I-Team | Melting vinyl siding tied to energy efficient windows

I-Team | Melting vinyl siding tied to energy efficient windows

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by STUART WATSON / NewsChannel 36
E-mail Stuart: SWatson@WCNC.com

Bio | Email | Follow: @stuartwcnc

WCNC.com

Posted on February 4, 2010 at 7:20 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 4 at 7:48 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The vinyl siding on Lisa Forlenza's home is literally melting. It's warped. It's buckling. And she worries it hurts the home's value.

The damage was apparently caused by sunlight bouncing off double-paned, energy efficient windows next door. And it turns out this same phenomena is happening with increasing frequency across much of the country.

A social networker by profession, Forlenza tried to contact the home builder by e-mail, Facebook and Twitter before doing some old-fashioned community organizing. She printed up fliers for her neighbors in Autumn Place off Rae Road in south Charlotte with a photo and the provocative question: "My home is MELTING…is yours?"

"I worked really hard to get this house and it's really disturbing to me," Forlenza said. "I don't know what to do. I can't get any help."

Worse still, this isn't the first time the siding melted. The first time around, the builder, Pulte Homes, replaced the siding under warranty. But the replacement siding melted as well.

"A year later I'm in the same boat," said Forlenza.

The second time the siding melted, Forlenza says the rep from Pulte, who visited her home, told her damage from reflected sunlight wasn't covered under the home warranty.

A Pulte spokesman, Eric Younan, said in an e-mail that the damage is covered but Forlenza's warranty had expired.

"There is no language specific to solar effect in our warranty but we review each instance on a case by case basis," said Younan.

And it turns out this was hardly the first time home builders have faced the issue of melting vinyl siding.

The energy efficient windows -- called "LowE" or "low emittance" windows -- warp or bow inward, creating a concave shape, which focuses the sun's rays like a magnifying glass, reaching temperatures of over 200 degrees Fahrenheit in some cases and melting the siding.

Forlenza says she found six other houses in her neighborhood with similar melting.

But the problem is by no means unique to Pulte Homes. Other home builders using similar vinyl siding and double-paned windows have had similar problems.

Lisa searched the Internet for "melting vinyl siding." In Connecticut, Minnesota, South Carolina and other states, she found similar complaints of melting siding. Siding companies blamed the windows there as well.

Several years ago, West Hartford, Conn., homeowner Troy Grenier told WFSB-TV, "You have to live in the woods, have no neighbors and no windows in your house or else your siding could melt."

Marko Volk, a home inspector in Cleveland, Ohio, produced at least two videos that he uploaded to YouTube exploring this issue. 

"If you have single-paned windows you don't have that problem. It's always double-pane with the LowE glass or reflective windows," Volk said.

Such windows are becoming more common. Some codes call for them. So Volk predicts complaints of melting siding will only increase.

"We will be seeing more of this," he said.

So what's a homeowner to do?

"I've been reduced to tears many times," Forlenza said. "I think I'm a pretty strong girl but this is really, really wearing me down."

 There is no single answer but there are at least three.

1. Better siding. Some siding contains an additive (one brand is Lubrizol), which raises the melting point to 220 degrees. Lubrizol tested this siding on a home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The better grade siding is more expensive, but it's also more durable.

2. Better windows. Some double-pane "LowE" windows do not bow inward and thus do not focus the sun's light. Windows used above elevations of 5,000 feet above sea level use small tubes or capillaries to equalize the pressure so the windows do not warp. These windows cost virtually the same as LowE windows, which use a gas to fill the space between the panes. But the no-warp windows are not available in all regions of the country.

3. Warranty claims.
Forlenza and other homeowners can file warranty claims with the home builder or directly with the siding maker. Forlenza says her siding was made by Alcoa, which sold its siding division in 2006 to a company called Ply Gem in Cary, N.C. Pulte Homes spokesman, Eric Younan, said in an e-mail to WCNC-TV that the Pulte homeowner's warranty does cover melted siding, but that the warranty on Forlenza's home had expired. Forlenza insists this is not what the Pulte representative who visited her home told her. Either way, homeowners could file the claim.

You might wonder if there have been class action lawsuits over this issue, as there have with other siding and external building products, usually over issues of water absorption and rotting. The I-Team called several representatives of trial attorneys and could find no class action claim over melted siding.

The Vinyl Siding Institute has worked with the National Association of Home Builders to find a fix for melting siding. Both groups insist the problem is not widespread. The Home Builders released a brief report to their members only this week. Read it here.

As for Forlenza, Pulte Homes agreed to replace her siding yet again, even though the company says her warranty had expired. Pulte says it will use the same grade siding but landscape the side yard to block the sunlight. (The Vinyl Siding Institute recommends screens, awning or plants/trees as one fix.)

Pulte's statement says, "Pulte Homes is committed to building quality homes and providing outstanding customer service. ... Because a variety of factors can affect the intensity of the reflected sunlight, each instance must be reviewed and investigated individually to determine the cause, responsibility and proper solution."

The I-Team is interested in following this issue, so e-mail us at iteam@wcnc.com if you or your neighbor has had problems with melted siding. We may not be able to answer every e-mail but we can certainly produce a follow-up report.

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