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November - December 2002

Exploring Window & Door Warranties
See What Three Manufacturers Have to Say on a Variety of Warranty Issues
by Tara Taffera

While all window and door manufacturers offer some type of warranty on their products and many of these are very similar among product lines, manufacturers do differ regarding such issues as how they track warranty claims and whether or not they make warranty exceptions. Learn how three different window manufacturers attack warranty issues. (Also, see "Cutting Edge" and "Fenestration Focus" for additional articles related to this topic.)

A Look at What is Offered
First, let’s look at what types of warranties are offered by the companies we spoke to for this article. 

At Windsor Windows and Doors in West Des Moines, Iowa, the company’s Pinnacle series, a line of wood windows and patio doors, comes with a limited 20/10 warranty, according to Kris Winter, marketing communications manager. The insulating glass is covered for 20 years and other parts, including hardware, are covered for ten years. 

The company’s Next Dimension series of hollow vinyl windows and patio doors comes with a lifetime limited warranty. The vinyl is covered for the lifetime of the product while the insulating glass is again covered for 20 years. Windsor’s Legend series of extruded vinyl windows also comes with a lifetime limited warranty. The glass is covered for 20 years, the cellular PVC is covered for 25 years, the hardware for ten years and the paint for seven years.

Thermal Line Windows in Mandan, N.D., has two general window lines: Prime and Series 2000. Both are made of multi-chambered hollow plastic composite, according to Brad Bushaw, customer service/production manager for the company. Thermal Line offers two warranties: a homeowner’s limited lifetime warranty, which covers items such as cracking, checking and curling. The warranty protects against seal failure for 20 years (First 10 years, 100 percent, Second 10 years, pro-rated) and covers 100 percent of parts. The plastic is covered for the lifetime of the product. The company offers a ten-year warranty for products going into an apartment or rental unit.

Weathervane Window Co. in Kirkland, Wash., offers a lifetime warranty on its vinyl windows. The lifetime warranty consists of full coverage on parts and labor for one year, for the original homeowner only, according to Bryan Vander Hoek, vice president of the company. After that, the warranty covers parts, again to the original homeowner only. On its composite windows, Weathervane offers a 20-year pro-rated warranty. The first ten years covers glass, materials and labor. The remaining ten years covers materials only on a pro-rated basis. If a defect should occur within 20 years, Weathervane will pay a maximum of $150 to replace the window. 

Importance of the Warranty
Before determining what type of warranty to offer, the manufacturer must know how important the warranty is to the customer, whether that is a homeowner or a builder. 

“A big builder would probably rank it a three,” says Vander Hoek. “It’s not quite as important as price, but builders expect warranties to be fairly similar.”

For the homeowner, Vander Hoek says he would rank warranty as second only to price, but adds that there are people comparing windows who make that final decision based on warranty.

According to Bushaw, warranty falls in the top three, but adds that it shouldn’t be number-one. 
“If a consumer chooses a window solely based on the warranty, I don’t think a good buying decision is being made,” he says.

Developing and Making Changes
In addition to giving the customer what he wants, other factors go into determining what types of warranties to offer. 

“We look at what our suppliers offer us, we do a competitive analysis of the marketplace and we look at what we feel comfortable offering—in other words, can we stand behind the warranty,” says Winter.

Winter is quick to point out that when considering a warranty change it’s not a simple case of saying, “we offer X warranty.” 

“We have to make sure our products will live up to that warranty,” she says. 

Winter says the company is comparing its Next Dimension series to the competition currently. Should the company decide to make a change she says it first has to look at what changes have to be made to the products. For example, she points out that any change on a product goes through a number of departments, including quality control, design, etc. 

How often do companies institute warranty changes? This varies greatly. For example, at Thermal Line, Bushaw says the company is in the process of making a warranty change regarding stress cracks—a policy that has stood for four years. Stress cracks will now be covered for only one year. 

“A true thermal stress crack is very rare,” says Bushaw. “If someone calls about a stress crack it was probably caused by something else.”

Cost Concerns
At Windsor, Winter says the company looks at what a warranty change would mean in terms of total price per unit. 

“The whole process is a balancing act,” she says. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘How much more can we increase the price on a product and still be competitive in the 

Window manufacturers vary regarding how they track their warranty costs. For example, Bushaw says Thermal Line doesn’t expect its costs to be different due to the warranty change regarding thermal stress cracks. 

“I don’t know if it’s costing us more now but that’s not really the question,” says Bushaw.
“We look at warranty issues from a cost standpoint, but more importantly, from a customer satisfaction standpoint,” says Winter. “Warranty claims can be costly to the manufacturers, but we’re more concerned that the customer is happy.” 
While manufacturers admit that they look at what type of warranty the competition offers, Thermal Line’s Bushaw, a company with a 25-year record for selling PVC windows, says the warranty is only as good as the paper it is printed on.

“What good is a lifetime warranty if the company is gone in ten years?” says Bushaw. He adds that this is an occurrence that happens all too frequently. “There is a laundry list of companies that have come and gone,” he said. “For example, the number of companies making vinyl windows is on the decline.”

So, what about that company who warranties its IG unit for the lifetime of the product? “Everyone knows IG units don’t last forever,” says Bushaw. He adds that what is really important is that the customer has someone to talk to in a few years if the unit fails.

Tracking/Reducing Claims
When it comes to tracking warranty claims, most manufacturers agree that seal failure is the top reason for claims. 

“We don’t have many claims but of the ones that we do, they are typically with insulating units,” says Vander Hoek. “That will go before anything else.” 

At Thermal Line, Bushaw says hardware comes second to seal failure, followed by a manufacturer error. He also says there is a fourth area of claims—“those that happen and we don’t know why.”
In the case of hardware failures, Bushaw says that usually the part that breaks is a balance which costs $1.25. 

“For us to research that to find out how it broke or whether it was an installation situation, etc.—it is just too cost prohibitive to analyze,” he says.

As far as tracking warranty claims, Winter says they are tracked by the company’s field service department and adds that if a trend is spotted they will investigate it.

“We realize we can’t be 100-percent perfect,” says Winter. She adds that instead of looking at warranty claims every year and saying, for example, “We’d like to have our claims be at 3 percent this year,” the company would rather look at warranty issues earlier in the process—before a claim is made. Other manufacturers agree.

“We look at warranty claims on a routine basis,” says Bushaw. “We don’t have an overabundance of warranty problems … and some of these we have little control over.”

Vander Hoek says Weathervane doesn’t have a lot of claims since the company doesn’t manufacture its own glass, it is reimbursed from the manufacturer for time and material. 

So, while manufacturers may differ on some aspects of warranty issues, one thing is for certain—manufacturers have a wealth of options to weigh when it comes to warranties. 

Editor’s Note: Some people in the industry tell us that warranties are the industry’s dirty little secret—an issue about which window and door manufacturers do not like to speak. In fact, we contacted 15 people for this article and only four returned our calls. One of those four took 45 minutes out of his day to speak about warranty claims, but then, as the issue was minutes away from going to press we had to cut all of his quotes out of the article as he was now wary of letting his competition know about his company’s warranty information. 

In fact, when I expressed my concern to one noted expert in the industry, he said, “Manufacturers generally do not like discussing warranty issues because it calls attention to the fact that a warranty exists—many homeowners do not even realize that their windows may be covered beyond the typical one-year warranty that the builder puts on the home.”

Do you agree with the above assessment? We would love to hear from you. E-mail ttaffera@glass.com with your comments or call 540/720-5584 x113. 

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