In the Thick of It

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By Wayne Hintz, QCP Representative

For Quality Certification Program (QCP) certified projects which include HPDL casework and countertops, laminate grade and thickness is an important and sometimes tricky aspect of achieving conformance.  The architect’s specifications regarding laminate grades for various cabinet surfaces often depart from what is allowed in the latest edition of the Architectural Woodwork Standards.  For example, a requirement for horizontal grade (HGS) laminate cladding for both exposed and semi-exposed surfaces is a specification we see periodically.  The specified use of cabinet liner (CLS) or vertical grade (VGS) HPDL rather than LPDL (melamine) for semi-exposed cabinet interiors occurs regularly.  Rule of thumb:  Where laminate grade and thickness are concerned, don’t take anything for granted, or assume that specifications will necessarily match AWI Standards.  Read the specifications carefully.

When faced with an architect-specified departure from the standards regarding laminate grades, there are only three possible courses of action which the woodworker can take:

  1. Provide what is specified.
  2. Prior to commencement of casework fabrication, seek and receive the architect’s written approval of your alternative HPDL recommendations.
  3. Ignore the architect’s HPDL requirements, and fabricate the casework using non-specified laminate or melamine, without notifying the architect.

Obviously, this last scenario is fraught with risk and is not recommended.  If the HPDL grades provided by the woodworker are not those which were specified, that HPDL is nonconforming and could preclude project certification.  At that point, if the woodworker cannot secure the architect’s “after the fact” written acceptance of the laminate as provided, the only other possible resolution would be the physical correction of the nonconformance. In most cases, this would probably require replacement of the casework.  If the woodworker fails to make the necessary corrections, published QCP Policies prescribe revocation from the program.

QCP project inspection reports in 2019 indicated an uptick of a particular conformance issue involving HGS laminate:  While architectural woodwork specifications often require HGS grade for exposed (and sometimes semi-exposed) casework surfaces, the major laminate manufacturers no longer stock HGS grade for a significant number of laminate colors and patterns.  Technically, HGS is still available in most cases as a special order, long-lead item. But for the colors and patterns involved, post-form laminate (HGP) is offered by the manufacturers as the HGS substitute.  If this HPDL issue applies to a laminate specified for your project, the three alternatives outlined in the paragraph above still apply.  However, if requesting the architect to pre-approve a change from the specified HGS to HGP, then market availability, lead time, and possible higher costs may be additional supporting reasons for your change request.

I did a little digging regarding how the trend towards the reduction of HGS availability began.  I was fortunate to make contact with an experienced and knowledgeable gentleman involved with the regional distribution of one of the major HPDL brands.  According to him, a few years ago a major HPDL manufacturer began contemplating the very minimal difference between HGS and HGP performance testing results.  In addition, thickness for HGS and HGP was similar, and in fact, theoretically overlapped in terms of the industry’s nominal thickness tolerances.  The manufacturer recognized these redundancies, which it addressed by downgrading the market role of HGS.  They perceived this as an economic opportunity due to the simplified production, storage and delivery processes which would result.  Thus began the de-emphasizing of HGS grade for a growing number of their HPDL offerings.  Other manufacturers soon followed suit.