Since its inception in 1936, the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) has become widely recognized for the development of standards that provide third-party validation of product performance and quality. Our mission is to develop and maintain window and door performance standards that are referenced by architects and the building codes. These standards ensure safe building practices and incorporate the latest material and product technologies. In addition, we support member companies with business services, market research and marketing programs that make practical contributions to our members’ success and profitability.
As a material neutral organization, AAMA is made up of members who are concerned about the direction of their companies, their industry and the marketplace. AAMA brings together the professionals of window, door, skylight, curtain wall and storefront manufacturing companies, their suppliers and test labs, both large and small, from all across the U.S. and internationally, to represent individual and shared concerns.
AAMA proactively and effectively influences codes, construction and specification issues in a way that makes products more reliable for the consumer. In addition to its strong national voice, AAMA is active and influential in the Western and Southeastern regions of the U.S. With this kind of local, grass roots representation, AAMA provides focused and widespread coverage on issues that are of special concern in each part of the country.
On both a regional and national basis, AAMA continuously monitors and reports legislative activities to keep members up to date on important developments. Our standards address critical issues in the industry. It takes the interest, energy and experience of our members to help support the development of these standards. It is effective collaboration and timely communication that makes us strong.
Housing starts and healthcare
AAMA members represent different market segments of the building industry. The commercial segment is emerging strongly from a five-year downturn, which was brought on by overbuilding capacity in the office and hotel/motel sectors. Demand for window and door products in new prisons, schools and retail buildings were not enough to offset the office and lodging shortfall.
Housing starts have contributed to substantial sales growth for window manufacturers engaged in the new construction sector up until the middle of last year. The severity and length of the current housing downturn will be somewhat mitigated by renovation and remodeling demand for windows and doors. This industry is set apart from many others in that when a major driver slows down (housing starts), another gets behind the wheel (remodeling) and steps back on the gas. In this respect, the industry is nearly recession proof.
However, the industry is negatively impacted by healthcare cost escalation, lack of skilled and trained workers, and litigation. The number of class action lawsuits, particularly in California, are costly and make it difficult for companies to obtain adequate insurance protection. The magnitude and number of class action lawsuits in California have forced some window manufacturers to walk away from the enormous California market altogether.
In December 2006, AAMA helped to fund an amicus brief that was submitted to the California Supreme Court. This case involved the assignment of comparative fault in a construction defect case brought against an AAMA member. A favorable ruling by the Court may signal the return of insurance companies to the market, as well as the restoration of affordable premium rates. At this writing, the disposition of this case is still under deliberation.
Challenges and opportunities
The industry has experienced two waves of acquisition sprees in the past 10 years; in the early 1990s, several European companies acquired controlling interests in larger vinyl window profile producers. More recently, the product producers have undergone consolidation, with the larger window producers acquiring companies to round out their territorial coverage or product diversity.
Imports of Asian products are a big concern among AAMA vinyl profile producer members. Asian companies are marketing their window component products very aggressively, typically at a cost 30 percent below the prevailing U.S. selling prices. Aluminum and hardware suppliers are under similar pressure from overseas competition. AAMA has organized visits to the U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Commission and several elected representatives as all options are explored. The ultimate goal of these efforts is to focus on quality products and compliance with performance standards. AAMA offers quality assurance programs, such as the Profile Certification Program, that enforces a no-lead-added restriction. All companies who participate in this program must abide by the lead prohibition and a prescribed set of other physical attributes. These lead provisions were first enacted 10 years ago, long before the current imported toy crisis came to a head this year.
As long as energy remains a precious commodity, more thermally efficient windows will keep the replacement business strong and facilitate the sales of higher value-added products in the future. Other performance attributes are gaining prominence as consumers in different sectors seek out protection from natural and man-made threats, as high wind resistance along the Southeast U.S. coast is being written into codes.
A pioneering effort to measure wind-driven rain during a hurricane landfall has been undertaken by wind engineering researchers at the University of Florida, with key funding underwritten by our association, whose members helped to purchase a $60,000 Precipitation Imaging Probe (PIP). This is a critical measuring instrument that captures high resolution measurements of rainfall intensity.
Beyond the ability of a building to physically withstand hurricane winds, water intrusion through windows, doors and walls remains a big concern. Although most residential and commercial buildings built to recent codes will survive structurally, rain penetration often causes significant interior damage, occupant displacement, business interruption, and extensive restoration expenses. Code officials, architects and manufacturers of exterior building products are questioning the ability of the water intrusion test standards currently mandated by U.S. building codes.
At the urging of the Florida Building Commission, the AAMA Southeast Region is currently developing a Voluntary Specification for Rating the Severe Wind-Driven Rain Resistance of Windows, Doors and Unit Skylights. Instead of the usual pass/fail measurements, this AAMA specification applies a spectrum of pulsating pressure and rain loads and determines how well a product performs in severe wind-driven rain. The research, underway at the University of Florida, will further the value of the AAMA specification by quantifying hurricane-driven rain and its effects on residential and light commercial construction.
Full-size structural mockups will be evaluated in realistic hurricane conditions. The University of Florida will collaborate with industry and building code partners to evaluate the performance of the windows, doors and wall assemblies. The simulator will provide a realistic evaluation of building products and test methods intended for hurricane-prone regions. The study results will form the foundation basis for an AAMA specification.
Finally, window, door and wall systems will be evaluated in the prescribed conditions, providing greater assurance that the products are tested in compliance with AAMA specifications.
In addition, more since the events of 2001, government agencies are specifying an increased number of windows with blast and ballistic resistance. Guideline specifications, to assist architects, engineers, manufacturers and code officials to ultimately reduce the hazardous consequences of a blast force on fenestration systems, have been published by our association. AAMA 510-06, Voluntary Guide Specification for Blast Hazard Mitigation for Fenestration Systems, directs manufacturers to the appropriate resources to simulate blast conditions in a laboratory environment in order to evaluate and compare fenestration system performance in a standardized manner.
NIBS (the National Institute of Building Sciences) handed the challenge to reconcile blast mitigation specifications off to AAMA because of our 40-year track record in window certification. More practically, AAMA’s membership includes about 80 percent of the commercial fenestration manufacturers in the U.S. and all of the major players in the blast resistant products market.
As a result, system categorization and standard tests now exist for a broad range of products, allowing manufacturers to design products in a manner that will likely help to reduce injuries and fatalities should the real thing occur. In addition to establishing testing guidelines, other goals of the AAMA Blast Hazard Task Group, who helped to develop this standard, were to educate the design community and to establish a rating system that could be referenced by project specifiers.
With other security performance parameters such as forced entry resistance and debris impact resistance already covered in existing AAMA standards, it is just a matter of time before specifiers will look to AAMA for one-stop product security rating and certification. Other window and door security attributes that are in the queue for future AAMA standards include radio frequency attenuation, retrofit and collateral damage.
In addition, the creation of the Wall Interface Materials Council is evidence of the significant growth and the importance of installation in relation to a product’s performance. The Wall Interface Material Council provides technical, regulatory, legislative, marketing and certification support in connection with wall interface materials, components and systems, including sealants and adhesives. AAMA is the predominant fenestration organization that recognizes the integration of the wall system and its role for the whole system to perform properly.
While future challenges are expected to provide potholes in the road ahead, this industry will continue to demonstrate remarkable resiliency and rise to both domestic and foreign challenges.
Rich Walker is President and CEO of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association. For information visit www.aamanet.org.