What Do the Grade Requirements in the AWI Standards Mean?

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The grade requirements for interior woodwork in the Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI) Standards – economy, custom, and premium grades – all relate to quality of materials and workmanship. They help architects know what level of quality they’re specifying, and help woodworkers understand the quality standards they should build to.

Having these three different grade requirements facilitates project fabrication and installation, with all stakeholders understanding the chosen grade to which the project should be built.

What are the different grades of architectural woodwork?

The three different grades are based around the quality of materials, work, and aesthetics. They also depend on the level of compliance based on the standards. The grades apply to the quality of all types of woodwork, from casework and veneers to wall paneling and stairs.

  • Economy grade – this is the lowest level grade requirement. It defines the minimum quality requirements for a project’s workmanship, materials or installation, and is typically reserved for woodwork that is not in public view, such as in mechanical rooms and utility areas. A project is not eligible to be QCP-certified based on economy grade requirements.
  • Custom grade – a ‘middle ground’ grade that offers a higher quality of materials, craft, and aesthetics than economy grade, but not such high quality as premium grade. It is considered the default grade in the AWI Standards, and is typically specified for and adequately covers most high-quality architectural woodwork, providing a well defined degree of control over a project’s quality of materials, workmanship, or installation.
  • Premium grade – this is the highest grade. It is selectively used in the most visible and high-profile areas of a project, such as reception counters, boardrooms, and executive areas, and provides the highest level of quality in materials, workmanship, or installation. Approximately 80% to 90% of QCP-licensed woodworking firms work to premium grade requirements. If your project is QCP-certified for premium, it is also automatically certified for custom grade.

The specific requirements for each grade vary depending on the type of woodwork. For instance, for opaque finishes, economy grade could use particleboard. Custom or premium grade requires a higher quality material, typically medium-density overlay board (MDO), medium density fiberboard [MDF], hardwood plywood, or solid stock.

Similarly, if your project includes decorative laminates like HPDL or LPDL, the different grades will require specific materials and different qualities of craftsmanship.

Specifying quality grades in QCP licensing and QCP project certification

It’s worth noting that when a woodworking firm applies for QCP licensing, it’s necessary to become licensed according to a certain quality level. That means a woodworking firm would choose to become licensed according to custom grade or to premium grade (you cannot get licensed on economy grade). If you choose custom grade, it means you would have to upgrade your license if you win a project that’s based on premium grade. If you choose premium grade, you are able to work on any grade of project, making premium grade more beneficial if you’ll be working on a lot of QCP-certified projects.

Architects can specify the grade level they require in each individual project.

There are limitless design possibilities and a wide variety of lumber and veneer species, along with overlays, high-pressure decorative laminates, factory finishes, and profiles that are available in all three grades.

Find out more about the Architectural Woodwork Standards in our comprehensive guide.