When Specifications Create Litigation
By Bruce Wingfield
Since 1936, the American Architectural Manufacturers Association has been the most successful third-party organization for the certification of fenestrations and quality control. Most architects specify AAMA-certified fenestrations, and have specifications for field testing windows, sliding glass doors, and curtainwalls in order to improve and validate quality control — especially as it pertains to water and air infiltration. (Owners are not fond of new windows leaking after a rainstorm.) Field testing using water and air are normal procedures for new construction in order to improve fenestration quality.
Following are two cases where the AAMA specifications and certifications were not followed and developed into construction nightmares.
True Story #1
The architect’s specification called out AAMA 502 for field pressure testing of AW windows using Procedure A. This was correct; it was only afterwards that the wheels came off, as the specification was out-of-date by 12 years! AAMA 502-12 had been replaced with AAMA 502-21, with more robust requirements, however the Architect was still referring to the old protocol and testing standards.
The first mistake was the specification requirement that field testing was to be performed by “an independent third party” when, in reality, even AAMA 502-12 required an AAMA Accredited Lab/test agency. Just being a third party does not meet the standard and quality control procedures established by AAMA.
The second mistake was installing all the windows prior to field pressure testing a 5% sampling, as required by AAMA. Testing at 5% prior to drywall provides an opportunity to check for installation problems and/or window issues. Much better to find a few windows failing and diagnose the problem than to install 180 windows and test after drywall only to learn that the vast majority are leaking.
The third mistake was made by the Architect for approving submittals indicating a non-accredited AAMA Lab/test agency was going to be conducting the field pressure testing. Thus when all the windows were installed, the non-accredited AAMA testing third party decided to use what is referred to as AAMA 101 in lieu of AAMA 502.
AAMA 101 is not a field test. AAMA Labs test at the lab and use AAMA 101 in order to certify a window to a certain pressure. The pressure the window manufacturer sets the test of water and pressure in a chamber is tested for that length of time. For AAMA the tests lasts all of 10 seconds, for Miami-Dade 30 seconds. Again pressures are set by the manufacturer as high as possible with the goal of the window not failing in 10 or 30 seconds. As soon as the time expires, the test is stopped.
AAMA 502 field tests are apples to AAMA 101’s oranges. First, the AAMA 502 test is at 1/3rd reduction of pressure from what the window was tested at the lab. Second, the procedure “A” test lasts 15 minutes. Unfortunately, the nonaccredited testing company failed all the windows blasting them with AAMA LAB pressure for way longer than even 30 seconds would allow. Plus, after failing window after window, they were not even offering up diagnostics as AAMA 502 required of them.
True Story #2
At another project, I received a call from a concerned Architect. The developer hired a non-accredited AAMA testing company who tested five windows and one entry door, failing four of the specimens. The window manufacturer claimed that they tested and every specimen passed. I set up a meeting with the Architect on-site. All the windows had been installed and drywall was underway but not finished. The picture above represents a window installation (not wrapped) resting on bare bucks. Pressure testing bare buck windows will cause failure 99% of the time. An AAMA Accredited company has trained technicians that know this, and would have never performed a pressure test on bare buck wood.
AAMA 501.2 protocol clearly states, “The nozzle shall be held normal to the plane of the wall and at a distance of 305 plus or minus 25 mm (1 foot). This non-accredited testing agency is not following the specification and may be failing the test because the spray nozzle is too close.
AAMA has recently changed their name to Fenestration & Glazing Industry Alliance, or FGIA. All the AAMA protocols remain and are under constant revision and scrutiny in order to ensure quality fenestrations. However, four window manufacturers now routinely reject field testing by nonaccredited companies due to the many errors in the field during water and air testing.
How can these examples of poor field testing be avoided? It is mandatory when specifying field testing of fenestrations using AAMA 502 or AAMA 503 that testing will be by an AAMA Accredited Lab or testing agency. A specification that only describes “a third party” is not in compliance with these protocols. AAMA 501.2 requires an AAMA Lab; but is not enforced in the field.
Compliance with AAMA LAP-3 is required per AAMA 502 or AAMA 503. To comply with AAMA LAP-3, the Architect must verify that the lab or test agency is currently operating in compliance with the audit requirements of ISO/IEC 17025 internationally recognized quality control standards. Without this quality control being met, the protocol is not being followed.
In conclusion, Architects must follow the protocols of the specifications they specify. When the protocols are not followed, windows are not tested correctly and legal finger pointing contests ensue.
About the Author: Bruce Wingfield is currently employed by a nationwide Building Envelope Consultant and FGIA Accredited Laboratory certified to field test for all AAMA protocols. Please contact Bruce Wingfield for additional information at [email protected].