Q&A with Jim Benney, NFRC executive director

Sahely Mukerji, news editor and managing editor of Glass Magazine, talks with Jim Benney, executive director, National Fenestration Rating Council, Greenbelt, Md.

What is the status of outside development support funding for the Component Model Approach program?

We got approval for $200,000 from the Department of Energy. Also got in-kind support from Southern California Edison CTAC. [Edison CTAC, in partnership with NFRC, is hosting a training workshop in Irwindale, Calif., to discuss among other things, the benefits of CMAST, the new CMA software and how the component modeling approach works.] They’re providing the facility, the distribution of publications and sponsoring the meetings.

Photo of Jim Benney
Jim Benney, executive director, National Fenestration Rating Council

Isn’t this training program premature given that the technical procedures for frames and spacers have not been finalized and approved?

It’s important that the software gets as far along as possible. It’s easier to tweak the software. The technical procedures for frames and spacers should be resolved by the November meeting; if not, by the next meeting in March.

Tell me a little about the training program.

There will be three speakers: myself, and I will speak about NFRC and its role, and certifications; Charlie Curcija [president of Carli Inc. , Amherst, Mass.] will give a demo of the software; and Nelson Pena from the California Energy Commission will talk about Title 24 and the implication and impact of CMA on Title 24 and how it all ties in. It will be a 3 1/2-hour hour session.

It's been noted that NFRC board members don't seem to engage in the task group and committee work and wait to take positions behind closed doors at the board level. How do you respond?

Interesting suppositions. I don’t believe it’s correct. Board members actively participate in the committees and sub-committees.[Chair] Joe Hayden’s [senior project engineer of certification for Pella Corp. of Pella, Iowa] there every day, Steve Strawn [product compliance policy manager, External Affairs, Jeld-Wen Inc., Klamath Falls, Ore.], chair of rating commit, is there every day, Jeff Baker [certified simulator, WESTLab, Ontario] chairs the tech committee, and they’re there every day.

What is the reason for NFRC's policy that if you miss meetings, you lose the right to vote at the committee level the next time you attend?

The reasoning is to make sure that if you’re going to be voting on a subject matter, you have to attend the last meeting so you’re up-to-date on the subject matter and can make an educated decision when voting.

What's the latest on NFRC's efforts to reach out to the other stakeholders such as architects, developers and contractors?

A number of things going on: We give continuing education seminars to architects; we also tell them about CMA. I gave a talk at AIA [American Institute of Architects convention] in May.

Also, we’re working on a marketing program. It will encourage early adopters—manufacturers, frame suppliers, extruders and contractors such as installers—of the CMA. We work with people in the utilities. I’m hoping we’ll have incentives for the early adopters in 2009. Incentives such as utilities will provide upfront money for validation testing and NFRC testing. NFRC will provide a 40 percent discounted rate, free access to the software tool for30 days. This will be beneficial to the industry. If you do it once, you’ll never have to do it again. The one-time expense can be capitalized for years.

The early adopters will be industry folks who sell in California; Title 24 will require CMA. Visionary companies, such as Traco [Cranberry Township, Pa.], Arcadia [Vernon, Calif.] will also join. Contractors in California will be impacted first. However, the vast majority’s going to wait and watch how it pans out. The manufacturers are not going to jump in until there’s the need. They might use the bidding tool right away, but whether they get the label certificate, we’ll see.

How do you respond to the commercial manufacturers feeling of distrust as a cause for extra policing of their involvement in the CMA program? Is this justifiable?

I have a different take on it. It’s not distrust. It’s the development of a program to ensure credibility and to make sure that the info that goes out is fair, accurate and credible. There’s a still a lot of information used in building design based on center of glass, and you really need to design by the performance of the system. It’s not distrust. It’s free and available access to product performance. This will help everybody access to product performance. This will break the little towers of info that people set up and instead provide a highway of information. It’s not distrust, it’s a different way of doing business.

What is the latest on the frame grouping rules for somewhat generic applications such as flush glazed storefront systems?

Not sure, will have to check on that.

What is the current anticipated cost for the CMA software tool CMAST?

The software will charge the manufacturer to store data, to use the software, for label certificates, for program dispense, for lab fees and for IA [independent agency] fees. The IA fees will be set by the IAs. The anticipated cost for CMAST was presented in Chicago a year ago.

Some commercial construction industry members say that while the software tool could become a valuable resource, rating and certification by NFRC is still not being demanded by the developers and design professionals.

Do you anticipate allowing for wide spread use of the tool without the requirement for NFRC rating and certification?

Yes, I believe the software tool will be valuable for bidding even without the label certification.

Is the NFRC board working on estimated costs for rating and certification of commercial fenestration applications? If so, when will they be released to the membership and public?

It’s all in the board communiqué from June 2007.

What is the latest on NFRC's accreditation requirements for existing insulating glass certification programs?

No plans to accredit IG certification programs. NFRC intends to simply provide info to the manufacturers of the existing IG certification programs. In spring, a set of criteria was developed by a NFRC task group. They gave it to the board and we said we’ll accredit anyone who meets the requirement. But the industry came back with negative comments. They didn’t want to be “approved,” they wanted to be “acknowledged.” There’s still going to be a set of criteria, but very limited. It might come back in a couple of years, but not now. We’ll start simple, and as we meet issues, we’ll tighten them up.

It has been noted that a very small percentage of NFRC members are actually voting on ballot items.

Is it wise to move forward with programs that are commonly being approved by less than 10 percent of the membership?

That’s normal. We have over 200 members. On mail ballots we typically get 20 votes. We used to have difficulty to achieve a quorum. The written ballot is for people who are interested. And I believe that’s the case in any organization. That’s the process. All our activities move forward with 10 percent written ballots. But when we come to meetings, at the committee level, we have people who are involved and doing the work. At the last meeting, both IGMA and GANA boycotted the ballot process citing their reasons as discouragement at the lack of responsiveness to their input on the frame rules, spacers, lack of involvement by the architectural community to name a few.

Has NFRC considered that this public indication of frustration with NFRC may lead to membership attrition?

I’d hope not. The process is there to provide input, but they’re choosing not to and giving up their opportunity and allowing other voices to be heard. Those folks have made significant changes to the CMA program/documents. If they continue to participate they will keep making significant changes. The fact that they didn’t get every change is the source of their frustration. But that’s how consensus works. If their voice is not even in there, they won’t be able to contribute to the consensus.

The CMAST software only addresses box fenestration systems, rectangular and square. The highly customized market often fabricates other geometric shapes so these products could not use the CMAST program to determine their product ratings.

How will this market segment qualify their products?

I’ll have to work with the state of California to figure what to do with that segment of the industry. We’ll find the answers. We’ve found answers to round tops and circle windows for the residential industry, and we will find answers for the non-box windows for the commercial industry. The CMAST will evolve as we face questions. The PCP will discuss and answer the needs of the industry.

One of the proposed benefits of the CMA program is that fabricators will be able to qualify their products more quickly and need only to do so one time. Has NFRC identified the “bottle-necks” in the program that might reduce the efficiency of the process? If so, what steps are being considered to address these “bottle-necks”?

As far as I know there are no bottle necks. Simulation industry is ready and waiting for the business. We’re accrediting new simulators every six months. It’s a growing industry.

NFRC has created a new task group to develop a technical procedure and rating program for awnings and exterior shading products. Isn’t this beyond the mandate of NFRC which addresses fenestration products?

It’s still being addressed by the board. There’s an exterior attachment task group that has been created, but the board has not approved an awnings task group. Every new product that wants to get a rating fills out a questionnaire that goes to a board task group who comes up with a recommendation on whether that product should move forward in the NFRC system. The board in a meeting last week approved the recommendation from the new products task group that awnings should not be rated by NFRC. One reason was because awnings are attached to the wall and not the fenestration. The awning industry wants to know what they can do to have their product reconsidered for rating. Hayden will have a conference call with them next week.

They showed me an awning that’s vertical and attached to the frame, not the wall. So it’s possible that they may have a product that could be rated. It’s case-by-case.

Is there concern that these types of products are trying to gain market credibility and viability by using NFRC to promote them?

Not that I’ve heard of. I believe they’re coming to NFRC because they recognize that we provide a forum for standardized rating that are recognized. It is genuine interest in developing a rating. We compare apples to apples. The awning people don’t have that now, they don’t have another forum that compares an awning to an awning. So, I truly believe that they see it as a real need to compare products to provide info that’s fair, uniform and accurate for the public, so they can make a decision.

Products such as awnings often are an aftermarket installation and not part of the original fenestration system. How do you propose to address these types of applications since they may significantly affect the thermal performance values of the original installation?

This applies to many, many fenestration products. Many people install attachment products such as screens, storm windows, films, drapes and blind after buying a house, the window’s already there. So are replacement windows. It will change the performance of some windows; some because they’re comfort-driven-blinds and drapes, and others because they are energy/performance driven-films.

As long as we’ve created the ratings and know that they provide credible information to the public, we’re OK. We’re concerned with that part of the window. If someone’s interested in putting a blind, it’s our job to tell them how to evaluate the blind performance, not to tell him how it’s going to change the energy performance if his window.

Related NFRC coverage
International activities, CMA rating focus of third day
CMA Subcommittee debates on Trump Tower at NFRC Summer Meeting
Research and technology, technical committees meet on second day of NFRC Summer Meeting
Q&A with Jim Benney, NFRC executive director
Market status, IG forum, CMA software highlight first day at NFRC Summer Meeting