Glass Industry to NFRC Task Group: It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

by Debra Levy

The Non-Residential Products (Ratings) Task Group of the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) met today and engaged in a spirited debate about the possible energy ratings of glass and glazing systems in the future. Approximately 30 people attended-a very large number of participants for a task group meeting.

The group discussed comments it received on the draft of proposed protocols for rating non-residential (commercial) products. There was a good bit of controversy about whether or not the simulation of solar-optical and thermal properties of such systems should be performed by an accredited simulation laboratory.

Critics of this proposed requirement cited the fact that the existing International Glass Database (IGDB) Library currently maintained by NFRC is already in place and works relatively well. Manufacturers also already use the LBL Windows 5.0 program to calculate energy performance.

"The library works very well," said Margaret Webb of the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance (IGMA). "This ain't broke folks, don't fix it."

Proponents then countered by saying that the glass industry has been lax in providing information about optical properties and laminates, problems which Webb said could be rectified easily.

There was also some discussion about the basics purpose of this task group. "We are of the belief that these ratings are being developed for a computer software program that we will all use. All the manufacturers need to be able to use and understand it," said Webb.

This assertion was also met with opposition. "Everything we are doing moves toward certification," said Dr. D. Charlie Curcija of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. "It needs to be a certification program eventually, that's what we are going for."

Some argued for simulated testing on all commercial jobs; others spoke of its impracticality.

"We can't go to a lab and get a number for every project in this country. That is just impractical," said Greg McKenna of the Kawneer Company.

"Eventually, there will be an NFRC logo going on the system. When it gets to the point where you are certifying-which many of you won't-we hope to see the codes pick up the certification requirements eventually," said Gary Curtis of the Westwall Group to the consternation of many of the glass-related companies in the room.

There was also discussion about the transition of NFRC from only rating residential products to also rating non-residential products.

"Trying to put commercial systems into the current NFRC system is very difficult," Michael Thoman of Architectural Testing said of the present system that does not really have provisions for non-residential ratings. "… I only have about a 75-percent confidence level in what I am doing now. We are going to have to come up with a whole set of rules on how to handle things … This is going to be extremely, extremely difficult," he said.

One of the biggest issues discussed is the same one that has dogged the group since its inception, specifically: which party in the building-design-construction process is responsible for warranting that the energy performance characteristics of the products are correct? How will these products be labeled? Where will the labels be placed? And who pays for the label?

"The responsible party pays for the label," said Marcia Falke, in response to a query by Marg Webb. "Whoever signs the agreement with NFRC pays for the label."

"If you put this on the glazing contractor's back then they will have some cost involved. They will have to mark it up before they take it to Mr. Building Owner," said McKenna. "So {if you put it on the glazing contractor} this group have taken it from a cost of X to three times X. I think cost is a huge factor."

"It's cheaper to have it stay down then to have to trickle it up then trickle it down," said task group chairperson Greg Carney of the Glass Association of North America.

"Even so, somebody at the end of the day has to pay for the label," said Webb. "We need to hammer that down here."

But hammered down it wasn't. What followed was a verbal game of volleyball between glass industry participants and energy professionals, each trying to spike the ball of responsibility to the opposite side.

"The problem is that the glazing contractor doesn't know what he is doing so he pushes it back on the others so he doesn't have the responsibility," said ATI's Thoman. "I have a huge concern that we'll push this (the responsibility) on to a group of people (engineers/architects) who aren't going to do it. Architects and engineers are not going to sign up for this," he added.

"I've talked to 20 architects and no architects were willing to take on more responsibility for this," said another participant. "Not a one of them was willing to."

"The glazing contractor's responsibility is to meet the plans and specifications developed by design professionals. That's all their responsibility …and costs are a factor at every level," Carney reminded the group.

"What we have seen in Seattle is that it comes back to the glazing contractor. It's more efficient for glazing contractor to do it. The glazing contractor knows it and has been through the process," said John Hogan.

Despite assurances that all the glazing contractor will have to do is say that the product used is actually the same one that was calculated for energy performance, the glass/metal contingent in the room were unimpressed.

"The architects do the design. It's not the glazing contractor's responsibility to do the design," said Joel Smith representing Trident. "The glazing contractor's responsibility to provide the right products is already covered through the AIA contracts used on jobs. Talking about making the glazing contractor the responsible party is crazy."

"Who would want responsibility?" asked Max Perilstein of Arch. "No one. No group would want this. The glazing community doesn't want this. The codes say registered design professionals have the responsibility and we should stick with the codes."

"Unless we do a lot of marketing, architects will not take on responsibility," said Curtis of Westwall.

"Then why would we want to take it on either?" shot back Perilstein.

Kawneer's McKenna concurred. "Why do I, the glazing contractor, have to be responsible when all I am doing is what everyone told me?" he asked rhetorically.

Despite the lack of resolution to such issues, many in the group felt it was a productive meeting. "We've made some real progress in the past two meetings," said Curcija. "I've been involved since the beginning," said Mike Manteghi of TRACO, "and we are starting to make some progress."

"This is the way it works," says NFRC executive director Jim Benney. "There's a lot of discussion around the meetings. People get to know each other and feel more comfortable with each other. It's a long process but consensus comes eventually."

Benney said there is no timetable for when, or if, the process is completed.

Others were not so sure if progress had really been made. "The original goal was to have this done by 2007, but at the rate we are going 2011 seems more likely," said one.

The lack of architects was not the only surprising dearth of involvement. Glass manufacturers were in short supply. "If I was facing all this, I'd be involved," said one official. "This could lead to huge, new, expensive requirements if we don't make our voices heard."

Debra Levy is the publisher of USGlass magazine and its online daily newsletter, USGNN.

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