Volume 6 Issue 5 June 2005
Conveying Code Compliance to the Consumer
The World According to Code: Conveying
by Michael Fischer
The times they are a-changing,” sang Bob Dylan decades ago.
But it still holds true. Technology has affected the way we communicate along every front.
While foreign news correspondents are able to transmit live feeds from Iraq using today’s videophones, it wasn’t that long ago that limitations in technology helped to determine how and what information made it from the battleground to the living room. During the Civil War the telegraph, first used in war reporting during the Mexican-American War in 1846, was the primary source of news for President Lincoln. The use of radio during WWII, and television during the Vietnam War brought those conflicts closer to home. The television coverage of September 11, 2001, brought every viewer into the horror of the attacks, and helped to galvanize a nation.
The same evolution has happened in weather and natural disaster reporting. One of the primary vehicles for the increased consciousness of the effects of natural disasters is the cable television and the proliferation of cable news networks.
The Weather Channel was the first television network devoted just to weather. It began operations in 1983, and in 1985 was available in just 15 million homes. The Weather Channel came of age with the landfall of Hurricane Andrew and the round-the-clock live broadcasts showing the tremendous devastation to life and property, and along the way educated millions about construction requirements for hurricane standards.
This increased consumer awareness about the effects of natural events on building products has affected the way that windows, skylights and doors are sold. In the past, window marketing focused strictly on traditional features and benefits—new styles, sizes and options, such as divided lites and other features. Now, because the focus is on performance issues as they relate to building and energy codes, manufacturers have taken a different tack, shifting to what is called technical or regulatory marketing. There’s a new visibility to windows, skylights and doors, and it’s not based solely on looks, but rather performance. Consumers want to know if their home will be safe with these fenestration products, and builders want to make sure they meet or exceed impact code requirements when they build or remodel in coastal environments or other areas with high winds. Energy code requirements are still another consideration.
With the consolidation of the model codes into the International Code Council (ICC), the code process has become more streamlined. The ICC’s move to a consensus code development process has encouraged the industry to take a bigger part in creating code requirements that govern product performance. Building code officials, builders, insurance companies and homeowners have a high level of awareness of the need for structures to withstand high winds resulting from hurricanes, tropical storms and other weather-related events.
With the introduction and adoption of the International Building Code in most areas of the United States, wind load is no longer an issue exclusively in Florida and other hurricane-prone areas. However, many state or local codes include modifications when adopting the I-Codes, and therefore making specific contacts with local inspectors is a must every time you build.
It’s a whole new world out there, and manufacturers have taken special steps to guide specifiers, architects, designers, consumers and others through the specification process, to be certain the window or door they select is right for the application and meets appropriate codes. That means a host of new educational tools, charts and other information they can use to get the specific product they need.
Regulatory marketing is relatively new to the window, door and skylight industry and many started this approach only recently. A look at the websites of some companies provides an insight into just how widespread this approach has become.
Regulatory marketing or code compliance programs put the most recent building information available into plain language. Given the devastating 2004 hurricane season, personal safety and property loss concerns, stricter building codes and the rising cost of insurance, high demand for impact-resistant windows and doors has extended along the entire Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf Coast.
And, savvy consumers who may not live along the coastline, but maybe in a tornado or high wind area, may also opt for these added measure of safety and security. This type of marketing is certainly not restricted to window, skylight and door manufacturers, other manufacturers, such as glass producers and even garage door companies have joined the movement to provide education, in layman’s terms, how products perform. According to Jim Larsen, director of technology marketing for Cardinal Corp., there are two driving forces: impact codes and energy regulations.
“Each customer has different needs, but we have to get the information out to them in a format they can use. It’s all very regional, and we have to be savvy as to what the needs and requirements of a specific region are and communicate that effectively,” he says.
Larsen says energy codes are equally important to builders and Cardinal presents information that they and others can use in showing compliance to the International Code Council’s International Energy Conservation Code. This energy code requires certain U factors be met and lets users calculate the overall value for building systems. A lower U factor translates into greater energy efficiency of a product. Whether independently or through trade associations that provide code advocacy, door and window manufacturers see the benefit to this proactive approach.
Andersen Corp. learned early on that an educated buyer is integral to a properly applied product in the field, says Mark Mikkelson, manager of code, regulatory and technical marketing. In the spring of this year, Andersen reaffirmed its commitment to educating on regulatory and technical marketing by forming a specific department to handle these endeavors, headed by Mikkelson. Also on the team are Steve Berg, technical marketing manager, and Steve Johnson, code and regulatory marketing manager.
The Andersen design pressure estimator and coastal product finder are proprietary Web-based programs designed to help architects and builders find the right fenestration product for coastal applications. The tools take user-supplied information to estimate design pressure requirements, recommend the Andersen® products that meet those estimated requirements and provide certified documentation and test reports.
“These tools are designed to take the mystery out of selecting product,” says Berg.
Provided via the Web, these features can be updated to keep customers current, which is quite important, Berg adds, given the quick-changing world of codes. Andersen takes other steps as well such as providing “Train the Trainer” sessions to distributors on codes and regulations, educational sessions and meeting with code officials.
Marvin Windows and Doors uses a variety of methods to communicate codes and regulations to the building community, says Anthony S. Head, CDT and regulatory product planner. Head has traveled extensively to nearly every East Coast state in the past year to assist with educational programs describing code activity and what it means to the window and door industry. Seminars are available for architects, building inspectors and contractors.
Marvin has taken much of the information used in the seminars and put it into a one-hour AIA/CEU training program that qualifies for health, safety and welfare education credits for architects. In addition, a two-book series known as the performance education handbooks provide complete elevations that include size specific design pressures in the elevations to simplify whether it is appropriate for use when architects are drawing up plans with window sizes.
“We also include maps of the East Coast to show what wind speeds the I-Codes are referencing to make determining whether you are in a hurricane construction zone or not easier. We educate on how to use the information you get from the local inspectors to make proper product selection,” Head says.
Following is a sampling of some of the other innovative and educational marketing programs:
• Jeld-Wen of Klamath Falls, Ore., believes strongly in education. Many windows and doors that can stand up to such hard climates have other benefits as well, including increased energy efficiency and the ability to resist rot and insect damage.
“Our goal is to provide more reliable options so that homeowners and builders can make the best window selection possible,” says Teri Cline, corporate communications manager.
• PGT Industries of Venice, Fla., has trained more than 10,000 building professionals on both current and future code-related issues, says Dave Olmstead, public affairs and code compliance specialist.
• Pella’s Architectural Services team provides a variety of information on product and mullion performance online, including codes and regulation compliance assistance, mullion wind load limitations and other practical tools and services. John Woestman, code compliance manager attended an Iowa State Building Code Commission meeting recently to express industry support for the International Codes in Iowa.
This shift to providing consumers with more detailed technical information to help in selecting the right product for their home includes much more than weather-related events. Many manufacturers also make a tremendous effort to educate consumers about product safety issues as well. Whether talking about child falls, glass injuries or how to use windows as part of the escape route during home fires, window manufacturers are working to teach their customers about the benefits their products offer.
Today’s consumers are more technically savvy while also more skeptical than they were in the past. At the same time, however, they are looking for more answers about the best products and the best selections. Tomorrow’s successful industry leaders will necessarily be adept in answering those questions and satisfying that curiosity.
Michael Fischer serves as director of codes and regulatory compliance for the Window and Door Manufacturers Association based in Des Plaines, Ill.
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