AWI’s Performance-Based Architectural Woodwork Standards

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We’ve had a lot of questions recently about the new ANSI/AWI Standards and the performance-based system they’ve adopted. In this article, we address all your major questions, including how the performance-based system works, why the standards changed in the first place, and what benefits they bring to woodworkers and design professionals.

Performance-Based Architectural Wood Casework Standards

The new ANSI/AWI Standards follow a performance-based system for casework, that prioritizes how a piece functions as opposed to how it was built. The new standards include:

  • AWI 100 – Submittals: Covers cabinet shop drawings
  • AWI 200 – Care & Storage: Covers the care and storage of interior woodwork 
  • AWI 300 – Materials: Combines sections three and four of the AWS requirements for lumber and sheet products
  • ANSI/AWI 0400 – Factory Finishing: Succeeds AWS Section 5 in presenting 13 finishing technologies, with testing requirements for other finishes
  • ANSI/AWI 0620 – Finish Carpentry Installation: Supplants the installation criteria in AWS sections six through 12
  • ANSI/AWI 0641 – Architectural Wood Casework Standard: One of two standards derived from AWS Section 10 for Casework, encompassing a range of architectural wood casework fabrication
  • ANSI/AWI 0643 – Wood Stairs, Handrails, and Guard Systems: Replaces AWS Section 7 for Stairwork & Rails
  • ANSI/AWI 1232 – Manufactured Wood Casework: The second AWI Standard derived from AWS Section 10, focusing on manufactured wood casework fabrication
  • ANSI/AWI 1236 – Countertops: Developed from AWS Section 10 for Countertops, covering countertops of a variety of materials

In the past, the Architectural Woodwork Standards delineated a prescriptive set of rules on how a piece of casework, for example, should be built. Now, there is a stronger focus on how a piece performs according to four performance duty levels. These are:

  • Duty Level 1: For casework with light commercial applications. This is the least restrictive performance standard
  • Duty Level 2: For casework with regular commercial applications 
  • Duty Level 3: For casework with institutional applications. This is the default performance standard
  • Duty Level 4: For casework with laboratory applications. This is the highest level of structural performance for casework subject to heavy loads.

The desired duty level for casework should be indicated in the project specifications and stated in the shop drawings. The Performance duty levels are determined through laboratory testing as outlined on the AWI website.

Why Did the Standards Change?

The main impetus behind the new performance-based architectural woodwork standards was giving architects and design professionals assurance that a piece will function as it’s supposed to, while also giving more flexibility and creative freedom to woodworkers.

The original standards were quite restrictive to woodworkers, and prevented them from building a piece in a way that best served their skills and the design initiative. In addition, the opportunity for innovation in fasteners and assembly methods and their inclusion into the standards was quite slow and time consuming. By providing a formalized approach to performance testing, the new AWI Standards give woodworkers the freedom they deserve and the opportunity for innovation whilst ensuring that the final product functions safely and as intended.

Benefits of Having Performance-Based Standards

One benefit of the new AWI Standards is that you can decide which duty level you want the piece to conform to, putting the power in your hands.

Additionally, there are free testing options available to AWI members, enabling a smoother, hassle-free transition. Members will really be able to make the most of this offer given that all elements of a product are eligible for free testing. To learn more about this, check out our podcast with the Executive Vice President of AWS, Doug Hague, where we talk about free casework testing in more detail. 

Beyond these, there is a range of benefits the new performance-based architectural woodwork standards offer. For the design community, they:

  • Provide a level of scientific proof demonstrating a piece’s quality, construction, and durability, 
  • Give assurance that any construction meeting the duty level will function safely, properly, and as specified in the contract documents
  • Mitigate risks of liability 

Meanwhile, for woodworkers, the benefits of the new performance-based architectural woodwork standards include:

  • The freedom to build a piece of woodwork however you like, as long it conforms to the testing requirements
  • The opportunity to develop your own unique construction method, and contribute this to the AWI’s member library of available build methods
  • The formalization of quality standards and testing requirements without compromising the woodworkers’ ability to be innovative 

But the benefit for woodworkers you might be most relieved to hear about is the fact that if your work already complies with the AWS, you won’t be much affected by the new standards. Even with the performance-based system, the new AWI Standards don’t deviate significantly from the AWS.

For architects, you can still specify Edition 2 of the AWS in your documents. If you do, the new standards won’t be applicable.

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