Volume 10, Issue 2                     March/April  2006

Energy Ratings for Window Film
Industry Works to Gain NFRC Certification
by Les Shaver

By now, everyone knows about California’s energy problems. For almost five years, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. tried to alleviate some of those issues by offering rebates to small businesses that use window film. 

“They [Pacific Gas and Electric] wanted to reduce their electrical consumption,” said James O’Bannon, part owner of Richard Heath & Associates in Fresno, Calif. O’Bannon is also a professor at California State University, Chico, and a window adviser to the utility. “We [Californians] don’t have enough electrical power in the summertime. Pacific Gas and Electric wanted to reduce their peak demand. One way to do that is to reduce air conditioning load. And the best way to do that is to put in a low solar gain film.”

In the past, Pacific Gas and Electric gave window film rebates of $1.35 per square foot for businesses that used film. But when a classification change put small business in the same category with single-family homes and multifamily, the agency decided to revaluate film to see if rebates would also be applicable to homeowners and apartment owners. To perform this research, it turned to O’Bannon.

“They wanted to give a rebate and determine what product they should be looking for in residential sector and what product they should look for in non-residential sector,” O’Bannon said. “I did an analysis of all of the products on the market and went back and told them what they should require and what a rebate program for window film would look like.”

This required quite a bit of research on O’Bannon’s part.

“We wanted to look at the solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC), which is heat gain, and U-Factor, which is heat loss,” O’Bannon said. “We started looking for products that had those ratings, but couldn’t find any products. We did find products that had a shade coefficient and we used a common math formula to convert the shading coefficient into SHGC.”

After all of this effort, O’Bannon ran into to his biggest problem: There was no way to verify the numbers the film manufacturers gave him; all he had was their word. This is not news to the window film industry. In fact, it’s been working with The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) to secure a rating for film for almost 10 years now; but it’s inching closer to recognition and that could open up a new world for the industry.

Nothing But Ratings

The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) bills itself as “a non-profit organization that administers the only uniform, independent rating and labeling system for the energy performance of windows, doors, skylights, and attachment products.” It’s been around for 30 years and is generally considered a leading authority on the energy considerations for the glass, glazing and fenestration industries. It’s work with other high-profile organizations such as Energy Star attests to the Council’s prominence in the industry.

Lately, the glass industry has taken to looking at the NFRC with a critical eye. Some members of the architectural glass industry have questioned the working methods of the NFRC board and have expressed concern about the way some of the decisions and manners in which codes and ratings are created.

Will this have any bearing on the window film industry’s bid for recognition? Probably not. Right now, the concerns of the glass industry revolve around issues with which the window film industry is barely involved.

“Though the NFRC have had controversies with the way different segments of the glass industry is represented on its board, the window film manufacturers are still eager for certification,” said Darrell Smith, executive director of the International Window Film Association.

A Second Opinion

Like many in the film industry during those dark days, Carl Kernander, technical service manager for Madico in Woburn, Mass., is disgusted when he remembers Hurricane Andrew. 

More than a decade ago, less-than-honest sales tactics by a small contingent of window film dealers in Florida sold safety window film as “hurricane proof,” leaving customers with the impression that window film alone would protect a house from hurricane damage. When Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992, some of those customers believed that film was approved for hurricane damage mitigation lost their houses. As a result of the damage, window film got a bad rap—from those customers who depended on it and on the media who made those stories public.

“If the window film is an Energy 
Star® product, its specifications 
are unquestioned; in other words, 
no further proof of compliance is 
required by a dealer or manufacturer.” 
—Darrell Smith 

“The window film industry, years ago, did a job on itself after Andrew,” Kernander said. “We had a bad reputation after Andrew and, since then, we’ve done a lot of work to add credibility to the industry.”

The industry even put its money into the effort. 

“Madico spent millions testing safety films to make sure they do what we say they do,” Kernander said. “We’re trying to do the same things with the solar control films.”

One way the industry could increase its credibility is to attain NFRC certification. Basically, the certification will support the claims that manufacturers make about their film’s solar values.

“We want to make sure that the film manufacturers don’t just stick those values on their product,” O’Bannon said. “The best way is do that is to have an NFRC or an Energy Star® label on the product. Then we have a third party verifying it.”

That would then give consumers peace of mind. 

“Having third party ratings, [such as] with windows, would enable customers to be assured that films meet a certain criteria,” O’Bannon said. “When we tell a customer a product has a certain U-factor rating, we can be assured that product meets the criteria. When you buy a product, you know there is someone out there who verifies that product.” 

The NFRC itself said this credibility is the biggest value to having its rating.

“The main advantage of NFRC-rated and certified window film is increased credibility for the manufacturer and increased value to the consumer,” said Jessica Ferris, NFRC’s certification program manager. “Since NFRC’s certification program provides an independent, third-party verification of the window film product, consumers can compare products in an apples-to-apples fashion and make informed choices based on their individual energy performance needs. Window film manufacturers can demonstrate to potential customers that they went the extra step to verify the energy performance of their products.” 

O’Bannon thinks some of the people most happy to see NFRC ratings on film could be the utility companies.

“The utility companies will rely more heavily on those values because they know those values are accurate,” O’Bannon said. “If a utility company wants to give us a dollar-per-square-foot rebate to do that, that dollar rebate is based on true energy saving in kilowatts. They don’t think their going to get that reduction unless the product meets the specific criteria, which is verified by the NFRC.” 

The Energy Star label could be another benefit for film getting an NFRC rating, though the Department of Energy says film would have to go through other steps to get the logo, as well.

“To be an Energy Star product, all data must be NFRC-certified,” said Darrell Smith, executive director of the International Window Film Association. “If you don’t have NFRC certification, you don’t have Energy Star products. If you don’t have Energy Star products, it is more difficult to participate in the EPA buildings program.”

The EPA Energy Star buildings program provides even more opportunities for window film use, according to Smith. This program rewards building owners who have decreased their building’s energy costs by a certain percentage. If the building improvements meet the requirements to qualify for the buildings program, certain lower interest financing and other advantages may become available. 

“If the window film is an Energy Star product, its specifications are unquestioned; in other words, no further proof of compliance is required by a dealer or manufacturer,” Smith said. 

An even bigger advantage may be the recognition of the Energy Star logo among consumers. Richard H. Karney, Energy Star products manager, says 64 percent of customers recognize the Energy Star label.

“Perhaps the greatest advantage an Energy Star product has in the marketplace is being linked with a recognized symbol of energy-efficiency,” Karney said. “Consumers wishing to make energy-conscious purchases may refer to the Energy Star label as a government backed assurance of energy-efficient performance.”

The Finish Line

With a chance to increase film’s credibility among consumers, it’s little wonder that trade association has made attaining an NFRC rating a priority. The good news: The industry seems to be nearing the finish line. The NFRC board of directors approved a new label and the procedures for rating and certifying film in early 2005.

“Since then, NFRC has been diligently working to finalize all of the back-end pieces that need to be in place before window film manufacturers can begin to take advantage of the program,” Ferris said. “Those back-end pieces include modifying NFRC’s software to accommodate the simulation process and modifying its certified product directory–its online directory of NFRC-certified products. We hope to have everything completed by mid-2006.”

Once that’s achieved, it’s still incumbent upon each manufacturer to get their products up to NFRC standards. 
“To earn NFRC certification, each participating manufacturer must follow the specific process outlined in NFRC’s certification documents,” Ferris said.

First, the manufacturer must contact the NFRC and request certification of its product. An information packet is sent to the manufacturer and the license agreement must be signed and returned to NFRC before certification authorization may be generated. The manufacturer then contacts and chooses an NFRC-accredited simulation laboratory and an NFRC-licensed certification and inspection agency, which authorizes the certification of the window film and conducts annual in-plant inspections of the manufacturing facility. 

The simulator then obtains a spectral data file for default glazings and the film product. The spectral data is available to simulators via its International Glazing Database (IGDB) and WINDOW program. After that, the simulator performs the simulation in accordance with NFRC 200-2004 and uploads the data to the NFRC Certified Products Database. 

The inspection agency then does it part by reviewing the data for accuracy and inspecting the manufacturing location. Once the agency has determined that all certification requirements have been met, it generates a certification authorization report for the film manufacturer. The NFRC-certified film attachments are then labeled and referenced in the NFRC Certified Products Directory. They receive certification for four years.

Some manufacturers are already working to get up to speed with certification. Even though Kernander admits that Madico isn’t in the lead, it’s taking steps to get its films certified.

“We just started reading our films to the NFRC guidelines,” Kernander said. “The only difference is that the NFRC has a different method of calculating the solar optical properties. We’re in the process of changing the calculation of our spectrometer.”

But Madico and the other manufacturers should eventually be rewarded for these efforts.

“Once we get them read, we send them to Berkley (the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California) and they will be added to the Optics Five Database,” Kernander said.

All of this is not without cost, however. The annual participation fee for the NFRC Product Certification Program (PCP) is $1000 for NFRC members and $1500 for non-members. In addition to this, there is an annual per-product fee of $75 for members and $125 for non-members, up to 100 products; these are just the fees on the manufacturer level. Distributors and dealers are not subject to inspections, the NFRC confirmed. 

While this is a lot of effort, the end result is worth it, according to Kernander. 

“By having third party certification, people should stand up and take notice that window film is a viable product,” Kernander said. “When people think of window film, they usually think of car tint, but film is far more than that. We’ve done a lot of work and there’s a lot of technology that goes into window film nowadays. It’s not just a piece of dyed film."

Les Shaver is a contributing editor to Window Film magazine.

©2006 Key Communications Inc. 385 Garrisonville Road, Suite 116, Stafford, VA  22554
Phone: 540/720-5584, Fax: 540/720-5687 e-mail: film@glass.com