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
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
“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
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
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,”
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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,”
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
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
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?”
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
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
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
“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
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,
“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
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
“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
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
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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