Few are eager to take on the responsibility, but consensus is emerging among manufactures, builders, and others that steps need to be taken to improve window installation procedures followed in the field.
BY JOHN G. SWANSON
Encouraging people to spend more time and money on a job is not an easy task, yet that is what many in the window and door industry would like to do in regards to installation. It is an investment that most agree is worthwhile, given the increasing expense of service calls, as well as the high potential costs of litigation.
Builders, contractors, distributors, and manufacturers increasingly recognize that steps need to be taken to improve installations practices. Yetfinding ways to reduce the improper installations remains a challenge. It is being addressed from an industrywide perspective through a new standard at ASTM and the American Architectural Manufacturers Associates (AAMA) installer training program. Manufacturers and others also are looking at what steps they can take on their own. Why has installation emerged as an issue? Rich Walker, executive director of AAMA, suggests that much of the attention focused on the subject can be traced to construction defect litigation activity on the West Coast.
Even though window leaks may not have involved their actual products, window manufacturers found themselves increasingly involved in suits related to improper installation. And there are definitely problems with the way many windows are installed, he adds. Home inspectors tell him that as many as eight or nine out of 10 windows are not installed properly, creating potential for problems.
Builders are certainly becoming much more aware of the issue of window installation, becoming much more aware of the issue of window installation, reports Douglas Tait, Eastern regional sales manager for ProtectoWrap Corp., a flashing manufacturer. “They want to avoid problems. One of their highest sources of cailbacks has been window leaks due to improper installation.” When beginning its market research for its FlexWrap window flashing a few years ago, DuPont Tyvek Weatherization Systems found in builder surveys that window leaks and other problems related to installation were one of the top 10 reasons for calibacks in new homes, reports Robert Hagood, the company’s market manager, flashing products.
In launching the flashing product, the company has found that builders are paying more attention to the area of window installation. Recently, he continues, the issue of leaks has raised more concern as talk of potential mold problems has been getting a lot of attention in the press. Tait reports that his company has sold window flashing products for 40 years, but sales have really taken off in the past 10. Some of the country’s largest builders, he states, pointing to Pulte, Centex and Ryland Homes, are starting to mandate the use of selfadhering flashing products in installing homes’ windows, and interest in his company’s window products accelerating. Tait reports that of the 1,000 or so leads his Firm recently gathered at the National Associates of Home Builders show, about three quarters concerned window flashing products. Maureen BurfordConn, purchasing manager for Centex Homes in Valencia, CA, recently offered a builder’s perspective on the issue at a recent meeting of the Window and Door Manufacturers Associates (see news item on page 12). She said the two greatest problems in homes today are air infiltration (“the comfort zone”) and water infiltration (“the panic button”). Mold is now a huge liability issue, she said, with escalating class action suits. Accordingly, Centex has adopted numerous building techniques, such as using all kilndried lumber and neoprene gasket flashing, to help litigate potential problems.
“I don’t purchase windows; I purchase window systems, she pointed out, “including the window unit, sheathing flashing, house wrap, sealer, interior wall surface and trim, and installation directions. I need to know the recommendations for each.” She advised manufacturers to design the system, ad “tell me what the system prevents, what is provides, and what in includes.”
Installation must be done correctly the first time, BurfordConn also stressed. “labor is our number one issue. And much of it is piecework. If we can’t get your window installed, we can’t buy it. So, it’s important to educate installers better. A properly installed window involves a number of products, not just windows. Manufacturers must know which products are used and how they are installed.”
Manufacturers are paying moreattention to how their products are installed, states Roger Lumm, senior technical representative for SchneeMorehead, Inc., a sealant supplier. “Those who track the cost of their service calls know that improper installations cost them a huge dollar amount. It all comes off their bottom line. Additionally, the potential for litigation represents an even bigger threat.” Hagood also sees window manufacturers taking an increased interest. They also are looking at flashing systems. They are now more apt to make recommendations or establish a “best practices” guide to how their windows should be installed, he states.
Lumm says manufactures’ installation instructions are changing “dramatically.” It’s no longer a matter of saying “units need to be installed plumb and square.” They are becoming much more directive about the qualities of the materials to use. His company now packages a variety of installation products together and is encouraging window manufacturers to offer it with their products. It enables them to offer onestop shopping, Lumm notes, and the manufacturers are assured that proper, compatible materials are used. “The response has been good.” He reports. “Manufacturers are looking for ways to be proactive.”
Tait suggests many window manufacturers now make specific recommendations about the use of flashing materials with their products. Some are still a bit wary about making these types of recommendations, but no matter what they do, just about all are finding callbacks to be more of an issue, he states.
AAMA’s Walker agrees that manufacturers are increasingly focused on the issue, citing both service call and liability costs as the main reasons. In talking to manufacturers about AAMA’s Installation Masters Program, he notes that just about everyone agrees that more installer training is necessary.
Echoing those sentiments is Dave Moyer, vice president of certification services for Architectural Testing, Inc. (ATI). His company serves as administrator for AAMA’s InstallationMasters installer training program. In talking about it with manufacturers, he states there’s a small minority of manufacturers that say they want to get involved in installer certification, but no one has said they’re not interested in the conceptortheideaofbettertraining. Within the AAMA program, many manufacturers have participated and had their trainers trained, Moyer notes. When it comes to turning around and training installers, he admits, it becomes more difficult, as manufacturers and their personnel get caught up in the daytoday issues of making windows and making service calls. Yet, he sees a growing number making the effort. “It’s simply a matter of whether they are ready to commit the time and resources.”
TAKING ON THE RESPONSIBILITY
Moyer’s comments reflect the fact that while many companies see improper installation as a problem, taking on the responsibility of addressing it is another matter. In talking to builders about installer training, he notes, they are more reserved in their response. “many have the attitude that if it’s not something that’s going to be required, it’s not something we’re going to move on.” Many builders, he suggests, have not identified window installation problems as a major issue, because it’s not the builders who have to service these types of calls. When homebuyers do have issues, it’s the window manufacturers that have to deal with them. “The fact is there are problems, but the builders don’t necessarily see them.” The costs involved in service calls and litigation are beginning to change builder attitudes, states Lumm. Yet, he doesn’t see them enthusiastically taking on the added responsibility of training installers and making sure windows get installed properly. One result, he foresees, is an increased number of builders asking for bids for not just windows, but installed windows. “They will look increasingly for the manufacturers and/or distributors to assure the products are installed properly.”
THE MAIN PROBLEMS
In conducting training classes for AAMA’s InstallationMasters program, ATI has learned a number of things. The most common problem, Moyer states, is the understanding of the need for flashing. “There are many places where people don’t even know what flashing is,” he states. “The fin just gets nailed to the wall and covered up. One of our main goals is to teach people that flashing is required and how it’s installed properly,” he states.
Hagood reports that in surveying builders, DuPont Tyvek found that installers were using a wide variety of installation methods and approaches to flashing. That wide range included using a dab of caulk to those who thought “the windows were selfflashing,” he notes.
Other areas where Moyer sees installers run into problems concern material compatibility. Installers need to learn that not just any sealant, for example, can be used for any job. Some may interact with a particular flashing material, he notes, and they need to be aware of these issues and check with the manufacturers and suppliers.
Another part of the installer training program, Moyer continues, concerns providing basic understanding of the code requirements related to windows. There are a lot of installers out there he states, who have never received any education in that area. Overall, Moyer notes, ATI has found in talking to its installer trainees that very few have participated in any sort of organized training. Most have learned what they know from senior members of an installation crew, picking up misconceptions along the way.
In offering flashing seminars for builders, Hagood’s company has found there’s a hunger for more information. Builders didn’t have many sources to turn to, and he sees them demanding more tests and standards to enable them to see how different installation products and systems will work. Tait shares that view and notes that the development of standards for flashing materials, pointing to current efforts within AAMA and ASTM, will be very helpful. Right now, someone might use duct tape, he notes, or some other products that won’t function as expected.
LOOKING AT THE FUTURE
Are companies willing to pay the costs to assure proper installation? Moyer says that following Installation Masters procedures will require some additional time. It also involves a small material cost increase. Yet, those costs can be offset easily by a reduction in service calls. It’s true that if you buy a Cadillac, it costs more, “Moyer states, “but that’s what we’re selling, the top of the line. There is some mindset changing that has to be done.”
He sees it happening, if not overnight. As more manufacturers get involved, it’s going to become a marketing issue. Those not interested now may see a more pressing need as their competitors begin to promote installation through certified installers. In the long term, code authorities may become more of an important factor. Code change cycles are very long, but requirements may come into play addressing window installation practices.
AAMA’s Walker notes that the rise of energy efficiency as an issue has already raised concern about installation practices among government and regulatory officials. With the advent of the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) and national energy codes, regulators are concerned that it doesn’t do any good to promote the application of highperformance products if that performance is going to be compromised by a faulty installation. “You can test great in the lab,” he states, “but it doesn’t do you any good if air or water is coming in around the window.”
It was the government and regulatory community’s interest in the subject that got AAMA started in developing its Installation Masters installer training and certification program. The Building Envelope and Thermal Envelope Council (BETEC), part of the National Institute of Building Sciences, is an organization that includes representatives from industry, the Department of Energy, and other government agencies. An influential group in the formation of the NFRC, BETEC was looking at starting its own certified installer program when AAMA stepped in to develop one within the industry.
Walker sees BETEC providing increasing support to the AAMA Installation Masters program. It is also likely to support development of stronger code language to encourage better installation practice, he adds. Without code changes, Hagood sees progress being made. Larger builders are formalizing installation practices to be followed and creating specification documents. There may be some changes from region to region, but they are increasingly demanding installers follow a certain set of procedures. A lot of education remains to be done, concludes Tait, but the use of selfadhering flashing materials will become more of a standard practice, he predicts. The average cost, about #3 a window, is pretty inexpensive insurance. “When you ask a manufacturer how much the average service call costs,” Tait notes, “they typically just throw their hands up in the air in frustration.
“Education efforts are paying off,” Hagood concludes. “More people are now looking for materials and methods that will perform reliably.” Additionally, he states, there are a growing number of good products and good methods available in the market, and that are going to substantially reduce the number of problems seen in the past.¤