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Energy Solutions

FTC Cracking Down on False R-Value Claims

The federal government has fined a company selling ‘R-100 paint’

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The FTC has fined Edward Sumpolec for making false claims about “insulating paint” products, including ThermalKool paint.
The FTC has fined Edward Sumpolec for making false claims about “insulating paint” products, including ThermalKool paint. Edward Sumpolec, the scam artist who was recently fined by the FTC, peddled radiant barriers on the Internet. This screen grab comes from one of his promotional videos (still viewable on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0CnpfjvMdE ).
Image Credit: YouTube
An internet advertisement for a ThermalKool product. Another marketer of “insulating paint” that has gotten into trouble for exaggerated claims is Super Therm.

Most of us want to do the right thing in improving the energy performance of our homes. We research energy-saving products like appliances and insulation. We search the internet or clip ads from the paper looking for products that will save us the most energy (and money). We look for the most R-value for the money. Well-meaning homeowners do this all the time.

But it turns out that in a troubling number of situations there’s a significant discrepancy between claimed and actual performance. With insulation materials, for example, exaggerated R-value claims became so rampant in the 1970s — when adding insulation to homes came into vogue following the 1973 oil embargo — that the government stepped in to regulate energy performance claims.

The threat of fines hasn’t been as successful as we might have hoped, as exaggerated claims have long continued. Some long-overdue legal actions against insulation companies in January 2013, however, may finally begin to rein in these scams.

The Federal Trade Commission is finally doing its job

When R-value scams became common in the 1970s, the U.S. Congress passed legislation assigning the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to the task of policing R-value claims. The so-called “R-Value Rule” was adopted in 1979. That rule helped to some extent, but grossly exaggerated R-value claims have continued.

A $350,000 fine leveled against Edward Sumpolec, doing business as Thermalkool, Thermalcool, and Energy Conservation Specialists, on January 9, 2013 may cause insulation producers and installers to be a little more careful with their claims. These companies were selling both liquid-applied coatings and radiant-foil insulation materials.

According to a January 31, 2013 FTC press release, “Sumpolec’s advertising included false claims such as ‘R-100 paint,’ ‘This . . . reflective coating will reduce wall and roof temperatures by 50-95 degrees . . .’ and ‘Saves 40 to 60% on your energy bills.’” The U.S. Department of Justice, working on behalf of FTC, won the order on the merits of the case, without requiring a trial. This was the largest fine ever levied on an insulation company based on a violation of the FTC R-Value Rule.

Avoiding scams

Inflated R-value claims like Sumpolec’s are so blatantly obvious that most consumers won’t be duped by them. But there are many, many cases where the claims aren’t quite as over-the-top, and it’s very easy for reasonably smart consumers to be duped.

I don’t know how many calls I received over the years from friends and family members who are thinking of contracting to have their attics insulated with radiant-barrier insulation or radiant paint or extraordinarily high-R-value rigid insulation.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

It’s not just insulation

Exaggerated energy performance claims aren’t limited to insulation. I have often seen ads in our local newspaper’s weekend magazine for seemingly magic electric quartz space heaters, and one can find outrageous savings claims for fairly ordinary windows, exaggerated claims for the benefits of weatherizing services, and highly misleading claims about home-scale wind turbines.

There was even a class-action lawsuit against Honda Motors for unrealistic mileage claims with its Civic Hybrid (we’ve had ours since 2003 and just turned over 170,00 miles).

Share your examples of outrageous claims

Consumers deserve to have access to clear, accurate information on the energy performance of products they buy. And manufacturers who violate that trust deserve to be called out for their deceptive claims. I’d like to compile examples of these outrageous claims and then publicize them — somehow.

(I may have to let my lawyer weigh in on how aggressive I can afford to be in this campaign for truth in advertising.)

Send links to unrealistic energy claims by manufacturers or service providers to me directly, or post comments below.

Alex is founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and executive editor of Environmental Building News. In 2012 he founded the Resilient Design Institute. To keep up with Alex’s latest articles and musings, you can sign up for his Twitter feed.

16 Comments

  1. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    Bob Vila falls for Super Therm's lies
    Alex,
    The "insulating paint" scammers are always busy. They never go away. The Super Therm crooks recently fooled Bob Vila on camera. Imagine -- R-20 paint! Just spray it on!

    Watch it here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRq4UJLqLDI

  2. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    More insulating paint scammers
    Alex,
    The paint scammers are all over the Web. Here are some crooks peddling a paint called ThermoStar:
    http://thermocoatings.net/usa/ceramic.html

    Imagine - the paint is equivalent to R-17. Or maybe even R-24!
    .

  3. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #3

    SuperTherm is a perennial offender
    SuperTherm keeps changing its claims. Here is a SuperTherm peddler making this false claim for the expensive paint: "The combination of reflectivity, emissivity and thermal conductivity equals R19."
    http://www.eaglecoatings.net/content/supertherm.htm
    .

  4. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    More paint claims
    Wow! What a great paint! It's R-8! I mean R-19! Maybe even R-32!
    http://www.enerchecksystems.com/faq.html

    "Supertherm equals to an insulation value of R-8 ... Its heat reflective ability on a metal surface facing the sun will provide an equivalent range of R-19-R-32."
    .

  5. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #5

    Who needs fiberglass?
    R-19 is a good number. Let's stick with R-19.
    "Super Therm® is a true performance coating with insulating properties and has the resistance equivalent to 8 inches of fiberglass (R-19)."
    http://www.superiorcoatings.net.au/protective-coatings/products/super-therm/super-therm.html
    .

  6. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #6

    Maybe I'll go with ThermoShield
    ThermoShield -- that has a nice ring to it. And it's R-22.
    "Our Thermosheild Insulative Paint is a non-toxic, cost effective insulation solution as a dome liner to cool your eco shelter tent. It is an elastomeric paint containing ceramic borosilicate micro-spheres, a technology used on the space shuttles to prevent heat damage as they leave or re-enter the atmosphere. ... It has an equivalent R-value of 22 because of its reflective qualities."
    http://www.pacificdomes.com/eco-living-domes/features/temperature-control/insulation
    .

  7. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #7

    Less than 1/4 inch thick
    Here's a product that is less than 1/4 inch thick -- but it has an R-value of R-16. Let's buy some!
    http://www.insulation4less.com/Insulation4lessTechnicalArticles-18-Bubble-Insulation.aspx
    .

  8. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #8

    More Prodex lies
    Another website with more Prodex lies: still less than 1/4 inch thick, still R-16 -- but this time it is ICC-ES recognized! Maybe they recognized the seller from his mug shot at the local post office.
    http://www.insulation4less.com/Insulation4lessProduct-1-Prodex-Total-48-Inch.aspx#fragment2
    .

  9. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #9

    Home Depot is lying, too
    Home Depot didn't want to be left out of this lucrative scam. Here's a product that is less than 3/8 inch thick -- just staple it up. Guess what: "R-values range from R-3.7 to R-21." This claim is a blatant violation of federal law. (The actual R-value of Reflectix is R-1. See second attached document.)
    http://www.homedepot.com/buy/building-materials/miresco/reflectix-16-in-x-25-ft-staple-tab-insulation-st16025.html#.USYeSaOE71U

    .

  10. John Brooks | | #11

    Insulating Paint Salesman...Fail
    I remember a report about an Insulating Paint salesman who used the product on his own home....and left out conventional insulation altogether.
    And it was a big "Fail"

  11. JoeW N GA Zone 3A | | #12

    thought for Alex
    Consumer Reports loves this kind of stuff -- they may provide a venue for your list and you can let their liability cover you.

  12. Jin Kazama | | #13

    ""John Brooks
    I remember a

    ""John Brooks
    I remember a report about an Insulating Paint salesman who used the product on his own home....and left out conventional insulation altogether.
    And it was a big "Fail"""

    I found it way more amusing that most TV shows and books i've seen/read in the last few years!!

    on another hand, i don't know about other canadian provinces, but Quebec gov. has just modified the law so that R value needs to be only from convection/regular test type because it was getting out of hand with the "radian barrier" thing here also.

    ( i saw a few years ago, an alum foil faced EPS of 2" that was avertised as R22 stamped on it isntead of the R7-8 it should've been ..how to mislead consumers ... )

  13. Dan Kolbert | | #14

    Cellular blinds
    I've seen various reports of blinds with R-values up to 4 or more. Strikes me as complete hooey.

  14. Jin Kazama | | #15

    Dan Kolbert: i've seen roller
    Dan Kolbert: i've seen roller blinds with R6 !! ah wait...those are 1" thick ply filled alum extrusions
    :p

  15. Michael Lieto | | #16

    Buyer Beware
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRq4UJLqLDI the video looks so convincing, yet I don't see how this can perform the same as traditional insulation. It is very misleading, even for me being in the field of insulation products. Why not just insulate your house with aluminum foil as it has radiant properties… In my opinion these products are misleading. I would like to order a batch to do my own in house testing. Best, fellow Green builders
    Michael Lieto

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