AWI vs. WDMA Standards

Do you have specifications for flush wood doors that reference both AWI Section 1300 and the WDMA I.S.1A-04 standards? Has this caused you problems in the bidding stage or worse yet, after doors have arrived at the jobsite?

AWI and WDMA have been developing standards impacting the commercial door industry for decades. In 2004 WDMA introduced performance requirements in lieu of the prescriptive requirements both organizations previously referenced, and made other changes which further increased the gap between the two standards. AWI, AWMAC, and WI came out with a joint standard in October 2009 referred to as the Architectural Woodwork Standards (AWS).  This new standard adopted the HPVA (Hardwood Plywood Veneer Association) veneer standards and the WDMA Performance Duty Levels. So what are the differences?

There are two expectations of architectural grade flush wood doors: they should be visually pleasing to the end-users (aesthetics) and they should function properly over the life of the installation (performance). While there are numerous differences between the two standards there are two major ones that cause the most confusion in the marketplace.

Aesthetics - AWS and the WDMA now reference HPVA’s veneer grading tables.

Performance –Both standards now use WDMA’s performance-based requirements. A performance-based standard provides more flexibility to manufacturers, as long as there is adherence to rigid performance criteria such as cycle slam, hinge loading, screw holding, etc.

An additional difference between the two standards is in the area of finishing, AWI chose to eliminate the “TR” and “OP” system designations while WDMA chose to retain them. For Custom Grade doors, AWI requires a veneer match within pairs of doors and between doors and transoms, while WDMA allows selection for similar color and grain in both installations. Other subtle differences exist as well but not significant enough to materially affect project cost and expectations.

So what are the problems created by the differences? Because the AWI and WDMA standards were very similar up until 1997, the architectural community was not concerned about which standard they referenced in their specifications – either one worked fine. Since then, both AWI and WDMA have worked hard to promote their individual standards and educate the architectural community about the differences, however not everyone has received the message. Specifications not only reference both standards, but often reference out-dated versions of the standards as well.

Aesthetic Issues – The architectural community has a propensity to specify AWS Premium Grade over Custom Grade because of the perceived superiority of Premium Grade. Consequently a project may be over-specified. A specification referencing AWS Premium Grade will require the project to be bid with “AA” grade center balance matched veneer with “5” face components in the rotary and plain sliced cuts while the WDMA standard of “A” grade running match veneers with 4” face components may be perfectly acceptable. This unnecessarily increases the cost of the door and ultimately the cost of the project. The reality is that AWS Premium Grade is in a class by itself, while AWS Custom Grade and WDMA Premium Grade are very similar. AWI states that Premium Grade is “usually reserved for special projects or feature areas within a project” while further stating that the vast majority of all work produced is Custom Grade. Rooms such as courtrooms or boardrooms might require AWS Premium Grade because a higher level of aesthetics is the expectation. Other typical installations for flush wood doors such as schools, hospitals, and office buildings do not require that level of aesthetics, and therefore should reference either AWS Custom Grade or WDMA Premium Grade. Specifications referencing Premium Grade from both standards leave the distributer in a quandary. What are the architect and owner really expecting? If I bid AWS Premium Grade and my competitor bids WDMA Premium Grade will I price myself out of the project. However, if I bid and furnish WDMA Premium Grade will I be meeting the architect and owner expectations, or will my products be rejected.

Performance Issues – WDMA introduced the first performance-based wood flush door standard in 2004. Why is this important since both AWI and WDMA have published prescriptive door standards for years and doors have functioned well using this methodology? Prescriptive standards tend to stifle the use of innovative materials and manufacturing procedures where performance based standards allow the manufacturer the flexibility to implement new materials and procedures as soon as they have been successfully tested against the criteria outlined in the performance standard. An example of this is the use of Structural Composite Lumber as a stile edge. The WDMA standard allows vertical edges comprised of Structural Composite Lumber and a thin veneer edge band or HPDL, as long as the assembly has been tested to meet the WDMA Performance Duty Level. The AWS standard requires a minimum 1” hardwood under any veneered or HPDL edge. Veneer is defined in the AWS standard as anything ¼” or less in thickness

Another area to watch out for is the requirement for additional product certifications such as AWI QCP. Many times the verbiage in specifications calls for AWI QCP labels, certificates, or a Letter of Licensing. AWI QCP labels and certificates are not required for a project to be built to the AWS standard.  This certification is a program of the AWI Quality Certification Corporation.  This AWI Quality Certification Corporation QCP program audits the wood products that are supplied on registered projects for compliance to the specifications and submittal documents. The project fee assessed is $500.00 or .5% of the sell price, whichever is greater. If this additional certification is not necessary, all references to AWI QCP Labels, Certificates, or Letter of Licensing, should be removed from the specification. As a side note, an AWI Letter of Licensing is not a valid term. AWI QCP allows for labels or certificates only. 

Another change that has taken place within the industry that you may want to be aware of is what defines “particleboard”. Specifying particleboard no longer means that the product supplied will be of wood fiber. If you are specifying particleboard and requiring it to be of wood fiber, you need to define it as “wood based particleboard”.

So what are the solutions? Do a better job of educating the architectural community regarding the differences between the two standards. Align the standards to remove the differences between them. Both AWI and WDMA have been educating the architectural community for years. The fact that this problem continues to exist today in specifications indicates that either they have been unable to accomplish this effectively or the audience is so large that the task will never be completed.  

Thanks to the Door and Hardware Institute and Marshfield Door Systems for portions of this article. For more information on the Door and Hardware Institute visit  or Marshfield Door Systems at


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