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September - October 2002


Window Manufacturers Beware: It’s the Next Asbestos of the Litigation World
    by Ric Jackson

Ed McMahon and Erin Brokovich are just two of the celebrities involved in mold litigation, drawing attention to the ever-growing health threat of mold in residential housing and construction. High-profile cases such as these incite lawyers and homeowners to bring multimillion-dollar lawsuits against insurance companies, window manufacturers and builders. 

“[Insurance companies] are extremely nervous,” said David Anderson, senior counsel for Risk International, a risk management consulting firm based in Cleveland, in an interview with the Indianapolis Business Journal. “They know it’s a liability they are going to have to deal with.”

Recent cases of mold claims include:

    • A jury recently compelled Farmers Insurance Group to pay a homeowner $32 million in a mold-related case;

    • In California, a lawyer claims he is working on more than 1,000 mold-related lawsuits. The 
majority involves condominium residents; 

    • In Texas, more than 70 families are pursuing litigation against a homebuilder and a synthetic stucco manufacturer, claiming that the material traps moisture behind the homes’ walls, causing the growth of mold.

In a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune, Randall Bell, an appraiser in California who specializes in properties stigmatized from violent crimes to environmental concerns, said, “It’s a cutting-edge issue ... I think it’s going to be bigger than asbestos.”

What Can Window Manufacturers Do?
What is unfortunate for many manufacturers is that the window itself is usually not the culprit. Windows undergo stringent testing for certification against water leakage. However, mishandling in delivery, improper installation and the homeowner’s failure to maintain the window’s integrity may contribute to potential causes for moisture and condensation in buildings, which may lead to mold formation. 

In defense of window manufacturers, the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) states on its website that the window construction isn’t the problem, but “most likely, [windows were] mishandled in the field and the installation work itself was incorrect. After all, when a tract house is put up in 60 to 90 days, thorough attention to detail, such as sealing and trim, is often lacking.”

According to AAMA, window manufacturers can take steps to help reduce their risk. They include:

    • Controlled shipping and handling to provide protection from mishandling; 

    • Educating the homeowner. Prepare a maintenance bulletin that includes a periodic maintenance schedule and checklist;

    • Providing thorough instructions for installers to follow, monitor installations when possible 
and document all activity and problems. 

Along with these steps to improve the installation of your window units, it is also very important to focus on the components used in the window. Since the proper handling and installation only help prevent leakage issues—a small contributor to the issue of mold—it is necessary to focus on reducing condensation and moisture with better insulating components. 

Mold, Windows and Warm Edge
For mold to survive in a home it needs three things: food, air and moisture. Obviously, you cannot remove the air from a house, and the house itself serves as food for mold. You cannot even control the level of moisture in a customer’s home, but you may be able to reduce the amount of potential condensation on the windows you produce.

This can be accomplished through the use of better insulating components such as warm-edge spacers, gas fills and low-E glass coatings that can reduce moisture significantly in the form of condensation—thereby reducing the risk of mold. The better the insulating unit insulates, the less condensation will form. 

For example, our company supplies a family of flexible warm-edge spacers that when combined with other window components chosen for improved thermal performance can reduce the amount of condensation greatly. 

Today, more than 78 percent of IG spacers used in residential windows are classified as warm edge (Study of the U.S. and Canadian Market for Windows and Doors, 1999, Ducker Research Company, Inc.). So, if you are not using a warm-edge spacer currently, you may want to contact a reliable supplier for a recommendation.

Deal with the Facts
One unfortunate trend seen all too frequently in this industry is the opportunity-exploiting companies that are attracted to the issue of mold. Some companies have even resorted to age-old scare tactics to play on the fears of homeowners. 

This is not to say that all companies addressing mold are attempting to profit from homeowner’s fears for their health. Manufacturers should be wary of using scare campaigns or collaborating with component suppliers who make exaggerated claims of eliminating mold or using scare tactics to influence the customer. 

As an industry, we need to deal with the facts related to mold. No one in the industry will benefit long-term by preying on the fears of consumers. It is in everyone’s best interest to be as factual and well-informed as possible when dealing with this issue. 

Ric Jackson serves as director of marketing for TruSeal Technologies Inc., based in Beachwood, Ohio.

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