Volume 41, Issue 4 - April 2006
Industry Challenge: Labeling Fire-Rated Glass
Changes to the recently published 2006 International Building Code (IBC) became effective January 1. Jurisdictions adopting the new IBC will be faced with some changes that affect the way fire-rated glass is labeled. The code now includes provisions for a labeling system that proponents say will help building code officials recognize both performance characteristics and appropriate applications for any number of the new fire-rated glazing materials on the market. The code change was introduced by Pilkington and accepted by the IBC in 2003.
The different performance characteristics for fire-rated glazing are specified depending on use—whether it is used as a wall, an opening in a wall or a door.
How it Works
A Concerning Matter
Some fire-rated glass manufacturers, however, have concerns about the new system, saying it can be both confusing and costly. According to Kate Steele, a consultant hired by the Fire and Safety Glazing Council to develop an alternative system, some fire-rated glass manufacturers say this new system does not work for them.
“They want something that is simpler and something that addresses the performance of the glazing,” says Steele. “We support this attempt [to create a labeling system for fire-rated glass], but it does not seem workable for the manufacturers. The manufacturers I represent want a more basic performance distinction: is the glass fire-resistant or is it fire protective? Manufacturers do not know the end use of their product, but they do know its performance.”
Her suggestion: label the glass with a “P” if it is fire protective and an “R” if it is fire resistant. This system is based on the European system for labeling, which places an “I” for resistant and an “E” for protective on the glass. Steele says the system is one that has worked very well in Europe.
She also explains that here in the United States the label that manufacturers must put on the glass is a permanent one and is usually etched into the glass. She says because manufacturers do not where the product will ultimately be installed—in a door, window or a wall, they could very well have to label the glass for all three.
“There are labels for doors, windows and walls; you put all those labels on the glass and it does not mean anything to the end user,” says Steele, who added that the average person does not understand that there is a difference between being fire-resistant and fire-protective (see definitions, page 71). “By putting the letter designation P or R the end user can see there is a difference in the two requirements.” This designation had been submitted for inclusion in the 2006 IBC, as well, but was not accepted. However, Steele says that once they have industry consensus, they are planning to submit a code change proposal to the IBC [proposals were due March 24, 2006], which will be heard during the next code change hearings in September.
Bill O’Keeffe, president of SAFTI First, says his company is working with the Fire and Safety Glazing Council (F&SGC) in an effort to see the code amended as he, too, has concerns about the new system.
“First, it adds an unnecessary and certainly confusing requirement on the end user, the contract glazier. This appears to be one manufacturer’s way to maintain market share through the codes at the expense of the glazier. [The system] was specifically aimed and designed to keep out lower cost products,” he says. “It also clouds the real safety benefits of these radiant heat reducing products, while placing emphasis on the hose stream portion of the testing done. Hose stream testing has no known safety benefits in regard to glazing in a fire, as it was put in the codes in the 1900s to prevent the then-used cast iron foundations from disintegrating with the resulting collapse of the building.”
Another concern for O’Keeffe is the effect the new system will have on the contract glaziers.
“When the glazier does his take off, he will now have to mark and keep track of each glazed unit with notations on whether it is an opening, door, wall and whether hose stream or non-hose stream rather than just listing the number of fire protective or fire resistive units he needs with their ratings and sizes,” says O’Keeffe. “All the codes care about is that the materials have been tested for the application needed and they can tell this by the testing that was performed. This information has always been on the label.”
He continues, “If a customer orders a 45-minute glazing as an opening, there are a variety of products that would be labeled identically, as an opening, but do not address the major difference in performance standards required.”
He adds that confusion could also come from how a glazier orders the glass.
“A glazing contractor orders 300 lites of 24- x 24-inch 45-minute glazing for an opening in a door and calls it an ‘opening” instead of a ‘door’ lite. All 300 lites would have to be relabeled at great expense. Either UL or ITS/ Warnock Hersey will have to come to the site to re-label the units with a D on them instead of an O.”
Len Brunette, president of Vetrotech Saint-Gobain, agrees that the labeling system can be confusing.
“We have concerns with the program because we’re finding [the labeling] confusing in the marketplace [in understanding the performance level] of the products,” he says. His company has also been working with the Fire and Safety Glazing Council to develop a new system for labeling fire-rated glass.
“We’re looking at how do we make it easy and simple for the code official to identify these products; we want [the labeling] to be easy for them to use. Once you start adding all of those letters [and the numbers] … you would have to carry around a handbook to pull it all together.”
Brunette continues, “Right now, inspectors are looking at the time limit and the testing lab’s mark, so we’re trying to get the message out to the codes officials that there is more to [these products] than just the number and the test lab’s label.”
The Other Side
Despite the opposition, Pilkington officials say there are no problems with the system.
“We have had no problems [with it] and we are using it to label glass,” says Bret Penrod, Pilkington North America’s general manager for fire protective glass, who adds that the new labeling system really is not dependent on the type of application into which the glass is going because different types of testing cover different applications. “For example, if it has a 20-minute requirement, then it’s usually for a door; a 120-minute requirement is usually a wall.”
Penrod says the only opposition to the new system, of which, he is aware is from competitive companies.
“Some of our competitors may worry about the system because their products may not meet certain requirements (i.e. the hose stream test),” he says. “From our perspective, we wanted a system that would allow code officials to go to the building and know the requirements for glazing. When we first proposed this to code officials, they were overwhelmingly supportive. As far as we know everyone is supportive except our competitors.”
According to Bill Koffel of the Glazing Industry Code Committee (GICC), there has not been any solid documentation of a problem with the new system.
“I’ve been hearing allegations of problems with the new labeling system, but there’s not really been any documentation that there is a problem,” says Koffel. “I think it’s an issue of one side submitted one proposal and the other side submitted another and the codes chose one [over the other] and [the side not chosen] is not happy.”
At press time, the deadline for code change submissions was March 24 and both the GICC and F&SGC were planning to submit proposals to the IBC. The proposals will be heard during the next code change hearings, scheduled for September 20-30 in Lake Beuna Vista, Fla., at the Coronado Springs Resort.
Industry Challenge: Rising Energy Costs
If you are a glass fabricator, you likely have felt the effects of increasing energy costs. With the rise in costs of electricity, natural gas and gasoline, glass fabricators are dealing with the financial strain.
“All businesses have seen a substantial increase in energy costs,” says Larry Borthwick, plant manager for Guardian Industries, headquartered in Auburn Hills, Mich. “These cost increases have not only prompted increases at the operations level but also throughout the supply chain,” he adds.
John Stilwell, vice president of AFG Fabrication says the high energy costs have had a major impact on his company’s business, we well.
“In addition to the basic power and gas to run our plants, the cost of electricity to heat our tempering furnaces has skyrocketed. The fuel costs to keep our truck fleet rolling are enormous,” says Stilwell.
Far and away, companies agree that their tempering furnaces are the most expensive piece of equipment to run.
“[We have] certainly [been] impacted through increased costs at our manufacturing process and part of the energy surcharge,” says Ray Wakefield, architectural sales manager at Trulite Industries in Mississauga, Ontario. “We manufacture insulating glass as well as tempered and spandrel. We have increased electrical costs for the tempering furnace and spandrel line,” says Wakefield.
Almost every aspect of business has been touched by higher energy costs.
“Operating costs have increased through natural gas and hydro increases, raw materials such as metal, rubber, wood and packaging materials, have seen some major increases,” says Borthwick. “Assessments of energy surcharges by primary glass manufacturers and trucking institutions impact not only the cost but also the cost to manage the recovery of these charges,” he adds.
Compensating For the Issue
Glass fabricators are doing what they can to keep costs down.
“We run our furnace shift to take advantage of off-peak rates,” says Wakefield.
Companies are also affected by the increase in the price of gasoline, which is needed for product delivery.
“We are constantly reviewing the delivery routes in all locations. In order to make the right decisions, truck route profitability must be looked at in addition to sales dollars,” says Stilwell.
Wakefield says he has not had to restrict his deliveries because of costs.
“We ship it [product] wherever. [But,] we’ve probably missed in some orders because people factor in freight [which] has a big impact,” says Wakefield.
Energy surcharges are tacked on to the price of glass from float glass manufacturers, because of the high costs of natural gas required to manufacture float glass.
“Essentially, we pass along the costs given to us from major float glass manufacturers. We have to translate the costs per truckload to either costs per case for wholesale or price per square-foot,” says Wakefield, who adds, “as far as we know, all our competitors are doing the same thing.”
It is necessary to pass costs on to customers to make a profit.
“We see energy charges in every aspect of our daily lives. Most of our customers accept it. Customers, of course, would prefer not to have the surcharge because it forces them to pass it along to their customers,” says Stilwell.
When do fabricators pass along their costs to customers?
“We started the energy surcharge at the same time the primary glass manufacturers started. Since we are a fabricator, we recover the cost of the surcharge and the yield losses incurred while producing the end product,” says Borthwick.
According to Wakefield, the price has risen drastically over the last few years.
“There was a time when the energy surcharge was around 5 cents per square-foot, now we are looking at around 35 cents per square-foot,” says Wakefield.
“Price increases in the fabrication markets are usually preceded by an increase from the primary manufacturers,” says Stilwell. “Primary increases have been absent. The introduction of the energy surcharge and diesel surcharge has basically replaced announced price increases and has been tied to the natural gas market,” he adds.
Changes for the Future
So, what are companies doing to prepare for energy costs in the future?
“We have to look at energy costs just like every other consumer. We have to find ways to use less in terms of conservation and, in conjunction, find low-cost alternative methods. AFG is exploring alternative fuel programs,” says Stilwell.
Fabricators may have to find alternative ways to operate business.
“North American manufacturers need to find ways to reduce costs in order to compete in this global market,” says Borthwick.
For the immediate future, Wakefield doesn’t see many alternatives to Trulite Industries’ current processes to alleviate the intensity of the problem.
“I’m not sure there are ways ... we’re not already doing. There’s not any real alternative to electricity, and I don’t see it decreasing much long term,” says Wakefield.
“I think the volatility we have seen in the past year will continue. The fundamentals of supply and demand are being influenced by political unrest and emotional behavior. The days of a stable natural gas market behaving rationally are gone, at least for the immediate future,” says Stilwell.
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