Better Reputations Through Proper Installations

By Jim Snyder, Window & Door Dealers Alliance
August 14, 2012
COLUMN : Dealer Perspectives | Operations, Methods & Techniques

At the International Builders' Show in Orlando last February, I found myself querying numerous manufacturers on their biggest challenge. It was unanimously improper installations. This is not news, but verification of an age-old problem that continues to occur. It’s not out of control, but when a complaint arises, improper installations are usually the culprit.

Why is this? If steps are being made to address this, why is it still a significant problem in spite of our efforts? Callbacks and warranty claims are costly to any business (dealer or manufacturer) and if not addressed, can damage reputations.

There are several reasons for improper installation. Three of them are availability of effective training, layers of separation between the manufacturer and installer, and pre-existing circumstances.

Availability of Effective Training
Field training is often the primary training method by default, and can be effective for someone working under a strong mentor or as an apprentice. This practical experience includes learning basic carpentry skills, the importance of plumb, level and square, and even integrity. Through repetition, installers gain speed, and challenges become learning opportunities.

In this changing industry, however, advanced training is critical as well. The details about current flashing techniques, green practices and available installation accessories play a major role in proper installation. This training and information is available from many resources, including clinics by manufacturers, independent certification programs and thousands of videos online. However, travel, time and expense can be deterrents for many installers who need this vital training.


Layers of Separation
Just as the bucket of water in the fire brigade loses water as it’s passed down the line, relevant manufacturer information is lost as it is filtered down to the installer. Available product information, helpful installation accessories, and manufacturer reps are not always accessible to the installer. This is caused by the layers of separation.

Consider a conventional “replacement/installing” dealer scenario: manufacturer > dealer > installer. That’s three layers. Compare this to a “new construction/non-installing” dealer scenario: manufacturer > dealer > builder > framer (installer) with possibly an architect involved to some degree. That’s four layers and even more of a disconnection. This is the normal process and can’t be faulted, but the risk can be greater.

Pre-Existing Circumstances
Dealing with pre-existing circumstances can present a challenge to an inexperienced installer. An uneven floor slab at a door opening, or a pre-existing house without a weather-resistant barrier are issues an installer inherits. Ignoring these issues can result in problems. Addressing these issues the best we can prevents callbacks.

So what’s the solution? There is no easy solution or improper installations wouldn’t still be an issue. But a two-pronged approach should be considered. The first prong is awareness. Manufacturers, distributors and everyone involved needs to be aware that installers may need training, but might not know where to get it. Be aware of the separation from manufacturer to installer. Do your installers know what accessories are available to produce a better installation? Be aware also, that especially in complicated replacement applications, the solutions are not always by the book.

The second prong is availability.  Make training available to your installers. Consider the expense an investment in better-installed windows, fewer callbacks and ultimately your reputation. Dealers need to make manufacturer’s information readily accessible. Be the bridge to this communication gap. On complex replacement jobs, be prepared to send in a master installer to aid one less-experienced.

Awareness and availability won’t catch every improper installation, but it will go a long way toward lessening the problem.

Jim Snyder is head of Window Jim, a window and door replacement specialist operation serving the greater Memphis area. A 15-year veteran of homebuilding and fenestration industries, he also serves as an installer for Homewise Construction. He is a new member of the Window & Door Dealers Alliance advisory committee.