Volume 11, Issue 5 - June 2010


Window Warranties
Where Does the Buck Stop?

by Tara Taffera

View one particular story on the DWM website, and you’ll find a group of frustrated consumers who don’t know where to go to get their warranty claims fulfilled. They were customers of a particular company that sold its residential window business and are having problems with warranty issues and don’t know where to go for help.

"As a general rule I don’t recommend people saying that [lifetime warranty] because the generic understanding of that
is pretty long."
—Chip Gentry, Carson and Coil

Companies Go Bust and So Does the Warranty
While this group of window customers may be the most vocal, there are no doubt other consumers in the same situation. Many door and window companies have been forced to close due to the dramatic slowdown in housing, and unfortunately these customers are left with no one to handle their warranty claims.

Take C & S Distributors in Connecticut. Homeowner Ray Lecours told DWM magazine he purchased windows from this company in 2005. He says in one window the grid has fallen in between the two glass panes. Other windows in the house have grids that look like they are about to fall. Several other windows have seals that have failed and moisture between the glass. Lecours says the windows are under warranty but the problem is the company is out of business. At press time, Lecours was contacting other local window companies in the hopes of finding someone to perform repairs.

The above doesn’t paint the best picture for how consumers may view how the industry handles warranty claims. And this seems to be backed up by a recent study conducted by J.D. Power and Associates. The company’s 2009 Windows and Patio Doors Satisfaction Study reported that overall satisfaction among consumers with windows and patio doors declined in 2009.

The study measures satisfaction among consumers who purchased new windows or patio doors based on performance in seven factors, one of which is the window warranty. Satisfaction has decreased in all seven factors examined in the study, with the most notable declines occurring in the warranty, product quality/durability and price factors.

Mike Burk, manager, workplace learning and development for Edgetech IG, believes consumers are putting more emphasis on warranties due to the economy.

“People are putting a lot of money into their windows so they want to make sure [they] will last. “People think their new windows will last as long as they will live in their homes,” he says.

Dave Koester, brand manager for Weather Shield Windows and Doors, agrees.

“People are being so careful about how they invest in products—they want to invest in a product that a manufacturer believes in,” he says. “With the amazing capability of the Internet, people can do a great deal of research and this plays a big role.”

Out of Warranty Doesn’t Always Mean Out of Luck
While it is obvious that companies that sell portions of their businesses or close altogether create headaches for the consumer, it seems companies that remain in business often go to great lengths to handle warranty claims to avoid a bad reputation in the industry. Some may even handle claims for products that aren’t even theirs.

“When I used to do workshops, etc., I always would ask manufacturers if they have replaced a window that isn’t theirs and I almost always had one hand go up,” says Burk. “I’m always amazed by that. It’s like taking a Ford to a Chevy dealer.”

While he may be amazed, he does understand why some companies do so, especially in this competitive market.

“They don’t want the lady going down the street and badmouthing the company’s windows [even if it’s not their windows] to her neighbors,” he says.

Abe Gaskins, president of MGM Industries in Hendersonville, Tenn., says often he doesn’t ask about the warranty when a customer calls.

“If the customer calls and says [he has] a problem with a piece of glass we just ship it to [him],” he says. Gaskins adds that the exception to this rule may be a customer who is behind on bill payments, etc. In those rare cases, he may ask why they need the glass to prove that it’s a real warranty issue.

Manufacturers aren’t the only ones that make exceptions. Tim Branstetter works in sales and estimating for Bethel Mills Lumber, which sells door and window products in Bethel, Vt., and says if a product is no longer under warranty sometimes judgment calls are made on a case by case basis.

“We may have a good customer that bought a houseful of windows but is still a potential customer, as [he/she] may purchase a new house, etc.,” he says. “It is a judgment call. We stand behind what we sell.”

“It just comes down to doing the right thing,” says Koester. “When people buy windows, that’s a huge investment whether it’s on a new build or a remodel. Certainly that customer will talk to people when the job is done and hopefully [the customer is] happy.”

It’s this industry mentality that attracted Chip Gentry, lawyer at Carson Coil, to begin working closely with door and window companies.

“This is one of the reasons I started focusing on this business,” says Gentry. “Most of the companies aren’t running the other way when it comes to warranty claims [as is often the case in other industries].” He says he thinks this is a refreshing change—to see companies stand behind their products.

But on the flip side Gentry says some lawyers can see replacing windows that may not be under warranty anymore as a sign of guilt.

“You’re damned if you do, [and] damned if you don’t,” he says.

But again it all comes down to consumer perception and who they remember when it comes down to their window jobs.

“I routinely see [instances] where a company replaces an entire new batch of windows [in which] there wasn’t a problem with the product, but rather [a problem with] the way the windows are integrated with the project,” adds Gentry.

How Long Is Too Long?
The length of time a company stands behind its written warranty varies greatly. Following are a few examples of warranties from different manufacturers and different materials that are offered within the industry:

Silverline Windows, an Andersen company, posts the following on its website regarding its residential and commercial vinyl window and patio door warranty:

“Subject to the terms and conditions stated herein, the manufacturer warrants to the original purchaser that under the conditions of normal use and service, all window and/or patio door products, including mechanical parts and insulated glass, will be free from the following defects in material and workmanship for the lifetime of the product.”

With respect to the insulating glass, “the warranties cover only manufacturing defects related to the insulated glass unit and does not include defects or damages caused by, or as the result of a variety of circumstances,” all of which are spelled out in the warranty and include color variation or glass breakage, among other items. (According to the J.D. Power and Associates study, Andersen performed particularly well when it came to warranties.)

Pella offers a limited warranty for its wood windows and patio doors. This includes a 10-year limited transferable warranty for non-glass components. The warranty also spells out a variety of items not covered, many of which related to the finish, but also includes “glass breakage, not the fault of Pella, that results in seal failure.”

Pella’s steel or fiberglass entry door systems come with a limited lifetime warranty. This includes a 10-year limited transferable warranty for the wood frame and a non-decorative glass transferable 20-year limited warranty. For decorative glass in this product the company offers a 10-year limited warranty.

Jeld-Wen offers a limited warranty for its aluminum window and patio door. Within this warranty, the company offers special coverage for its ImpactGard® glass which comes with a 10-year warranty.

Some companies in the industry, including Pella and Jeld-Wen, also point out in their warranties what they don’t cover—including argon. Pella’s warranty for its fiberglass and steel door entry systems, states, “For Pella products labeled as having low-E insulating glass with argon, Pella injects argon at the time of manufacture. No warranty is made as to the amount or percentage of argon present in the insulating glass. It is known that argon within insulating glass dissipates over time … Pella makes no warranty regarding the rate of dissipation of argon or the amount of argon remaining in the window at any time after manufacture.”

For Jeld-Wen’s Wood and Metal-Clad Wood Window and Patio Door Limited Warranty, the section titled, “What this Warranty Does NOT Cover” states that Jeld-Wen is not liable for: “Product or component performance decline due to aging, inert gas dissipation, natural processes or failure to provide proper maintenance. Note: Other than inert gas loss due to seal failure, the migration of an inert gas, such as argon, is a natural process that occurs over time and is not a defect.”

As the DOE’s R5 program progresses, time will tell if this will prompt manufacturers to alter their warranties when it comes to gas filling (for more on R5, see article on page 34).

“Argon has the highest efficiency of ’thermal improvement to cost,’ so most will use argon,” says Kevin Zuege, director of technical services for Truseal Technologies Inc.

“A few will take the stand that it is hard to keep in, but if you scan through today’s thermal simulation listings, the .30/.30 values today almost all use argon, and with R5, it will be even more important to leverage that value.”

So with different materials available from different manufacturers, is there a standard or industry average when it comes to warranties?

“Overall, I would say that 10 years is a minimal norm that many producers exceed,” says Zuege. “This covers the unit itself, and typically the labor to ‘deglaze the old and reinstall the new’ is charged for after one to five years.”

However, he adds that warranties have been extremely variable within the market. “Warranties offered by wholesale producers of just the insulating glass unit range from five to 20 years,” he says. “Window fabricator warranties that I have seen range from 10 years to single-owner ‘lifetime’ in the case of replacement windows, with many transferable.”

Burk says 20 years is the best warranty he has seen on glass. While this currently may be rare, for manufacturers who will participate in the R5 program, a warranty of 20 years for glass will be standard (10 years for non-glass parts).

But even before the R5 program, some companies had been working on ramping up their warranties and this includes Weather Shield Windows and Doors. The company recently revamped its warranty, which includes a 20-year warranty for glass and materials on its Weather Shield Windows with Zo-e-shield®. Additionally, the company’s Visions windows now have a limited-lifetime warranty. Koester points out that his company is one of the few in the industry that makes its own glass so that played into the decision to strengthen its warranties.

“We felt very comfortable with our materials and the good folks we have building the windows and we thought it was a good time to make an improvement,” he says.

Weather Shield does have products certified to R5 and recently applied to become part of phase two of the DOE’s R5 program.

“We were able to get our products certified to R5, but we just missed the deadline for Phase One,” says Koester. “When the DOE announced that the warranty for R5 windows would be 20 years, it just confirmed that we were on the right track with our warranties. We felt like we made a good decision.”

Zuege says Truseal supports the DOE’s warranty when it comes to R5.

“A warranty of 20 years is in effect a defined guarantee of that energy savings should a unit fail prematurely,” says Zuege. “?R5 windows will carry a premium that many hope will be manageable, but will come with a price premium nonetheless. The premium will be justified in the real savings, as long as the incremental cost’s payback is assured.”

Twenty years may be what the DOE will stipulate for R5, but even today some manufacturers tout a lifetime warranty, which some say may be misleading to the consumer.

“As a general rule I don’t recommend people saying [lifetime warranty], because the generic understanding of that is pretty long,” says Gentry, who works with many door and window manufacturers to develop and update their warranties.

Though he recommends against the offering of a lifetime warranty that doesn’t mean everyone listens.

“It’s probably done more often than it’s not,” he says.

Gaskins says MGM errs toward the conservative side when developing warranties.

“We are conservative because we want to be in business for the rest of our lives,” he says. “Sometimes companies give lifetime warranties, then they sell, and what good is the warranty to the customer?”

"When the DOE announced that the warranty for R5 windows would be 20 years, it just confirmed that we were on the right track with our warranties. We felt like we made a good decision. "
—Dave Koester, Weather Shield brand manager

Closing Up or Selling the Shop
Gaskins knows all too well what can happen when a company sells to another and the warranty issues that can result. It’s a complicated story, so let’s recap briefly what happened in late 2008 when Chicago’s Republic Windows closed its doors. Republic closed while some of the former owners set up a new company, Echo Windows in Red Oak, Iowa. Echo purchased TRACO’s residential window division (TRACO’s commercial division is still in business). Then, when Echo closed just a few months later, MGM stepped in and purchased the trade name Sienna from Echo. (Note that Echo also made a P2 product but MGM did not purchase this line.)

After the assets for the Sienna line were purchased, MGM matched Echo’s existing warranty on new MGM business, which was a lifetime warranty on the insulating glass for the original owner, and extended the existing Echo warranties for four years.

“MGM did this in order to attempt retain existing Echo dealers,” says Gaskins. “Although we did retain a few dealers, many decided to cut all ties with anything associated with the Echo debacle.”

He adds that the original owner can transfer the warranty to a new owner for a transfer fee that is to be paid to MGM. He says this has become more commonplace on the replacement segment of the window market. Labor for removal and installation and freight is not covered by the warranty.  The freight typically is not covered by major window manufacturers and
MGM followed suit in that regard. MGM also has recently upgraded its new construction warranty to a 20-year period. 

At the time of the Sienna purchase, Joe Gaskins, MGM’s vice president of sales, told DWM magazine, “We understand the importance of upholding existing warranties and we want to reassure customers that we will honor those warranties and provide them with the best customer service we can provide.”

But when interviewed for this article in May 2010, MGM’s Abe Gaskins said simply, “I wish we hadn’t done it.”

But he quickly clarifies that statement. “It’s not the warranty claims that’s the problem. It’s the ill will of being associated with Echo. Our name is being disparaged because people associate us with Echo.”

He tells the story of a former TRACO dealer in Texas to illustrate his point.

“I think he associated us with [Republic president and CEO Richard] Gilman just because we purchased the assets,” says Gaskins. “We honored the warranty, but he was mad because he had to pay for the shipping [a standard practice, according to Gaskins]. It drains on the good will of companies trying to do right thing.”

He adds that consumers and dealers are desperate because they can’t get parts for the other window lines that Echo took over from TRACO so often they take that out on MGM just because the company purchased a portion of those assets. (MGM isn’t the only company taking heat. More than 20 consumers have posted comments on www.dwmmag.com in frustration that TRACO won’t honor the warranties. A few consumers have reported that TRACO has replaced the glass in some instances. TRACO officials had not responded to DWM’s requests for comment at press time.)

Yet, in spite of all that, Gaskins still doesn’t regret the decision to purchase the line.

“We had to have a window to meet .30/.30 and have one that the market wanted and the Sienna line fit the bill,” he says.

In reference to the TRACO situation, one consumer posted on www.dwmmag.com that “there should be laws against warranty loss.”

Unfortunately for the consumer such laws don’t always exist, according to Gentry, but he does what he can to offer best practice advice to manufacturers and dealers, and one of the components of that is warranties. Gentry helps manufacturers understand how important it is to be clear about warranties for the consumer.

Weather Shield is one of the many companies that says it understands its importance and does work with an in-house lawyer when it comes to warranties.

“As a manufacturer we have to be careful that each statement we make is true and each statement defines its limitations or requirements,” says Koester. “We have a corporate attorney that walks us through it. It’s just a matter of doing business.”

"We are conservative because we want to be in business for the rest of our lives. Sometimes companies give lifetime warranties, then they sell, and what good is the warranty to the customer? "
—Abe Gaskins, MGM Industries

Who’s Responsible?
In talking to manufacturers and dealers, it seems that handling warranty claims is indeed a partnership. Manufacturers say they partner with reputable dealers who care about the customer and vice versa.

“You have to align with dealers that support the customer,” says Koester.

“They [customers] come to us for warranty claims,” says Chris Zorzy with A&A Services in Salem, Mass., a contactor that sells directly to the homeowner. “We’re the face of the window. We take our customer service to the next level.”

He says when a customer calls a representative from the company, and he/she goes out to evaluate the claim, if it’s a simple repair the company will take care of it. (For example, fogging would be categorized as simple, he says.)

“It has to be major to get a manufacturer involved,” he says.

One situation he encountered was when a large bay window was not made correctly and he had to talk to the manufacturer to reproduce it and supply A&A with labor money to reinstall it.

“You have to start with a quality product,” says Zorzy.

Gaskins agrees and says dealers take care when choosing their window suppliers for this reason.

“That is definitely a consideration of dealers [choosing a supplier with longevity] when choosing what windows they distribute,” he says.

Koester agrees, saying dealers were thrilled when the company announced it was improving its warranties.

“When we made the announcement our dealer base was very excited,” he says. “We not only strengthened our warranty but we continue to work with the very best dealers. Dealers want to do right by the customer so they are glad Weather Shield is stepping up with an improved warranty.”

“The local dealer is trying to establish [its] reputation and want[s] to make sure customers are taken care of,” he adds.

At Bethel Mills Lumber that meant teaming up with major suppliers. The company has distributed windows from Andersen for more than 30 years and sells Marvin windows as well.

“We’re the last defense for the customer and we take it upon ourselves that we can’t sell a window we don’t stand behind,” says Branstetter.

He says the company doesn’t get too much pushback from consumers when it comes to warranties, but, if there are problems, he has Andersen’s Dealer Service Network available to step in and handle claims.

“Within the first few years if someone experiences problems, a part needs to be replaced, etc., Andersen will pay for Bethel to go out and fix it. They support us totally,” he says. “If anything happens after the fact they have a 20-year warranty on the glass. They will provide a replacement and fix it and charge the consumer for the labor.”

What about those consumers who were unfortunate enough to choose a company that went out of business? Still, dealers like Bethel Lumber sometimes may still step in. “There are occasions where people do need help,” says Branstetter. “They may have a fogged skylight and the company in question no longer has parts for the products. We ask for the size of the glass, make a call to a local glass distributor …. We’re trying to make customers happy.”

Suppliers Step Up
In the middle of the equation are the component suppliers and some of these get involved as well. For example, Truseal Technologies, a spacer supplier, offers a voluntary warranty program to those customers who wish to participate.

“We’re really behind them as far as parallel support,” says Zuege. “We’re going beyond the function of the product. From a vendor viewpoint we are unique.”

Participants in the program receive reimbursements back based on how much spacer they purchase per foot.

“We want to support them so we stand behind them financially,” says Zuege.

As part of the program Truseal tracks performance of IG units for a particular company, when they file claims, failure rates, etc. Additionally, quality audits are tied to participation.

“Participation is probably in the neighborhood of 15 percent and is best measured on a square footage basis,” says Zuege.

Spacer supplier Edgetech IG recently partnered with Inst-I-Glass, based in Louisville, Ky., which offers a fleet of mobile insulating glass manufacturing trucks designed to make glass replacement painless for homeowners. Each Inst-I-Glass truck is a self-contained, self-sufficient IG manufacturing facility providing replacement units using Edgetech’s Super Spacer® warm-edge spacer technology and other high-performance components. Most replacements can be completed on site and installed within 24 to 48 hours of the initial service call.

“Customer satisfaction is the most important factor,” says Larry “Butch” Parrella, Inst-I-Glass founder and CEO. “To us, that means fabricating the best product available onsite and same day.

Part of Parrella’s vision for the company was to provide a warranty service solution to manufacturers and he says this now accounts for about one-third of its business.

“Manufacturers that choose to outsource warranty services to Inst-I-Glass can more easily identify and control costs, which not only saves money and increases efficiency, but also improves the consumer’s perception of the level of ongoing service offered by the manufacturer,” Parrella said.

So whether it’s Inst I-Glass partnering with Edgetech, suppliers partnering with manufacturers or dealers partnering with manufacturers to offer quality products, it’s a team effort when it comes to handling warranty claims and making sure they are held to a minimum.

“I would say it is a partnership,” says Branstetter. “They [manufacturers] want people who have their product feel good about it. If consumers want to buy again manufacturers want them to come back to them. It’s like a car company—everyone works hard to make sure customers are satisfied one way or another.”

Tara Taffera is the editor/publisher of DWM magazine.

Take DWM’s Warranty Survey
Go to www.dwmmag.com to take our confidential warranty survey. This groundbreaking survey was first posed to manufacturers in 2006 so we wanted to go back almost five years later to see how warranties have changed, if at all. Tell us if you think they will change in the future in light of emerging programs, such as R5.

This year we have a separate survey for manufacturers and dealers/distributors so please visit our website to tell us your thoughts.


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