Volume 40,   Issue 12                      December  2005

Issue @ Hand

Fair Play

In this issue, we devote a large number of pages to the National Fenestration Rating Council’s (NFRC’s) work to develop energy ratings and testing for the non-residential sector (see page 12, and pages 58-61).

It’s a topic to which we’ve given quite a bit of ink in the last few months.

Since absolutely no one, anywhere, thinks the idea of having some energy performance criteria for commercial buildings is necessarily a bad one, what’s the issue? And why have we devoted so much space to it?

There are two main issues—one of content and one of process. The first has to do with what the rating system will actually encompass. There are many different ways to achieve an energy rating system. In general, the more traditional members of NFRC (representatives from testing labs, energy officials, etc.) have favored an approach that requires a good bit of testing to ensure compliance. The plan, as now proposed, would require testing of each component of any system (including glass, spacers, framing, etc.), followed by validation of that testing by an independent NFRC-sanctioned agency, and another test (or jobsite review) of the finished product by another NFRC-sanctioned agency. And when I say testing I don’t mean manufacturer’s testing or modeling, I mean testing by a laboratory with the associated time and resource costs. In fact, Max Perilstein of Arch Aluminum, who was one of the first aluminum manufacturers to sound the alarm about the situation, estimates an additional $1,000-$2,500 in cost per floor of constructed structure.

You may ask what’s wrong with this anyway and won’t our industry just mark up the cost and pass it along? Well, sure I guess so, in much the same way as it now marks up its safety compliance costs, minority program costs, hazardous waste program costs and “green building” compliance costs. Is there any contract glazier out there who feels like they successfully recoup all these costs? Are there glass manufacturers and fabricators who want to test every single piece of glass they make separately for energy compliance? 

And then there is the added burden of the burden itself. Members of the task group are engaged in a game of “hot potato” when it comes to the issue of responsibility (read: liability). Just imagine the first enterprising building owner who decides that the building is not meeting the energy rating for which it was tested. Who has the responsibility? The glass industry representatives on the task group believe that responsibility lies with the design professional. The more traditional members of the task group believe the responsibility of the glazing professional. And what’s the remedy for this? Lawsuits? Increased retention until energy ratings are achieved? The implications of the plan are far-reaching for our industry.

The second main issue (and actually the more serious one) is the issue of due process. The NFRC has conducted its business in some very unusual ways. It has different categories of membership, for example, with explanations of what type of member belongs in each category. For example, when Stan Smith, executive vice president of the Glass Association of North America, tried to run for the board of directors, he put himself in the category that the NFRC rules say includes “trade associations.” Seems pretty logical to me, as that is exactly what Stan’s organization is. Yet the NFRC brass, on their own, decided Stan belonged in the category called “fenestration suppliers” instead, which had a whole lot more candidates. This would have made Stan’s chance for victory, and our industry’s chance for increased representation, pretty slim. NFRC has defended this action, and continues to do so in this issue. You can judge for yourself if you think the explanation of these actions is sound.

There have been other problems, too. The lack of written minutes, the lack of recorded votes, the fact that, as NFRC executive director Jim Benney told me “most of the real work takes place in the meeting breaks when people get to talk one-on-one,” can all be problematic. I don’t believe our industry would have much of a problem with whatever the content of the rating system is developed, if it feels it has been developed during a fair and open process.

I would like to offer a possible solution. The content issue will solve itself if the process is fair. I suggest the task group (at press time, the task group was being disbanded to make way for its reincarnation as a subcommittee) or whatever the entity is called, use the ANSI process for standards development to develop its rating system. The ANSI process has been proven time and again to be one of fairness and openness. It is designed to keep the standards development in an impartial and even-handed way. By the time a standard has been approved through the ANSI process, it has been vetted and re-vetted and has allowed comment from anyone, followed by resolution.

I am not suggesting the ratings system be an actual ANSI standard—though it could be—I am suggesting that the same process followed in those standards development be followed here. The glass industry could have no quarrel with anything developed after such a fair and open process into which it has had input. And I would expect the traditional members of the NFRC—the testing labs, energy and code officials etc.—would welcome such a process that ensures fairness and helps get the job done. Through this method, members of the general public can even be involved—and further enhance the NFRC’s role as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit entity that serves the public. Then we’d have a rating system everyone, everywhere, could embrace without hesitation.
Our entire staff wishes you and your family a wonderful Christmas, happy Hanukah and a great and prosperous New Year. I don’t say often enough how much we love working for you and how appreciative we are of the great people in this industry we get to serve.

On to ’06. 

Happy New Year. - Deb 

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