Playing by the rules can be a frustrating exercise. Over the years the conversations I have had with other manufacturers across our great country confirm that we all face similar difficulties regarding fenestration related building codes, regulations and programs. Is it reasonable for us to expect the rules to be the same for all fenestration manufacturers across our province/ country? One would think so.
Many shared stories of fenestration frustration in trying to satisfy the requirements in each jurisdiction, often different from day to day and site to site can push one to the edge of a fenestration freakout. Not only is this a challenge, it is costly to manufacturers that make the effort to follow the rules. But in truly Canadian fashion we continue to accept it, as that is the way it has always been. Countless times I have heard, “what can you do, nobody is going to do anything about it”.
On the West coast we are faced with local building codes, the ENERGY STAR program, and the BC Energy Efficiency Act, all having rules, policies, laws, guidelines,
and standards that we MUST adhere to if we want to participate. All of the aforementioned are very specific in that they lay out with reasonable clarity what a manufacturer must do to supply compliant products.
The BC Building Code. For today’s purposes let’s stick with windows, don’t you door guys worry, your turn will come (think NAFS-08). The 2006 BCBC requires windows to be permanently labeled to identify the manufacturer and to comply with CAN/CSA A440-00 Windows and to have at least a temporary label showing each product's ABC ratings. If you supply windows into the BC new construction market the code says you MUST comply with the referenced standard, test your product to determine its performance ratings, and label the product accordingly. If challenged by a building official (it does happen), you must provide a test report. Yet you can go to many jobsites in the Vancouver region and find windows installed in new construction homes that have no labels to identify the manufacturer,
“... different requirements from day to day can push one to the edge of a fenestration freakout ...”
to demonstrate the product's A440 ratings, and no certified energy performance labels to show they comply with the Energy Efficiency Act. I see products so flimsy they deflect more than an inch under my index finger. I have participated in many product tests in the lab and in the field, and I can, with reasonable confidence assure my readers that many of these products would fail miserably if subjected to testing. So who cares?
Well, the consumer is expecting a product that meets the minimum code requirements for performance and safety, and in the case of energy performance, one that complies with the law. Suppliers to the industry expect their customers are building quality code-compliant products. Insurance providers believe the homes they insure will perform as code and law would suggest they should. Unfortunately the many quality manufacturers that work to provide code compliant products continue to lose business to the many others that are allowed to slip under the radar of the local building codes and laws.
The BC Energy Efficiency Act. This is a provincial law that stipulates the thermal performance of fenestration products in all projects where the product separates conditioned and unconditioned spaces. The Act has been in effect for a few years now and has had some impact with those manufacturers willing to play by the rules. It requires manufacturers to participate in third-party energy certification programs and label their product U-values to show they are no higher than 2.0 in metric units. Only products meeting the stipulated thermal performance may be supplied to the construction industry (new and retro-fit). This program is a provincial law, and yet there are more that a few manufacturers that continue to supply products without labels and make no attempt at all to obey this law. So who cares? See above.
The Canadian ENERGY STAR program. This well-known voluntary nationwide program aims to help consumers to recognize the most energy efficient window and door products. It is a well-recognized and respected program, active for many years. It has a massive database of manufacturers and product listings indicating product performance. Yet there is no way for a consumer to verify whether a particular product is really ENERGY STAR qualified. I would challenge anyone from outside the industry to make heads or tails of the product codes used in the database. I have been in the industry for almost thirty years and I struggle to make direct comparisons with many of the listings. ENERGY STAR labeling of products is somewhat unreliable and I continue to find numerous variations, errors and mislabeling practices in the field. As some federal and provincial incentive programs reward consumers with rebates (from your tax dollars) for choosing ENERGY STAR products, wouldn't you expect there to be a more reliable way for all parties to identify ENERGY STAR products? So who cares? See above.
To anyone that has been around this industry for a while I am sure what I am saying does not come as a surprise. Manufacturers live with these inconsistencies everyday. During my time with the WDMA-BC over the last number of years I have taken every opportunity I can to bring attention to these challenges. It can be a risky venture raising the flag regarding issues discussed here. We all supply non-compliant products from time to time, customers and the bottom line demand it. I believe that the majority of manufacturers work hard to provide quality products and play by the rules, and are only occasionally forced to break the rules in an effort to compete against those that always break them. When government does not fund its own programs sufficiently for them to be effectively enforced the cost is carried by legitimate manufacturers. So who cares? They do and they need some help.
We are patiently awaiting the long-promised release of the 2012 BC Building code. June was the expected release date, it’s August now and the word on the street is maybe later this Fall. The rumour is that it will be broadly, evenly and effectively enforced. Is there really any point in publishing it if they don’t? Most manufacturers would welcome this in the hopes they could play on a level field with their legitimate competition. We all are guilty on occasion, but it is the manufacturer that blatantly and knowingly avoids compliance that needs to be flushed out. If governments set rules for industry, then governments must make it their priority to ensure that those that follow the rules are not penalized, via lost business and penalties, to the advantage of those that ignore the rules. So who cares?
There is much discussion within our industry associations about the need to provide training and educational opportunities for both the officials that enforce the rules as well as for those that must follow them. It is clear that the manufacturer that ignores the rules will never completely disappear as there will always be those that will support them—shame on you if you do. Responsible businesses in our industry need to participate in local and national fenestration associations to provide support and training to officials and to member companies to make it harder for the manufacturers that break the laws and cheat the system to take the business. Who cares? Your fenestration associations care, and there are efforts underway to assist their members who play by the rules. If you care, don’t just pay the dues; get involved with your association. It’s your industry, help make it better.