Do you see products falsely labeled to deceive code officials as a common problem in areas you do business?

John G. Swanson
March 5, 2008
THE TALK...

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Survey Results for 03/05/2008:

Do you see products falsely labeled to deceive code officials as a common problem in areas you do business?

Yes, we see and hear about examples of it all the time.

35%

We've never seen it happen.

27%

We're aware of a few cases, but it's not a big problem.

23%

It's a problem, but it doesn't happen all that frequently.

14%


 

With news of a lawsuit filed by a dealer alleging false labeling of windows, last week we asked, “Is this something that happens a lot?” I don’t know if our poll results provide any sort of definitive answer, but a few readers do see problems out there. Although most of the responses I received concerned the sins of others, I must say, in reading some of the emails I got back, I felt like a priest in a confessional.

On the specific question of “false labeling to deceive code officials,” a little over half of our respondents don’t see it as a real problem—with more than a quarter saying they’ve never seen cases of it, and almost a quarter suggesting they’ve seen or heard examples of such practices, but they don’t really believe it’s a “problem.” “Who would risk the downside of false labeling?,” one dealer reader asks. “Penalties and the bad PR would or should be devastating to a company who would knowingly and deliberately deceive the buyer. I have to believe in the company’s ratings as being true at first,” he continues.

Of course, our poll also found that almost half our respondents do see “false labeling to deceive code officials” as a problem. Fifteen percent indicated that belief, although they don’t think it happens all that often. A third said they see or hear about examples of it all the time, however. That’s a bit troubling.

And I received a number of troubling emails from readers. One simply noted, “I've been asked to falsify ‘egress charts’ on more than one occasion.”

Another, who says he works for an industry supplier and provides support for manufacturer customers in the window and door testing arena, sees “people taking all sorts of liberties.” These liberties range “from simple hardware changes that should require retesting to blatantly putting labels on products that weren't tested, to changing the dates on expired test reports and even changing products on test reports submitted to builders,” he reports. “I've even seen it involving large and small window manufacturers along with some of the biggest testing and certification agencies within the industry. Some of these people have done so, believing their transgressions were minor in nature and not likely to cause any harm to anyone, while others knew they were wrong and could get into a great deal of trouble if caught.”

Instructions to take such measures do not come down from the top executives at window and door manufacturers, he continues, but are generally the result of “someone doing it in an effort to achieve results under pressure from above—usually a case of ‘whatever it takes to make the sale...’

Another reader offers a similar observation. “In three different projects involving five separate builders, we've had problems with labels,” the reader explains. To resolve the issue, a salesman involved with the job has brought out the label, but more than half the time, it’s been invalid. “The salesman has made the customer happy, but ultimately left the manufacturer open to all kinds of liability.”

This reader suggests “the field people are 'fixing' the problem so they don't get in trouble.” While senior executives may find out when a problem with labeling or certification “really gets mucked up,” she states, “Everything else is getting swept under the rug.”

Another reader is harsher in his assessment. “In the door industry in Florida, doors are misrepresented on a daily basis. All hurricane rated doors are supposed to be installed as tested. I know for a fact that many jobsites have door/frame assemblies that are not even close to the ‘as tested’ standards,” he writes. “All one needs to do is get video or still photos of Miami-Dade testing versus the actual jobsite photos.”

He also doesn’t see this kind of “premeditated deficiency” happening because someone down the food chain is trying to make a sale or keep the customer happy either. When questioned, he writes, “the response from the president always comes back as ‘Who's gonna pull a door off of a building and test it?’ and ‘If a hurricane levels the place, the doors will be blown away with everything else.’”

Several readers suggested the real problem wasn’t so much fraudulent labeling representing a product as meeting code when it doesn’t, but assorted other practices that are deceptive, and sometimes illegal. One simple example cited: using wind-zone 3 certified product in areas requiring wind-zone 4, and relying on the lack of inspector knowledge to identify the switch.

“I guess truly false would be the process of using an NFRC label to label a clear/clear unit with a low-E/clear rating…or physically fabricating a duplicate of an NFRC label with purposely wrong information,” another reader reports. “I have seen both of these happen, but the bigger falsification are the sleight of hand tricks.” He then goes on to list: 
 

 

  • Producing labels that look very much like a NFRC label but are not.
  • Manipulating ratings based on size or aspect ratio.
  • Swapping winter for summer U-factor when it works for the offender.
  • Using the back of the envelope method. (e.g., if my frame X, with glass type Y = whole product Z, then different glass in different frame should equal ?).
  • Use of a rating when it befits your case and using a real life size guess when it suits your case.
  • Use of center of glass only.

“I see this kind of manipulation all the time,” he concludes, “probably one per week.”

Another reader with a replacement window company shared his own thoughts on deceptive practices. “In the residential market, we find literature and sales presentations that give the consumer false impressions of the product’s performance.” Example he points to include diagrams showing multiple layers of a low-E coating, use of center-of-glass values versus whole unit values and giving the impression that a UV blockage rating is a U-value. “We try to keep our numbers real and accurate and lead people to third party certification such as NFRC and testing reports, but it gets frustrating when the customer has been shown the heat lamp demonstration that the competitor used to clearly show that their double glass is better than our triple glass,” he writes.

Well-informed consumers can see through many of these tactics, but, he continues, others can be misled. “Judging by our appointment cancellation rate and information gathered from follow up,” he concludes, “we see how many people are convinced to choose an inferior product, especially when ‘the out the doors final’ big price drops.”

After looking at the poll results, and reading through this past week’s emails, I would have to concede that I’m not ready to stand up and claim that everyone in this industry does everything right. On the other hand, I am also very hesitant to ring the alarm bells here. Let’s face it, windows and doors aren’t falling out of buildings at a very high rate.

Last week, I noted that I always suspected there were probably people out there in our industry ready to take advantage of lack of code enforcement. I have also long known, as many of our writers this week suggest, there are companies out there that cross the line between “spin” and “deception.”

But now, more is demanded of windows and doors. I suspect there are homeowners in Florida who will be sitting in their living rooms during a future hurricane, assured they are protected by impact-resistant windows and doors. And while an energy rating label may not carry with it the same life-safety issues, the costs of deception on this front are rapidly rising too. The industry should keep a close eye on what’s happening.