In the pre-plastic days our company Ambass-A-Door could have been seen as a bit parochial.

Increasingly, though, our work has come in from farther afield and now we operate on virtually a national basis. We are still based in Norwich, but have expanded and can handle very large contracts, such as one for replacement timber windows for 200 homes for Waltham Forest Borough Council.

We are going through another period of expansion now, looking to increase our production capacity by 25%.

The plastic challenge

Working nationally has changed our business ethic. While our quality has never been in doubt, we’ve had to ‘think big’ in terms of meeting the plastic challenge, as well as the performance standards and guarantees that are now part of everyday business.

But when the British Woodworking Federation‘s Timber Window Accreditation Scheme (TWAS) was launched we held back from applying. We felt our windows were of such a high quality that we didn’t need to. We also felt the scheme was of more benefit to the bigger manufacturers making mass-produced windows.

How wrong we were!

Watching the scheme’s progress we realised that it was as much for smaller manufacturers like us. It also became clear that the BWF was really putting some muscle behind it and pushing up quality. We reconsidered and decided we were better in than out.

Ironically, we did experience some difficulties at the outset that were exacerbated by our size. These were all related to getting our suppliers to provide us with written guarantees on their products, which we were obliged to obtain by the BWF scheme.

Ambass-A-Door has been factory-finishing in terms of painting, staining and glazing for 25 years and all the people we dealt with were already TWAS members, supplying written guarantees with their products. However, our hardware suppliers had rarely supplied guarantees. If there was a hardware failure, the joinery firm had to carry the can.

Happily, when we explained the TWAS and told them about its potential, they quickly appreciated the benefits that could accrue to them by providing us with guarantees.

Approved suppliers

Now we are members, we increasingly look to the approved suppliers within the scheme membership. We know they will all supply written guarantees and, inevitably, it also increases customer confidence knowing we have this excellent resource available to us.

Looking back, it’s strange to think that the whole accreditation process took as long as it did – about nine months. When you look at the documentation there doesn’t seem to be a lot to do. But you have to appreciate that while you’re applying, you’re also still running your business – selling, processing orders, dealing with specifiers and other customers, briefing your designers, and making sure everyone gets paid on time.

The first step was to submit the initial application to the BWF. But it was after receiving the technical pro forma that the serious work began.

We used Schlegel as our independent testing house to carry out the performance tests which would prove our windows met the TWAS standards. They were originally equivalent to the basic NHBC and British Standards, but by the time we applied they had been raised. For example, timber frames, casements and beading used by TWAS members all exceed BS EN 942 which classes timber by its knot size. Factory double-glazing complies with BS 5713, uses a dual system and TWAS members provide a 10-year guarantee. In terms of air permeability, water tightness and wind resistance, TWAS standards substantially exceed or at least match Pa levels demanded by BS 644 and the NHBC.

We had no problem with the bar being raised. We were always confident that we were well above the standard anyway. And pushing the standard up is a concrete sign that the quality of the windows in the scheme is improving.

Three types of sliding sash, a flush fitting casement and one of our stormproof designs – five profiles in all – had their weather strips tested by Schlegel. This was followed by accelerated weathering tests carried out on our paint finishes.

Individual documentation has to be prepared for each profile and weathering test to ensure that everything we want accredited is fully covered.

Following the tests a BWF-appointed assessor visited Norwich to scrutinise our production processes from start to finish. This took another day and had to take place during the course of a normal production run. The assessor looked at our timber and how we sourced it to check that it comes from sustainable resources. He reviewed our pressure treatment, the glues we use, painting and staining processes and glazing. We also had to satisfy him that the finished products were dried correctly and then stored, under cover on-site.

Our management systems and procedures were also scrutinised. The TWAS requires a company to have a recognised quality management system in place to ensure production consistency. Many companies use ISO accreditation for this but we found it too paper-heavy. We have our own system, which we believe is even better. Nevertheless, we still had to convince an independent assessor of that. The factory processes and systems are assessed every year to keep us on our toes.

Benefits of accreditation

A lot of good things have come out of TWAS membership. We became better members of the BWF overall and are even more conscious of maintaining quality and the credibility of the TWAS’s aims. Before we joined we were becoming aware of a growing demand for BWF-accredited timber windows, so we saw membership as an advantage. This has strengthened since we joined. More and more specifiers are demanding that a company holds TWAS membership as a condition of being asked to tender. And it is opening doors to much larger contracts.

The costs and workload are substantial and may deter smaller members. But you can plan the financial side and the BWF will do what it can to help a company through accreditation. In the long term – as timber’s popularity increases – it’s well worth the effort.