Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Creating a Customer-Friendly Attachment Ratings Label

Last fall, NFRC approved technical procedures for the development of energy performance ratings for co-planar interior and exterior attachment products. This represented a major step toward one day providing third-party performance ratings for products such as blinds and shades. Throughout the development process, NFRC's Board of Directors provided guidance for the Fenestration Attachments program and continues to do so.

With technical procedures in place, NFRC's Attachments Subcommittee now is developing a certification and labeling program. It is a challenging task. Many variables affect the performance of an attachment product – e.g., the type of window to which it is attached, the operation of the attachment product itself (open/closed), the angle of the sun, etc. At the same time, it's important that NFRC provide customers with an easy-to-use label.

In early 2011, the board provided guidance on the development of the attachments label, recommending: "...that a 'Stars' rating on an attachment label [is an example of a rating system that] meets the direction previously approved by the board. Additional information on the label may be provided as long as it continues to meet board direction and the rating not be stated as a U-Factor and SHGC numerical rating. This does not exclude the use of U-factor and SHGC numerical data from other NFRC material related to attachments."

Those familiar with NFRC ratings know this is a departure from the numeric ratings found on our labels. During NFRC's spring meeting, attendees raised questions about the board's direction to the Attachments Subcommittee.

In my opinion, we need to keep in mind that customers, not building code enforcement officials, engineers or scientists, are the primary audience for these labels. In addition, the attachment label should avoid implying an undue level of precision, because NFRC does not know the performance of the window, door or skylight to which the product will be attached, the solar incident angles, or how the customer will operate the product.

The board's recommendation to use a different rating system for the attachment label will help make it more customer-friendly, allowing apples-to-apples comparisons of attachment products. It does not preclude the use of numerical data in forums other than the label itself. Providing U-factor, solar heat gain coefficient and visible transmittance data may be helpful, as long as that data is provided with additional explanations on a separate document.

While the board's direction specifically mentioned a "Stars" rating system, my interpretation is that it serves as an example. A different symbolic or scalar type system could also meet the board's guidance.

This is an opportunity for the attachments community to develop a visual ratings system that is distinct from the NFRC windows label and easily recognizable by customers. What type of system do you think the label should feature?