Certification as the Key to Success: How Estonian Wooden House Producers Can Conquer the German Market

Estonia's tradition in timber construction follows international efforts toward economically optimized production. This primarily involves the prefabrication of wooden panel elements up to complete modules. The manufacturers adhere to European standards and are competitively high in quality. Surprisingly, Estonian manufacturers have little presence in the German market. Only a few dare to enter this lucrative market. The hurdles of German regulations, such as building supervision regulations and necessary certifications, seem too great. 

Certifications in Germany are issued by independent institutions. Upon successful certification, a manufacturer is permitted to label and market its products accordingly. The basis for the labeling includes documented procurement, production, and delivery processes that are demonstrated to the certifying body. To the customer, this labeling confirms that the products possess the documented product characteristics and that the production conditions meet the specifications of the independent institution. The institution, with its expertise, ensures compliance through regular checks on the manufacturer. 

Certification can be seen as a tool for structuring internal operational processes at a wooden house manufacturer and ensuring uniform quality. The necessary and sensible type of certificate depends on the respective manufacturer and its products. Germany has the potential to be a much larger strategic export market for the Estonian wooden house sector and the economy in general if the producers so desire. 

Not all certifications lead to much more work. The processes required after obtaining the German Ü-Zeichen (Conformity Mark) or the RAL Quality Mark for Wooden House Construction should be considered necessary for a company anyway. Without these, it is not possible to qualitatively control company processes. Certification is not an inflated quality monster like ISO 9001, for example. Entrepreneurs fear certification. Actually, before entering a foreign market, an entrepreneur should clarify which certificates are needed, instead of waiting to see what the customer might demand one day. Or even worse, what the building authority or regulators might demand retrospectively after the construction of the object or after the delivery of the goods. 

There is a different approach among producers in Germany and Estonia. While in Germany and other so-called old European countries, certification for manufacturing companies is usually planned immediately when it is decided to enter a new foreign market, Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian companies often tend to follow what the buyer expects from them. If the customer says they want certified goods, then certification is pursued. If the customer does not demand this due to ignorance, then it is not certified. The responsibility to comply with these specifications always remains with the manufacturer.

It can happen that they receive an order today and then suddenly the certificate is needed; then they quickly turn to the certifier: "Can you come by quickly?" But the certifiers plan their work about 3-4 months in advance, and then it may be too late for the producer to meet the customer's wish through certification.

The RAL Gütezeichen (Quality Mark) and the Ü-Zeichen (Ü-Mark) are both marks used in Germany to certify the quality and conformity of products and components, including in the field of wooden house construction and prefabricated components. Both certifications play an important role in the construction industry, especially in ensuring the safety, reliability, and quality of building materials and construction procedures.

Quality assurance in German prefabricated timber construction has a decades-long tradition. Already in the 1960s, the legally required monitoring of prefabricated components in the factory began, paving the way for private and thus voluntary monitoring according to the RAL Quality Mark for Wooden House Construction. To ensure the quality of prefabricated houses and the associated control processes necessary for the highest possible degree of prefabrication, the Federal Quality Association for Assembly Construction and Prefabricated Houses (BMF) was founded in 1961. Since 1972, it has been a quality association recognized by the RAL German Institute for Quality Assurance and Certification. The RAL Quality Marks and Ü-Zeichen (Conformity Marks), which the BMF awards to its members, stand for products and services that meet clearly defined quality criteria. These criteria are firmly anchored in the RAL quality and testing regulations and Ü-Zeichen, and are publicly accessible to all interested parties. RAL Quality Marks and Ü-Zeichen (Ü-Mark) offer a high level of safety for end consumers and builders. In recent years, they have established themselves as award criteria for tenders or as a basis for financing. 

What is the difference between the RAL Quality Mark for Wooden House Construction and the Ü-Zeichen (Ü-Mark) in the German wooden house market?

The main difference between the RAL Quality Mark for Wooden House Construction and the Ü-Zeichen is that the Ü-Zeichen is mandatory and the RAL Quality Mark is voluntary. Despite the voluntary certification, this RAL Quality Mark is sought after by manufacturers to highlight the special quality of their products or services. The Ü-Zeichen is relevant for products that are subject to specific national regulations and are not fully covered by European standards or an EAD (European Assessment Document). (The creation of an ETA, European Technical Assessment, based on an EAD for building kits for wooden buildings is already being applied by many Estonian producers as a possible certification). The Ü-Zeichen is a legally required mark for certain building products in Germany that fall within the scope of the state building regulations. It certifies that a product or component complies with technical rules and has the required performance characteristics. Products that bear the Ü-Zeichen must have undergone building authority approval or testing, confirming that they meet relevant German building standards and regulations. The main goal of the Ü-Zeichen is to ensure the safety and suitability of building products for the intended use in construction. 

The RAL Quality Marks, which the BMF, a monitoring and certification body, awards to its members, stand for products and services that meet clearly defined quality criteria. These criteria often include aspects such as material quality, production processes, functionality, and durability and go beyond the legal requirements. The certification with the RAL Quality Mark is voluntary and is sought by manufacturers and service providers to emphasize the special quality of their products or services. The awarding of the mark is based on comprehensive criteria that are regularly reviewed and updated. 

Certification is a crucial tool for Estonian wooden house and component manufacturers to gain a foothold in the German market. It serves not only to ensure and demonstrate product quality to customers and authorities but also to optimize internal processes. The different approaches to certification in Estonia and Germany underline the importance that German customers and regulatory authorities place on certification. The RAL Quality Marks for Wooden House Construction and Ü-Zeichen are important tools that can help Estonian companies structure their processes and successfully position their products in the German market. Estonian manufacturers should therefore proactively pursue the necessary certifications to overcome market access barriers and fully exploit their export potential to Germany. 

More information:

Birgit Linnamäe
+3725128000 | bl@birgitlinnamae.com

BMFcert GmbH | Bundes-Gütegemeinschaft Montagebau und Fertighäuser (BMF) e.V

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