Building Product Evaluation Services
Evaluation Services are agencies that evaluate (test or inspect in some way) building products or finished construction work. In specifications, we are mostly interested in agencies that evaluate products in advance to determine their compliance with voluntary standards or regulations. In the U.S., there are only a few agencies that do product evaluation on a large scale. In contrast, there are a large number of "testing laboratories" that evaluate products and finished work for compliance with the project requirements. A key difference between these two situations is that building product manufacturers pay evaluation services to test their products in advance to prove that they will meet building codes or commonly specified levels of quality, in order to get their products specified. Some of these tests can be very expensive. On the other hand, field testing to demonstrate compliance with the specifications is done at the owner's request (via the design professional) and is ultimately paid for by the owner, either as part of the construction price or directly.
Even though building product evaluation services are sometimes referred to as "testing agencies," that term is too limiting, since some do not actually do testing. Most test (or require tests performed) according to accepted industry standards, such as those published by ASTM or NFPA. Some organizations promulgate their own standards. When considering whether products certified by one of these agencies may be acceptable, consider which standards are the basis for the testing.
Even in this age of the Internet, certain construction information is still valuable in print. Some evaluation services publish "listing books" that show all the products that have been tested to conform to particular standards. Since the listings are for long terms (minimum of one year) and most manufacturers maintain their listings for much longer, the books include all the tested products -- only those that have been tested after the annual publication of the books are missing. In addition, the books are typically easier to use than the web-based databases provided on-line.