Glazing often not what it looks like

The development industry is awash with non-compliant glazing that compromises energy efficiency ratings, with multiple cases of fraudulent compliance paperwork and at least six of these cases in court, according to The Australian Windows Association.

According to AWA executive director Tracey Gramlick the association has encouraged the uptake of products that improve ratings and contribute to sustainability, in view of glazing as a key element of thermal and energy efficiency of buildings.

“We were one of the first to adopt a rating system as we understood early on the impact glazing has on energy ratings,” Ms Gramlick told The Fifth Estate.

Many of the calls the AWA receives about non-compliant products have come from members of the Association of Building Sustainability Assessors who discovered designs for buildings that appeared compliant on paper, but have been delivered with non-compliant products that will not achieve stated ratings.

The same issue of non-compliant and sometimes fraudulently certified products has also  occurred with safety glass, which Ms Gramlick said the AWA was extremely concerned about.

The issue sometimes arose because some builders reviewed initial pricing estimates and specifications and changed products to alter their costs, substituting the initial products specified for those with lower performance values, or, in the worst cases, products that have not been certified to meet Australian standards.

In other cases, the builder has been duped by product paperwork that looks right, but isn’t.In most cases these are products manufactured overseas.

Suppliers named

In April this year, the AWA issued an alert about Shanghai PCC Constructions Co Ltd for producing fraudulent AWA and SAI Global Compliance Certificates. The AWA said, “Shanghai PCC Constructions Co Ltd are not a member of the AWA and do not participate in the AWA Compliance Audit Scheme.”

Ms Gramlick said last month there was also another company found to be forging AWA compliance certificates.

In court

In the past 12 months, six court cases have commenced over fraudulent compliance documentation.

Fraudulent compliance documentation has a major cost impact for an owner, builder or developer, who has often invested in the architectural specifications to achieve a specific energy performance outcome and invested further in the services of an energy assessor, only to find at inspection time that the windows are not up to code, or do not meet specifications and cannot be passed.

Tracey Gramlick

It can cost thousands of dollars to have the glazing replaced with verifiably compliant product, Ms Gramlick said.

A survey by the Master Builders Association in March this year found that glazing accounted for 10.4 per cent of non-compliant products discovered by builders.

In a media statement, the MBA said, “The rise of imported building materials presents both opportunities and pitfalls for the construction industry. While imported products can be cheaper, many of them do not meet regulatory Australian or industry standards.

“Some products are simply not tested to Australian Standards, with some being tested once and passing, but subsequent products manufactured to an inferior standard.

“Counterfeiting is also a problem with substandard products being labelled as meeting Australian Standards.”

The AWA claims it maintains a stringent approach to ensuring its 600-plus members are producing materials that meet standards, and since 2008 an annual auditing program has been carried out on all members to ensure products are tested to the AS 2047 Windows in buildings standard.

Currently the AWA has a database of about 450,000 Window Energy Rating Scheme-accredited, standards-compliant products. AWA also has a registered training organisation that delivers educational packages on glazing, energy efficiency and compliance for industry.

An online glazing energy efficiency calculator has also been developed which is based on the WERS. The calculator has a free publicly accessible level that enables users to see the difference glazing choices will make to energy bills and greenhouse gas emissions in their climatic zone. The more sophisticated level for industry professionals gives a detailed analysis of how the glazing mix can be optimised to achieve savings in energy use and reduced emissions footprints.

AWA, along with the Australian Glass and Glazing Association, formed the Sustainable Windows Alliance in 2008 in partnership with Sustainability Victoria; and it is a member of the Australian Fenestration Rating Council. AFRC has an online searchable directory of certified products.

“There are two ways to measure energy efficiency of glazing. You can use the Building Code of Australia calculator and go by the figures, which generally means the windows get smaller to achieve efficiency, or you can work with accredited energy raters who love their jobs and will work with you to understand what you want from a building,” Ms Gramllick said.

Ms Gramlick said the level of innovation in the glazing industry is ongoing, from the redevelopment required for window systems so they could capture double glazing, through to the latest triple-glazed, evacuated glass or argon-filled double glazed units that are now available.

Market uptake of more energy-efficient solutions has made double glazing cost comparable to treated single-glazed systems in the colder states, Ms Gramlick said, while in New South Wales and Queensland there was still an increased cost for double glazing. In terms of the new argon-filled glazing systems, these are now about the same price as air-filled double glazing.

“Innovation comes in peaks and troughs,” Ms Gramlick said.

“We hold an annual design awards and every year there is a category for most innovative window system and most innovative component, and we have never not had an entry for either of those categories.

“Our awards also include categories for architects and showrooms, and with the show rooms category we always look at what they have to offer with energy efficiency in terms of both products and also in terms of information for people who come in off the street.”

Ms Gramlick had one key piece of advice is to ensure compliance: “If you are going to deal with an offshore supplier, make sure they have an entity onshore so you can deal with compliance issues.”