Louisiana code opens impact-resistant window of opportunity
Last November’s move by the Louisiana legislature to establish and enforce a statewide uniform building code creates new marketing opportunities for fenestration companies.
The 11 parishes hit hardest by hurricanes Katrina and Rita already are required to meet the wind and flood provisions of the 2003 International Building Code and International Residential Code, and the rest of the state must begin to comply with the uniform code in January. The law requires that residential and commercial structures in coastal communities be able to withstand winds of 130 miles per hour to 150 mph. It applies to new construction and to buildings with cost of reconstruction exceeding 50 percent of their pre-storm market value.
The law, together with the upcoming release of disaster assistance funds, expected in late summer, present the market opportunity. Manufacturers “need to start establishing a presence here and people need to see [impact-resistant products] in Lowe’s and Home Depot to help them become mainstream,” says Claudette Reichel, a professor at the Louisiana State University AgCenter and director of the Louisiana House Resource Center on the LSU campus. Disaster assistance funds can be used for construction upgrades such as impact-resistant window units, she says. However, architects and contractors are concerned about price points.
Curt McCarty, a state building official in the office of the Louisiana State Fire Marshal, agrees. The cost of the window units “is a big deal,” he says. Still, if builders consider the window units cost-prohibitive, they can meet code with shutters or by providing oriented strand particle board and fasteners, he explains.
Construction professionals may be aware of impact-resistant windows, but their knowledge can be superficial. Some do not know, for example, that an impact-resistant window is not just about the laminated glass, but rather the integrity of the entire unit. Also, designers may not be familiar with framing materials and the difference in energy ratings among the products.
In addition, the fact that the glass in an impact-resistant window unit might break, though not create a breach, may come as news to the uninitiated, and it raises questions about how a unit can be repaired. Can the glass be replaced or must the entire unit be swapped out? What are the price points for such repairs? Architects and builders “want to know the details,” Reichel says.
That puts the ball in the vendors’ court, she says, and some manufacturers agree. Solutia Inc. of St. Louis, Simonton Windows of Parkersburg, W. Va., Weather Shield Manufacturing Inc. in Medford, Wis., YKK AP America Inc. in Austell, Ga., and Oldcastle Glass in Atlanta have hosted seminars for Louisiana builders, architects and code officials.
Many builders say impact-resistant windows are too expensive for many home buyers, but several studies, including one commissioned by Solutia, show that these units are cost-effective alternatives to other forms of opening protection.
Spokespeople for Pella Corp. in Pella, Iowa, and Marvin Windows and Doors in Warroad, Minn., note that their companies have operated in Louisiana, working with and educating building-trade professionals for years. What’s changed, says Kathy Harkema, spokeswoman for Pella, “is the heightened awareness” among residents of the vulnerability of their homes. “Until [wind damage] affects you personally, you don’t think you need impact-resistant windows,” she says. But the destruction caused by Katrina and Rita “has made believers out of many more people.”