Volume 41, Issue 7 - July 2006


Taxation Without Representation

In April, I attended my first Minnesota Glass Association meeting in St. Paul, Minn. The keynote guest speaker was Max Perilstein of Arch Aluminum & Glass. His topic was about the impact the National Fenestration Rating Council (NRFC) was going to have on the commercial glazing industry, and particularly the glazing contractors. Through earlier conversations with Joel Smith of Arch Aluminum & Glass, and my visits to the NFRC website, this was a subject in which I was interested. As a glazing contractor, I wanted to know not only how this was going to influence how I did business, but I also needed to better understand how this public agency could help us as an industry. 

After reading meeting minutes from the NFRC website, it appeared to me that the NFRC perceived glazing contractors as Neanderthals, forcing me to check if my knuckles were dragging on the ground. Maybe instead we are viewed as uninformed, so it makes us a likely candidate to be preyed upon by a “big brother.” Because I am a product of the Woodstock generation, I tend to rebel when I’m told what to do, especially when instructed to follow the “new” rules. But the NFRC is trying to regulate something that doesn’t need to be regulated. And because our industry is too busy trying to make ends meet, attempting to do quality business profitably, we aren’t paying close attention to new requirements that will be imposed on us without out knowledge or input. 

To glazing contractors reading this letter and wondering what this is about, be aware of what the NFRC is attempting to legislate. They are not a trade association, but rather a 501(c) (3) non-profit /charitable organization that is “serving the public.” The group’s board has the ability to implement any program or plan, with or without our input or agreement, if it “serves the public.” From what I’ve read and heard, their plan includes that glazing contractors will absorb additional costs to have products certified and fieldwork monitored. And, the charge for this will be paid to NRFC-licensed consultants and enforcers. Excuse me! If the glazing contractors don’t stop this nonsense, it will be “taxation without representation!”

Boiling down all the rhetoric, the following issues will become our responsibility, and we will bear the burden of the expense:

1. When the glazing contractor orders materials, we will be required to enter into a license agreement with the NFRC;

2. The glazing contactor next will be required to hire and pay a NFRC agency to certify that the products being used will meet the NFRC performance standards;

3. After the certifications have been validated, the glazing contractor will be required to hire another NFRC certified agency to inspect and confirm that the proper NFRC certified materials are actually correct;

4. When the glazing contractor is finally able to install the materials, another NFRC certified agency will make a site inspection to confirm that the NRFC certified materials were installed;

5. During installation, NFRC labels will be required to be attached to all the openings by the glazing contractor to attest to the fact that all the products were NFRC certified. (This may be something we’re required to remove later because often the architect’s specifications state to “remove all labels from metal and glass.”)

6. Last, but not least, the glazing contractor is responsible for the products used in the opening to meet all the NFRC performance requirements.

While the residential market may allow building permits to be issued with cocktail napkin sketches, this is not the practice for commercial construction. In my 30+ years in the commercial glazing industry, it’s been my experience that the licensed design professionals, whether the engineers or architects, are the qualified persons who not only select the products, but are licensed to plan, draw and determine the quantitative and qualitative performance of the building. They are trained, tested and licensed to do this work. Their drawings and project manuals are stamped and signed indicating that they meet all local building codes, life safety requirements and all engineering standards. Commercial building permits cannot be issued without the professionals meeting these requirements. 

Please don’t think I’m not supportive of the NFRC’s work. The group has performed admirably to prevent energy-wasting products from use on residential construction. And, I understand that a software program to calculate the combined performance of the glass, spacer and frame is part of NFRC’s plan that will enable the designers, engineers, contractors and owners to determine and compare whole system fenestration issues. This tool could be very valuable because the construction industry needs methods to promote innovation in window and door design. This type of innovative software will help us meet the Department of Energy’s goals for energy-efficient construction products. However, it appears as though the NFRC sees the commercial building market as parallel to the single-family homebuilder. Perhaps the residential market does need the help and control of the NFRC to ensure the correct products are used in the home building industry, but for commercial construction, these guards, in the form of the licensed design professionals, are already in place. The next NFRC steps of validation and certification will not only add cost for the owner, it will also add costly delays to the construction process. It will not add value or guarantee the performance of the whole building. 

This extra cost will not be easy to pass along to the owners. General contractors are eager to whittle away at our bids, threatening to give the job to our competitors if we don’t drop our prices. In an age where we can’t even pass along unexpected freight surcharge increases, I suspect general contractors and owners won’t accept the line item charges for all the redundant NFRC certifications and inspections, especially when they have already paid their engineers, architects and consultants for designing their buildings with the proper products.

Glazing contractors unite! This type of monitoring and certification is just another redundant step to add extra cost, extra time and unnecessary bureaucracy to a process that already has these protections in place. If I were an engineer or designer, I’d be insulted that NFRC authorities think they can design, specify and monitor better than licensed engineers and architects. Does the NFRC need to show them how to do their jobs? Is the NFRC taking on responsibilities of the AIA and engineering societies? 

As a footnote, at the CSI Convention in March, NFRC executive director Jim Benny was scheduled to present a 1-hour education session. I was very curious and arrived about five minutes before it was to start. I’d read the pre-program descriptions several weeks earlier and was ready to hear their side of the story. The room was packed with non-residential architects and specifiers all eager to learn more about the NFRC and how this was going to impact their commercial construction documents. Ten minutes later, it was announced that he was a no-show. The attendees were upset and disgusted. They were there to learn, and no NFRC speaker was there to share the group’s story. Although there were apologies from NFRC about a misunderstanding for the date and time, the damage was done. And believe me, architects and specifiers don’t forget. 

In closing, I’d like to thank the various trade publications, including USGlass magazine, for publishing a wide variety of articles on the NFRC and the impact this will have on the non-residential construction glazing community. Now it’s up to the glazing contractors to step up and take control.

Alana Sunness Griffith, FCSI, CCPR
Empirehouse Inc., 
Glazing Specialty Contractor
New Hope, Minn. 

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