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Not all composites are created equal: Redefining MasterFormat 08 54 00

by Chick McBrien, CSI, CDT

A recent change to the Composite Window section, MasterFormat 08 54 00, now avoids confusion between materials that were grouped together in the past.
Photos courtesy Integrity Windows and Doors

While MasterFormat is the industry standard for organizing specifications for commercial projects, there are category exceptions specifiers, general contractors, and others should know about when using the CSI formats in the specification process. Not all products in the same MasterFormat category are equals or made from the same material, which can lead to misconceptions impacting budget and performance.

A change has recently been enacted that adds another subcategory to Section 08 54 00–Composite Windows. It is intended to avoid confusion between materials that have, in the past, been grouped together. Those materials provide very different tensile strengths, stability in extreme temperature, expansion rates, overall performance, and price points—this drove the need for change.

What is written in MasterFormat and how a product is classified can make or break that product from a commercial business success standpoint. Some manufacturers have realized the advantage in landing a product in the same specification category as a competitor, when the materials are different and can be offered at a much lower price point. Many of those who use MasterFormat indicate not only do they consider products in the same specification category to be the ‘same,’ but they will also almost always specify the less-expensive product.

Section 08 54 00 provides a relevant example of a category that previously included products of vastly different compositions. By definition, a composite is a substance made from two or more constituent materials with significantly different physical or chemical properties. When combined, the resulting material must not only have different characteristics than the original constituents, but also be a superior and unique material that is more effective than its parts alone.

The broad definition of this category means window companies have license to use less-expensive materials, such as sawdust chips and vinyl, to produce a thermoplastic composite that plays in the same proverbial sandbox as other materials with fundamentally different properties and performance values. Also considered part of this category, a thermoset fiberglass composite that uses a resin and a binder (such as a pultruded fiberglass) is developed via an entirely different process. With such vastly different materials grouped together, it becomes important to examine the performance and properties of each one to develop a comparison on tensile strength, stability in extreme temperatures, expansion rates, and overall performance.

Through a year-long research and development process, a group of independent material engineers developed a strong, scientific case to demonstrate not all materials are created equal. This has now caused a change to Section 08 54 00 of which specifiers should be aware. As of September 16, 2016, products made out of vinyl and wood must use the spec group 08 54 73, making them a different grade than a thermoset composite. Fiberglass thermoset products remain in the original composite category, Section 08 54 13–Fiberglass Windows.

A product made out of vinyl and wood must use the spec group 08 54 73, while fiberglass thermoset products remain in the original composite category, 08 54 13.

Although the creation of this new category is a step forward in differentiating thermoset fiberglass composite products from vinyl and wood chip thermoplastic composites, it has not been widely publicized in the industry. It is up to specifiers to ask questions when considering composite windows, keeping in mind two products in the same MasterFormat category may exhibit vastly different characteristics. Windows and doors are critical and character-defining in every project.

The CSI MasterFormat system continues to set the standard in constructing the built environment. The industry and the products being used continue to evolve and improve, and these relevant updates to the system provide owners with the opportunity to achieve a more sustainable building. Every owner’s goal in constructing a new building or rehabilitating an existing one is to receive bids during the purchase phase that are equal. When apples are expected, oranges are not the solution.

Chick McBrien, CSI, CDT, is regional manager in the architectural division of Marvin Windows and Doors. His more than 40 years of fenestration field experience has concentrated on historic preservation and commercial replacement. McBrien graduated from St. Bernard College. He has completed the MasterFormat Accredited Instructor program.

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