Volume 7 Issue 5 May 2006
First of its Kind Research
Manufacturers Open Up
to DWM Magazine
Regarding Door and Window Warranties
by Tara Taffera
Warranties. The silent killer. Simply put, many door and window companies would rather not talk about the issues surrounding warranties.
“They [window manufacturers] never want to admit there is a problem,” says Mike Burk, training manager for GED Integrated Solutions, when explaining why some shy away from this issue. In fact, Burk travels the country training manufacturers about proper workmanship, etc., and when the subject turns to warranties he sometimes has trouble getting people to speak freely.
But the silence has now been broken. DWM magazine commissioned Fry Consultants, a firm with more than 60 years of experience in the door and window field, to undertake an extensive research study regarding door and window warranties. The heads of major door and window companies responded. Manufacturers of all materials: wood, vinyl and aluminum, and firms of all sizes, were interviewed for the study. (See box page 48 for how to purchase the full survey).
A sample of those findings appears in the following pages. After receiving the results, we conducted more interviews to gauge industry reaction, which also appears below.
When respondents were asked what percentage of home buyers are aware of window warranties, almost 59 percent said yes (see chart below). Marlin Clausner, president of WeatherVane Windows in Seattle, a manufacturer of high-end vinyl windows, agrees with this assessment.
“In our market, knowledge of warranties is very high,” says Clausner.
But, when Burk talks to homeowners about window warranties, he says he gets a different picture.
He says that whenever on a plane and someone asks him what he does they often say that they don’t know what type of warranty comes with their windows.
“They believe that the windows should last forever,” says Burk. “They don’t think at all about warranties.”
In fact, he recounted a conversation in which one consumer told him, “I bought windows from one of the biggest manufacturers. They’re the best in the world. I don’t need a warranty.”
Clausner clarifies that sometimes whether or not consumers ask about warranties could be linked to price.
“If consumers are looking for a low price then chances are they aren’t going to ask about a warranty,” he says.
Sadly, some homeowners aren’t the only ones who aren’t knowledgeable about this issue.
Burk says many plant workers he speaks to don’t know what their own warranty is.
“I’m surprised they don’t know,” says Burk. “The guy on the line needs to know.”
Warranty Costs/Passing Claims On
When a claim does arise, this obviously has an impact on the company’s bottom line. (Various questions related to the financial impact of warranties were asked on the survey.) For WeatherVane, Clausner says warranty claims comprise roughly .57 percent of sales.
“The bigger you are the more claims you have,” he says. “We have about 850 claims per year and we produce 90,000 units per year.”
As an example, another manufacturer may have, say 1 percent warranty claims per year.
Let’s say that a service call costs $300. For a company producing 1,000 units that’s ten units per day. That’s a cost of $3,000 a day, $15,000 a week and millions of dollars per year.
With all these costs, manufacturers sometimes pass portions of these on to the supplier.
In the survey, 62 percent of respondents say they have passed warranty claims to the component supplier (see chart above.)
Matt Kottke, marketing support manager for Truth Hardware, says his company deals directly with the manufacturer regarding warranty claims.
“We receive a miniscule amount of product warranty claims,” he says.
He adds that Truth’s warranty does not cover products that are abused, misused, worn out, altered or used other than intended.
“It [the warranty] doesn’t cover anything that is misinstalled. We can’t control how it is applied, if it is used improperly, etc. When they [the customer] open the box, the product is of good quality and will do what it is supposed to if used properly.”
Clausner says that WeatherVane definitely passes claims on to component suppliers, and in his case says this is mainly for glass, vinyl and hardware.
“The most frequent is glass, such as scratched glass, “ he says. “We inspect it in the plant but sometimes you have to look at it in just the right angle …” says Clausner.
Top Reasons for Claims
According to the DWM/Fry survey the top reason for warranty claims is seal failure—a point with which Burk and Clausner agree. But Burk adds that although manufacturers define these as seal failures he doesn’t view all of them as such.
“To manufacturers, seal failure kind of covers everything,” Burk clarifies.
At WeatherVane, another frequent reason for claims is operator issues, for example, a component part that doesn’t work as it’s supposed to, etc.
At WeatherVane, dealing with warranty issues is a high priority. In fact, the company employs a warranty service director, who reports directly to Clausner, and gives warranty numbers to him on a monthly basis.
So since the company looks so closely at its warranty claims, how does it go about improving its processes once problems are detected?
“We keep a running log of reasons for warranty claims,” says Clausner.
The company makes changes as necessary. For example, WeatherVane built new squaring racks recently to represent the behavior of that particular window.
Clausner describes the communication process at the company as a three-prong loop among manufacturing, field service and engineering.
“We help close the loop so they can do a better job in the plant,” says Clausner. “We keep the information flowing … we have regular meetings with people from all segments of the company.”
Another way to keep track of warranty claims is through specific software. According to the survey, about a quarter of respondents say they use software for this purpose.
Ron Crowl, president of Fenetech, provider of the Fenevison system, is one software provider that offers manufacturers assistance in tracking warranty claims.
“How companies deal with warranty claims is a very important issue with all manufacturers as it is a significant component that identifies a company’s character, reputation and even its profitability,” says Crowl. “With warranties now offered for 10, 20 or even 50 years warranty claims are a significant issue with window manufacturers.”
Fenetech has developed the FeneVision® Service Module to assist the service department of a window and door fabricator. The software is integrated with the FeneVision manufacturing software and allows the user to locate historical order information in order to determine if a window or door is within warranty quickly.
The problem is many homeowners don’t know if their windows are within warranty because they may not have read the fine print.
Following is an example of some of the details found in the paperwork. DWM found one warranty that states, “This limited warranty is transferable by the original owner to subsequent owners of the property provided X receives written notice of transfer of property within 30 days after than transfer dates, accompanies by a $3 per window transfer fee. Failure to notify X of the transfer shall relieve X of any further obligation hereunder.
Additionally, the consumer must produce the original invoice for the window and must pay at $10 processing fee to X whenever a warranty is transferred.
Burk adds that some window companies are now turning to warranties as a way to compete.
“It’s all about one-upmanship,” says Burk. “They say, ‘If you have a 20-year warranty, I’ll offer 21.’”
What the Research Says
Can windows really last for 20-25 years? According to one industry study, the answer may be yes. The Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance (IGMA) commissioned research looking at IG failures. Bill Lingnell of Lingnell Consulting gave a presentation at IGMA’s recent meeting that looked at the results of the 25-year year field correlation study, which began in 1980 (for more on this, see DWM, April 2006, page 133). The purpose of the study was to correlate unit failure to ASTM E 773 and E 774 for C, CB and CBA ratings. Originally the study included 2,400 units in 14 areas.
“We were not able to get to every area in the final study, but we were able to review about 1,700 units,” says Lingnell. Of the glazing systems studied, 40 percent were residential (in-plant glazed) and 60 percent were commercial (field-glazed).
Results at the 15-year mark showed a failure rate of about 7.9 percent; at the 25-year mark there was a 9.2 percent failure rate.
Lingnell also talked about a second study of the CBA units only that began in 1990; this one was a 15-year study. Lingnell said 10,000 of the original 14,000 units were evaluated. Of those, he said there was only a 1 percent failure rate.
Those we spoke to agree that whatever the warranty, manufacturers must be able to pay up, so to speak, when it comes to claims.
“There’s an element of competition to it,” adds Clausner. “But you must be able to stand behind it.”
Tara Taffera is the editor and publisher for DWM magazine.
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