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January - February 2003

OpeningUp

Consumers are Interested in the Length of the Warranty
Dear DWM,
Thank you for the extremely interesting three articles in the November-December issue of DWM magazine concerning warranties (see page 44). As you stated, many warranties say more about what is not covered than what is. 

It is unfortunate that consumers and dealers are so unaware of what a good warranty should say. At Fox Aluminum Products, we have manufactured aluminum storm products for more than 38 years. Our premier product is a Heliarc welded corner storm door. About 20 years ago, we developed a ten-year limited warranty; at this time very few companies had a storm door warranty, so it was our desire to show the homeowner our confidence in our product. Because of our background, we felt confident to warranty that the frame and insert corners would not break, sag or fail.

Because of our hinge design and material, we also warranted the hinge against failure. We would repair or replace the door, but would not cover the labor to remove, reinstall or the transportation to or from our factory. Because of the pressure of our warranty, several of our competitors took the easy way out; they claimed a lifetime workmanship and material warranty.

So in order to compete, our dealers pressured us for a longer warranty. It was our position that most homeowners don’t expect a storm door to be warranted forever and that a good ten-year warranty is generous. Furthermore, we felt a good warranty should be specific and cover major items or areas of construction. We also thought the wording, workmanship and material to be extremely general and subject to the interpretations of the supplier. However through dealer pressure, we were forced to extend ours to a lifetime warranty; we still refused to stoop to a workmanship and material warranty. It is our policy that if we have a covered warranty claim that it is our responsibility to show our customer and dealer that they can expect us to stand behind our products. It would be interesting to have an explanation—that if a product fails after five, ten, 20 or 30 years—would that be a workmanship or material warranty claim?

Our experience tells us that the consumer is more interested in the length of a warranty in years than in its content or in the sincerity of the manufacturer to provide years of service with their product. I was also pleased to read your comments regarding the ability to improve quality and workmanship through investments in modern manufacturing equipment and processes, as we utilize computer integrated machinery processes and robotics in many areas of our manufacturing processes. We have also observed first hand the close tolerances and repeatability of our robots and automated processing equipment. It has definitely allowed for closer inspection and higher quality.

James Fox 

President
Fox Aluminum Products Inc.
Woodward Heights, Mich.

The Window Industry Should be Proud of its Warranties
Dear DWM,
I read your article in the November-December issue about window warranties (see page 44). I found it interesting that so many manufacturers were resistant to discuss warranties. Perhaps they felt if there was no opportunity to promote their own warranty over others there was no point in providing any information at all. From my experience, warranties on windows are provided primarily for two reasons: to be used as a marketing tool as part of the benefit to one brand over another or to provide real substance after the sale in the event of a catastrophic failure. 

I’m not aware that warranties are an industry’s “dirty little secret.” In fact, your article did not include any major national manufacturer of wood or vinyl windows, and therein lies the difference between those manufacturers who try to diminish the importance of their warranties and those who are well-established and confident enough in the integrity of their products to back them. 

Limited lifetime warranties are the industry standard today for the vinyl material in vinyl windows. Anything less is unacceptable to both the industry as well as the consumer. Sealed insulating glass has improved immensely over the last few decades, and to such a degree that industry veterans have seen warranties on glass grow from one year to five to ten and now 20 years—some even pressing beyond 20. Most warranties are pro-rated at some point during the 20-year period, primarily due to actuaries who have shown that most failures due to mismanufacturing of glass will occur within a ten-year period. Those that occur beyond that time frame are likely subject to other external factors such as excessive heat, moisture or lack of maintenance. The second ten years essentially are a marketing tool used by manufacturers. 

In order for homeowner’s to take advantage of their manufacturer’s warranty, they need to know who manufactured their windows. Most don’t know who made the window, so they can’t contact any manufacturer, and, therefore, any available warranty to them falls into a black hole.

Over the years, I’ve collected competitive information, including warranties. Most manufacturers in the wood window industry are in line with each other—five to ten years on the product and 20 years on the insulating glass seal. Some offer limited lifetime on hardware (locks, balances, crank operator gears, etc.) Most hardware is manufactured by hardware companies, not by the window manufacturer, and the hardware warranty simply is passed on to the end user. There are some differences in warranties on cladding paint finishes throughout the industry depending upon the type of paint used—from one year to 30 years. 

The real meat of a manufacturer’s warranty is not what’s in it, but how it handles correcting problems once they arise. Does the manufacturer acknowledge the problem and handle it with expedience or does it pass it off or drag its feet? Is the warranty in writing and made available to the dealers, builders and consumers? Can a builder or consumer go online and find the manufacturer’s warranty? Is the builder using a window product that he it is proud of and providing an available warranty to its customer? 

It should also be noted that there are not many branded products consumers own today that have the extensive warranty coverage that manufacturers provide on their windows. One has to ask himself what he owns that has warranty coverage of 20 years. Consumers buy homes for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and most homes only have one-year warranties! But a window has up to 20 years coverage. Some are lifetime warranties and are even transferable to second and third owners! Our industry has really come a long way over the last few decades and should be proud of it.

Dave Porter

Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork
St. Charles, Ill.

Warranties are the Industry’s Dirty Little Secret 
Dear DWM,
I loved your article “Exploring Window & Door Warranties” in the November-December issue of DWM (see page 44)! Yes, warranties are the industry’s “dirty little secret” at all levels. I am surprised that so few were willing to go “on record” on the issue. 

Here are some excellent examples of the warranty problem. How about this as a warranty offered by a retailer? “Your sealed unit is warranted for life.” The fine print? The installation is not covered and must be performed by our company for you to receive the sealed unit under warranty. It must be paid for by the customer, in advance, and at our “regular published rate.” (By the way, the “published rate” is $200 per sealed unit, if the customer bothers to ask, which they won’t.)

I enjoyed the “secret” warranty you described where the consumer isn’t even informed. At my company, Vinyl Window Designs, each order receives a warranty card with a unique control number. We can only hope the distribution chain gets these to the end user.

I can only shake my head at how easily consumers are misled by the word “lifetime.” Whose lifetime? Many of these warranties have a disclaimer that says if the original purchaser doesn’t register within 30 days of purchase, the warranty is void. Some aren’t transferable at all, and others have a time to register a transfer and a fee. 

The reality is that manufacturers are under a lot of pressure to provide warranties that look great, but have many disclaimers like the above. We offer a substantial warranty including 20 years on the sealed unit with reasonable terms. It is very hard to sell this responsible warranty against some of the warranties with trickier wording.

I know of one company that paints its profiles, but the fine print of the warranty card voids the warranty if the window is painted. 

Another company offers a ten-year warranty on painting, but the warranty is limited to pitting, peeling and cracking. Our five-year warranty includes a warranty against undue fading, but it is only the number of years that the consumer sees.

In this regard, perhaps the consumer is his own worst enemy. How can legitimate suppliers compete with those that feed off society’s desire to get something for nothing? This is what this “dirty little secret” is really all about.

Phil Lewin
Vice President of Marketing
Vinyl Window Designs
Woodbridge, Ontario

Handling Warranty Claims Strengthens the Distribution Channel Relationship
Dear DWM,
I read with great interest your article about window warranties in the November-December issue of DWM (see page 44). To give you some personal background on myself, I have worked in window and door manufacturing for ten years (three as a service manager, two years in distribution and now eight years into my own dealer/installation company). When I worked in manufacturing, I witnessed many customers’ frustrations with the management’s slow reaction to service warranty issues. Those slow reaction times hindered the ability of the distributor to service builders, dealers and homeowners, caused unneeded anxiety and stress and left many of these companies/people not wanting anything to do with that manufacturer again. As a dealer I am blessed to be working with a manufacturer who recognizes the importance of not only handling warranty claims in a timely manner but also being flexible in some extenuating circumstances. Having this relationship with this manufacturer has not only committed me to them but has also sold more jobs than can be counted. It takes the honesty of the builder, distributor and dealer to work with the manufacturer and only report warranty issues, but having said that, it is the hard-line and slow action of manufacturers that force customers to lie to get action. Warranties are important, but action on them is equally important. 

Dale A. Bonertz
Infinity Home Improvement
Fort Collins, Colo.

Exposing the Lumber Coalition
Dear DWM,
Your article titled “Timber!” (see July/August, DWM, page 50), seemed as balanced as an article could be with as little information that is out there on this subject. Some people would be interested to note who is really in this coalition. I have been in the lumber business for more than 30 years and have never seen such secretaries’ dealings. 

Don’t be fooled by the small business landowner you quote. This person is merely a front for large corporate interests. Try to get a full disclosure of the members of the coalition. It would also be interesting to examine the money spent by large corporate interests in promoting the issue of unfair trade. I too am a small businessperson, but I don’t have any large corporate interests to help me. 

The raw power exhibited by this coalition has been very unsettling, and I truly feel the American public should know the underlying reasons that this duty was sought after and subsequently imposed. 

As one former employee of the Department of Commerce said to me, “This coalition is approving or disapproving everything that comes before the International Trade Commission. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

In closing, I would like to ask, “is this about fair trade or is there a hidden agenda?”

Stephen Jones
President
Princeton Forest Products
Orange, Mass.


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