When it comes to windows, not all products are created equal. Just because a window fits your home and the salesperson was “a real nice guy” doesn’t mean that it necessarily has a great track record for durability and energy efficiency.
The AAMA Gold Label is a tool to identify high-performing, quality products. In order to be assigned this certification, a window must meet the American Architectural Manufacturers Association’s high standards for air leakage, water penetration, wind and forced entry resistance, durability, and thermal window performance. Products have to be independently tested in an official AAMA laboratory, guaranteeing their reliable behavior in homes.
The AAMA puts windows through some of the most rigorous testing in the industry, not only verifying windows as a whole, but also the individual components and production lines. Because of this, it’s a great way to differentiate products that meet high standards across various measurements.
AAMA Gold Label Requirement Categories
Although the AAMA official classification document is over 60 pages long, the main things to know are the standards for air leakage, water leakage, and structural strength.
Air leakage, AL to window professionals, represents the amount of air infiltration the window allows through gaps in the window frame and joinery. Most windows have small cracks in the window assembly that leave them vulnerable to air infiltration. But a high-end model should have either an airtight assembly, or be designed to resist air leaks. Gold Label windows must meet an air leakage standard of 0.30 cubic feet per minute or lower when wind speeds are at 25 mph. The lower the AL is, the less air infiltration allowed through the window.
Water leakage doesn’t measure the amount of moisture allowed through the window, but the wind speeds needed to squeeze rain through small cracks in the window frame. In this test, windows are subjected to conditions matching eight inches of rain, then the wind pressure is steadily increased. Windows that allow water infiltration at wind speeds under 33 mph fail.
Structural strength measures the amount of wind pressure the window can resist—in other words, the speed that causes a window to break. To get the gold label certification, a window must withstand at least 94 mph of wind pressure without breaking.
Verified Quality Components
Another way the AAMA helps homeowners determine the real quality of windows is by requiring manufacturers to submit samples of the individual components of each window. They test a window model’s full range of available finishes, sealants, hardware, and weatherstripping—and make sure that it passes no matter what the manufacturer adds to the window before it makes its way to your living room.
The Big Test is the On-Site Inspections
Any window that meets the testing requirements must also have its manufacturing sites inspected. Not only does the AAMA inspect production lines, it also visits manufacturers biannually—without prior notice—to ensure that Gold Label products keep their promises.
To Receive a Gold Label Certification, Windows Also Need to Be Tested by the NFRC
The National Fenestration Ratings Council tests a window’s U-Factor, Solar Heat Gain Coefficient, and Visible Transmittance of Light, which measure how well the glass insulates your home, how well it shades it from solar heat, and the amount of light allowed through the glass. To be a Gold Label window, a product must be tested and passed by the NFRC, too.
Gold Label products aren’t for everyone, of course. High performance and quality comes at a price, and sometimes it just doesn’t fit in the budget. But it will save you money in the long run and extend the lifespan of your windows as well, so in the end, that little extra we believe to be well worth it.