitting the front lines.” To me this just reiterates the bizarre nature of this process. Who knows where the possible codes even came from? For all we know it was developed in conjunction with the NFRC, after all it’s the codes that are “crucial to [its] success.” 

A Matter of Integrity 
Further research on the NFRC’s website showed a letter from the council’s chairperson. It states the importance of “Protecting/preserving the integrity of the NFRC ratings and brand.”

How can you show any integrity when the group is rife with conflicts of interest? Our business is to sell or install glass or aluminum. That’s what we do to survive. That is our interest. Do we want to protect the environment? Yes. Do we want energy efficiency? Of course we do. But we also don’t want to have unnecessary, additional costs for policing our industry because it makes good business sense from what should be an independent agency.
Obviously, with a profit-driven testing lab, their interest is creating business wherever they can. Guess what … they have the perfect vehicle. They can push for codes to be enacted, even unnecessary codes, and then go to their brethren at the NFRC and say, “Hey! We can help you develop a program to ‘certify’ these materials. So their business is aided by what was meant to be a non-profit, independent agency. How can any agency call itself independent with all of that in mind? 

I know that this opens up a major can of worms. I realize that by taking on this issue I am opening myself up on a lot of levels. However, my desire is to protect and represent my industry; the industry that my great grandfather joined in 1898. I want our best interests to be protected and not exploited by people who are involved in a very powerful agency with their own personal agenda in mind.

The Costs are High
The initial costs of the non-residential program looked to be very high. Aside from the membership (and unless you’re a lab, remember it’s based on sales, according to the documentation provided to me from the NFRC. See box page 71), there are other costs to consider. Glaziers, who are already at their breaking point as they already have to act as the architect and engineer, will have to take on this program as well as the responsible party.

You can’t even begin to put a cost on the time and effort that will be expended dealing with this process. 

So where are we? What happens next? The NFRC non-residential program is still in its early stages. The NFRC board of directors has stressed that it wants a program that will not be cost-prohibitive but believe me, it won’t be anywhere near free. The people within NFRC who know the IECC and IBC issues will continue to push and push these codes to be enforced and enacted so none of us will have a choice but to deal with it. My goal is to start the process and get our side of the industry interested and fired up. If we must have a program that tests systems, we must have a role in developing it. As a start, it is my opinion that GANA should have a seat on the NFRC’s board. The make-up of the NFRC board (which is completely skewed toward residential and testing labs with only one commercial member) needs to be examined. We must get answers as to why the NFRC allows itself to be compromised by a major portion of its membership. 

What Glaziers Can Do
To the glaziers: step up and contact your fabricator, call GANA, get involved. Unless you want to be dragged by the nose into this fray when it’s way too late you need to get involved now. Seriously.

I will get e-mails from consultants and other members of NFRC telling me I have done nothing to further our cause. Well, that may be, but we as the commercial industry cannot give up or give in. If legitimate codes say we need systems tested (such as Miami-Dade for hurricanes), then we, as a united industry, need to be heavily involved in deciding and working for a fair and sensible plan for the consumers we serve. 

The Author:  Max Perilstein serves as director of marketing for Arch Aluminum and Glass. He is a bi-monthly columnist for USGlass magazine.

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