R-Value Scammers Sued By the FTC

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R-Value Scammers Sued By the FTC

The Federal Trade Commission accuses the distributors of Insultex housewrap of ‘deceptive claims’

Posted on Dec 30 2016 by Martin Holladay
prime

Here at GBAGreenBuildingAdvisor.com, we received our first inquiry concerning Insultex housewrap on July 31, 2015, when Marcus Sheffer questioned the validity of Insultex’s R-valueMeasure of resistance to heat flow; the higher the R-value, the lower the heat loss. The inverse of U-factor. claims.

Insultex is a plastic housewrap distributed by Innovative Designs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The company offers two versions of its housewrap, at a price that is from two to nine times higher than the price of ordinary housewrap. One version is 1 mm (0.0384 inch) thick; according to Innovative Designs, this product has an R-rating of R-3. That’s R-78 per inch.

The second version is 1.5 mm (0.0576 inch) thick; according to Innovative Designs, this product has an R-rating of R-6. That’s R-104 per inch.

The Insultex document that includes these outrageous claims, titled “Insultex House Wrap R-3 and R-6,” is available for viewing online. (It’s also reproduced as Image #2, below.)

For years, Insultex has been sold at Home Depot and Lowe’s; both of these distributors repeated the outlandish R-value claims.

Responding to Marcus Sheffer’s inquiry on GBA last year, I wrote, “Unless you are talking about aerogels or vacuum insulated panels, the laws of physics limit the maximum R-value of a material to about R-5.6 per inch without encapsulated gas, or about R-7.5 per inch with encapsulated gas. … The R-value claims that Insultex is making for its product are preposterous. It’s a total fraud.”

On that same Q&A thread, a GBA reader named Jeff Cooper commented, “You’re the first anywhere online to give potential buyers of Insultex the understanding they need to avoid wasting their money by assuming that Insultex would have to be be legitimate because they would otherwise be exposed to too many legal perils, especially as their product becomes widely known by being sold at Home Depot and Lowe’s, among others.”

While it took only a cursory examination of Insultex’s ridiculous R-value claims to conclude that the company was committing fraud, the supervisors and buyers at Home Depot and Lowe’s were evidently too gullible to look into the matter very deeply.

The FTC sues Innovative Designs

It looks like Insultex is finally going down. On November 3, 2016, the Federal Trade Commission sued Innovative Designs, noting that the company’s R-value claims are false and deceptive. The suit alleges: “IDI markets its ‘Insultex House Wrap’ through deceptive claims related to R-values, which measure the insulating ability of materials, including home insulation. … IDI claims R-values of either ‘R-3’ for its thinner product, or ‘R-6’ for its thicker product, and consequently, significant energy savings for consumers. However, IDI cannot substantiate these claims. Indeed, they are false. Even IDI’s ‘R-6’ product has an R-value of substantially less than R-1. … Defendant did not possess and rely upon competent and reliable testing for the R-values it claimed for Insultex House Wrap. Defendant’s purported test data does not have a reasonable technical basis. … Insultex House Wrap does not have an R-value of R-3 or R-6. Indeed, the R-value of Insultex House Wrap is substantially less than 1, and thus, Defendant’s R-value claims are false.”

If the FTC prevails in its suit — and according to all indications, they will — Innovative Designs will face fines and damages. The FTC's complaint calls on the court to “Award such relief as the Court finds necessary to redress injury to consumers resulting from Defendants’ violations of the FTC Act, including but not limited to, rescission or reformation of contracts, restitution, the refund of monies paid, and the disgorgement of ill-gotten monies.”

Who deserves to be paid?

Assuming that the FTC wins its suit, among the homeowners who may want to line up and ask for the return of some of Innovative Designs’ “ill-gotten monies” will probably be the homeowner whose siding job was featured on a TV show called “Today’s Home Remodeler.” In one episode of that show, a video crew visited a house where contractors were installing new housewrap and siding. As the cameras were rolling, Andy Lindus, a representative of a Wisconsin company called Lindus Construction, bragged about the R-value of Insultex. “Now, what’s really cool about this product is, it’s an R-6 insulation. Before this product, in order to get an R-6 on an exterior wall, I would have to put on an inch and a half of foam,” Lindus enthused. “This is a really neat product … It’s the housewrap and the foam all in one. It’s an R-6.”

Andy Lindus is not the villain here, of course; he is one more victim — although an unusually gullible one. The web site of Lindus Construction, his employer, notes, “Lindus Construction is proud to announce our partnership with Insultex House Wrap. … What makes Insultex stand out from its competition is the fact that it offers an R-Value…”

I'm not a lawyer, but it seems clear to me that the owners of the home shown on “Today’s Home Remodeler” will be receiving some kind of settlement. It will be up to the courts to determine whether that settlement will be paid by Lindus Construction, Innovative Designs, or both.

Still in business

Although Innovative Designs (124 Cherry Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) has shut down its web site, it’s still in business. The two people most prominently associated with the business are CEO Joseph Riccelli and Greg Domian, the company’s vice president of sales.

When I telephoned Innovative Designs in mid-December, Greg Domian answered the phone. I asked Domian if Insultex was still available. “Yes, it is,” he told me. (In fact, Insultex is still being offered on the Amazon.com web site and at Lowe’s.)

I asked if his company had a response to the FTC suit. Domian emailed a statement that noted, “Insultex House Wrap possesses the superior insulating qualities and high R-Values as listed on the company websites and other public materials. … The details of the company’s test results employing modern procedures performed on the proper equipment are shown below. Testing Facility: BRC Laboratory, LLC, Jamestown, RI, an ISO 17025 accredited laboratory.”

This is the building at 62 Spirketing Street in Jamestown, Rhode Island, the only publicly listed address for BRC Laboratory.

Hoping to obtain a copy of the lab report, I called BRC Laboratory. No one answered the phone. A Google Street View search revealed that the building at the address provided for BRC Laboratory appears from the exterior to look like an ordinary suburban home. According to Dave Yarbrough, an R-value expert, “BRC claims an accreditation under ISO 17025. I don’t recognize the organization granting the accreditation.”

It's basically Barricade R-Wrap

In December 2015, Innovative Designs obtained an Evaluation Service Report on Insultex from the International Code Council Evaluation Service. The report, ESR-1108, is available online. Insultex was evaluated along with products with other brand names, including Barricade R-Wrap. One of the listed “report holders” is JX Nippon Anci. These facts lead one to conclude that Insultex is manufactured by JX Nippon Anci and is probably identical to Barricade R-Wrap. (An earlier version of ESR-1108 listed the manufacturer of the product as Atlanta Nisseki CLAF, Inc.)

The ESR-1108 report published in 2015 evaluated Insultex for use as a housewrap. The report did not include the results of any R-value testing.

It's time for Innovative Designs to face the music

Over the years, I’ve noticed that the FTC seems to lack the resources to shut down all of the R-value scams that pop up on the web. In this case, however, Innovative Designs managed to hoodwink some big players, including Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Amazon, so the FTC decided that it was time to step in with a lawsuit.

While the lawsuit has not yet been resolved, here’s my prediction: Insultex is toast.

Martin Holladay’s previous blog: “Songs for Christmas 2016.”

Click here to follow Martin Holladay on Twitter.



1.
Dec 30, 2016 3:55 PM ET

Pathetic and surprising
by Dan Kolbert

That big corporate players like the big boxes don't do even minimal due diligence on the crap they sell. I hope they get dragged into the lawsuits somehow.


2.
Dec 30, 2016 4:05 PM ET

Response to Dan Kolbert
by Martin Holladay

Dan,
You're right. I have screen shots of the Home Depot and Lowe's web sites, proclaiming that Insultex has an R-value of R-3 or R-6.

.

Insultex offered at Home Depot.jpg Insultex sold at Lowes.jpg


3.
Dec 31, 2016 11:48 AM ET

Some quick web searching
by michael maines

Some quick web searching turns up this as the accrediting institution: http://www.pjlabs.com/, which appears to be legitimate, though the accreditation was only granted in February 2015. BRC Lab's LinkedIn profile lists their services as "veterinary," which is funny, though the owner, Bob Manni, has other appropriate specialties listed on his personal page.


4.
Dec 31, 2016 11:52 AM ET

Ex-insult
by Charlie Sullivan

I'm glad to see the FTC doing good work. It's unfortunate that a company like Home Depot, big enough to have the clout to demand good testing from their suppliers, does not do so. But at least they are no longer insulting our intelligence by listing it in their online catalog.

I don't know how much the GBA thread on this sparked the FTC investigation, but I think that GBA, Martin, and all the readers who contributed to that discussion should be congratulated, and should celebrate with some low-R-value CO2-blown foam tonight.


5.
Jan 1, 2017 12:25 PM ET

Reflectix Insulation
by Chris Andrews

Do you have any info on the Reflectix Insulation sold at Menards. Seems to make similar claims.


6.
Jan 1, 2017 1:12 PM ET

Reflectix
by Charlie Sullivan

Chris, see Martin's blog on bubble foil here:
http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/musings/stay-away-foil-fa...

It's almost as worthless, but in some rare situations it can be part of a moderately effective assembly that has a higher R value than the R-value of the material itself, so there is room for weasel worded claims that can be considered correct, even though they are misleading. So it's a little harder to pin down as blatent fraud.

Even though it can make a meaningful contribution to insulation, there are always cheaper ways to provide better insulation, so it's never a good choice. Except for Halloween costumes.


7.
Jan 2, 2017 6:22 AM ET

Edited Jan 3, 2017 3:23 PM ET.

Response to Michael Maines (Comment #3)
by Martin Holladay

Michael,
Thanks for tracking down more information on the Rhode Island laboratory with a specialty in veterinary issues. I wonder if they have measured the R-value of dog or cat hair?

P.S. I'm not sure I agree with you that Perry Johnson Laboratory Accreditation, Inc. "appears to be legitimate." Just as it's possible to create a laboratory that looks legitimate (but isn't), it's also possible to create an accreditation organization that looks legitimate (but isn't).

This list of labs on the web site of a different accrediting organization (Keystone Certifications) is more aligned with my understanding of the legitimate labs working in this field: Thermal Insulation Certification Program Recognized Laboratories.


8.
Jan 3, 2017 8:07 AM ET

Response to Chris Andrews (Comment #5)
by Martin Holladay

Chris,
Looking at the claims for Reflectix on the Menard's site (see screen shot below), the most problematic assertion is "R-values range from R-3.7 to R-21 depending on application."

These quoted R-values are assembly R-values, not product R-values. The high R-values quoted come from air spaces, plywood, and drywall, with only a minor contribution from the shiny foil on the Reflectix.

To me, I think it could be argued in court that this is a violation of the federal R-value Rule -- because Menard's is blurring the line between assembly R-values and material R-values.

.

Reflectix at Menards.jpg


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