FGIA Analysis October 2021October 8th, 2021 by Nathan Hobbs
Gearing Up: As the Population Ages, Testing for Accessible Operating Force Grows
By Glenn Ferris
Since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) took effect 30 years ago, persons with disabilities have been recognized for their special needs in relation to building layout and component operation. With regard to fenestration, a key ADA guideline limits the force needed to open and close operable window sashes. This, and related considerations, are only going to grow in importance as populations age.
An increasing number of these people will be living independently or in other facilities covered by ADA guidelines. As construction accelerates to accommodate this segment, accessibility requirements will become more germane.
A first step in meeting the ADA guidelines as they relate to fenestration includes defining accessibility, in terms of dimensions and performance of building components that must be accessed by those with physical impairment. The desired performance level needs to be measurable through standardized testing methodology and appropriate limits set for those measurements. Specifically, ADA recommends that operable windows require no more than a five-pound force to open or close, and that locks, cranks and other hardware be located within set ranges of reach and not require excessive grasping or twisting of the wrist. However, the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (2010), which quantify these factors, is not a building code, specification or test method, and the force limit is advisory only.
However, Section 309 of the standard ICC/ANSI A117.1-2009, Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities, passes these recommendations on in an actionable form as referenced in the International Residential Code (IRC) and International [Commercial] Building Code (IBC). Still, like ADA, ICC/ANSI A117.2 includes no sampling plan, test methods, repeatability or reproducibility assessment. This role typically has been assumed by industry standards and test methods.
Still, compliance often requires a relatively deeper dive into the design of window components.
AAMA 902-16, Voluntary Specification for Sash Balances, is an FGIA document that establishes the requirements for materials, testing and performance for sash balances as used in hung-type windows. It describes a testing procedure for determining various performance parameters. The procedure provides for a specimen of the balance hardware as provided by the manufacturer to be subjected to 12 manual cycles that mimic raising and lowering a sash, as simulated by a test weight, followed by up to 5,500 automated open/close cycles. It also provides rating criteria and test procedures for qualifying balances to two performance levels (“A” or “B”) and six Maximum Applied Force (MAF) classifications. There are 12 possible performance ratings based on these indices. The standard also provides mathematical formulas and procedures for determining Sash Operating Force (SOF).
Accessibility joins the many performance factors involved in a trade-off carefully contemplated to arrive at the optimum window design. These intricacies, and the multitude of components (some provided by third-party suppliers) and options combined, must be considered using a holistic approach to the accessible design of the end product.
Glenn Ferris is Fenestration Standards Specialist for the Fenestration and Glazing Industry Alliance (FGIA).
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