If you know anything about windows, you know that not all products are created equal. Just because a window fits your home’s style doesn’t mean that it necessarily carries the best reputation for durability and energy efficiency for your windows.
The AAMA Gold Label is sort of like a shortcut to identify high-performing, quality products. In order to be assigned this certification, a window must meet the American Architectural Manufacturers Association’s 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 products 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. Here’s what you should know about the Gold Label, and what it means when a window bears its insignia.
AAMA Gold Label Requirement Categories
While the full breadth of Gold Label requirements would difficult to cover in sum here (the AAMA’s 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, on the other hand, measures not the amount of moisture allowed through the window (if that were the case, none of us would ever stay dry!) 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.
When the AAMA tests windows’ structural strength, they’re measuring 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. If the window breaks under less than that, it cannot bear the gold label certification.
Verified Components Are a Standard Part of AAMA Gold Label Certification
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. In this way, they can 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 Real Difference: On-Site Inspections
The big reason AAMA Gold Label products get a nod from window professionals is that the certification process not only requires testing at an independent laboratory. Any product that meets the testing requirements must also have its manufacturing sites inspected, too. This ensures that manufacturers aren’t just pulling out all the stops for the models that testers see—then slacking off when it comes to the real products they put out on the market. In fact, 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 also tests windows for separate measurements, including a window’s U-Factor, Solar Heat Gain Coefficient, and Visible Transmittance of Light, which measure—in order—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 categorized as a Gold Label window, a product must be tested and passed by the NFRC, too.
AAMA Silver Label Certifications Test for Thermal Standards, As Well
The AAMA also has a separate designation—the silver label—for windows that pass independent standards for thermal performance. These test the weatherstripping, air infiltration, thermal transmittance, glazing, and insulation of window products for how reliably they prevent drafts and lowered temperatures.
However, just because a product bears the silver label doesn’t mean that it conforms to gold label standards, and vice versa. The two awards exist independent from each other.
Gold Label products aren’t for everyone, of course. High performance 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 may be well worth it.