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Musings of an Energy Nerd

Guardian Fiberglass Threatens Blogger With Legal Action

When Allison Bailes used photos of Guardian fiberglass batts to illustrate a blog on sloppy batt insulation, Guardian threatened legal action

Here's one of the photos that Guardian is trying to suppress. When blogger Allison Bailes tried to publish this photo, lawyers from Guardian Fiberglass sent him a threatening letter.

UPDATED 11/8/2011: Guardian Building Products has apologized to Allison Bailes. See full information at the end of the article.

On October 19, 2011, blogger Allison Bailes, a frequent contributor to GBA, posted a blog on his Energy Vanguard website about the difficulty of installing fiberglass batts well. You can read his excellent blog here: A Visual Guide to Why Fiberglass Batt Insulation Underperforms.

Bailes wrote that fiberglass batts “get a Grade III in the typical installation. That’s because it’s so difficult to install them well.” Bailes’s statement is indisputable, and hundreds of HERS raters around the country could be called on to back Bailes up. In a July 2009 blog, I wrote almost the same thing.

But the lawyers at Guardian Fiberglass didn’t like what they read. (If you looked closely at Bailes’s photos, you could see that the batts in the photos happened to be manufactured by Guardian.)

RELATED STORIES

Installing Fiberglass Right (July 10, 2009)The Insulation Empire Strikes Back (Jan. 25, 2011)A Visual Guide to Why Fiberglass Batt Insulation Underperforms (Oct. 19, 2011)Why Is Guardian Building Products Threatening Energy Vanguard? (Nov. 6, 2011)Guardian Fiberglass Threatens Blogger With Legal Action For Showing Lousy Installation (Nov. 7, 2011)A Communications Strategy for the Fiberglass Batt Insulation Industry (Nov. 7, 2011)

In a letter written to Bailes on October 21, Michael Metz, a Guardian lawyer, informed Bailes that “Guardian disagrees with [the] assertion that it is difficult to install fiberglass insulation well. … It is Guardian’s position that these comments by your company together with the picture of Guardian’s products constitute libel, slander, and commercial disparagement. … Guardian demands a response to this letter within ten days with regard to (i) Energy Vanguard’s agreement to cease its negative advertising, and (ii) evidence of Energy Vanguard’s statements and their sources. Guardian will aggressively pursue its remedies to the fullest…

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50 Comments

  1. User avater
    Kathy Price-Robinson | | #1

    Nice post
    Thanks, Martin. I just reposted this on Kathy's Remodeling Blog so my readers can share this story with their friends.

    Allison, stay strong.

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

    Reposting is encouraged
    Thanks, Kathy. Let's spread the word to show that journalism and blogging can sometimes be as powerful as a large corporation armed with a legal team.

  3. Johnny Ritzo | | #3

    Defenses to Libel
    Two defenses to the libel claim are worth considering: truth and opinion. In many jurisdictions, a writer is not liable for libel if the statement was either true or a matter of opinion. This leaves one central issue: Is the statement, "fiberglass insulation is difficult to install well," capable of being proven true or false? Doesn't seem to be the case, since "well" is not a quantifiable standard. This suggests that the statement is a matter of opinion. Even if the statement was capable of being proven true or false, there would likely be many building science experts willing to support Allison's position.

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

    Response to Johnny
    Johnny,
    I hope HERS raters come forward to describe whether fiberglass batt installations typically achieve the Grade I standard -- that is, an installation meeting the manufacturer's instructions. I have heard several HERS raters tell me that such installations are extremely rare, so I think the facts are clearly on Allison's side.

  5. Mark Costa | | #5

    Someone at Guardian should have seen the "big picture"
    Seems this is just an ill-advised attempt at intimidation. As a contractor, I've sent an appropriate email to Guardian. Various manufacturers who have earned the right to be on my s**t list don't realize how many purchasing decisions I influence. Being on a lot of s**t lists can't be good in such a competitive industry.

  6. User avater Expert Member
    Carl Seville | | #6

    Same old story
    Thanks for posting this, I know that Allison was concerned when he got the letter. When I wrote my post about banning fiberglass, I got a similar, slightly less threatening letter from NAIMA. It is a shame that the batt insulation manufacturers continue to sell a product that in the vast majority of cases does not perform as intended, because there is no quality control over the installations. It sort of reminds me of tobacco manufacturer's claiming that they were not aware that cigarettes caused any health problems. I suspect that both industries are well aware of their products' deficiencies but simply choose to ignore them for the sake of profits. I heard a story about GM when they were in financial trouble that suggested that they were getting their just desserts as a result of about 100 years of bad karma - maybe the same will come to pass with other industries that ignore problems with their products.

  7. User avater
    Danny Kelly | | #7

    So does Guardian think the picture is installed correctly?
    I wonder if Guardian would go on record for the particular picture in question - are those particular batts installed correctly? If the answer is no - then all Allison did was point out an obvious fact and show a "typical" installation. I don't think they much of a case. Hang in there Allison.

  8. Mike Rogers | | #8

    Thanks Allison and Martin
    Keep telling is like it is.

    I find it very difficult to install fiberglass batts properly, especially in cavities which deviate at all from the 14 1/2 or 22 1/2 standards or have and obstructions. It seems Guardian's position is a short-sighted "shoot the messenger" approach rather than a "let's fix the problem" approach. I wonder what would happen if they tracked down and trained the installers rather than chased the guy who took the pictures?

  9. 5C8rvfuWev | | #9

    When you hit where it hurts
    ... the pigs squeal. Or so my grandpa said.

    The threat of the letter brings to mind the possibility of contractors bringing a class action suit requiring batt manufacturers to post notice on the product of how difficult it is to achieve adequate installation. Perhaps they could show the "R" rating -- since that is usually so prominently displayed -- for a "typical" install.

  10. Steve McKenna | | #10

    Better Served
    Guardian would have been so much better served if they had commented on Allison's post that their product was installed incorrectly and Thanking Allison for pointing it out and spreading the word that good insulation can perform poorly if installed incorrectly.

    They would have made hundreds of friends in the industry and promoted their brand as trying to get it right. Instead they are portrayed as a frightened company more concerned that they have their name on a bad installation then the fact that many installers are installing their product in a sub par manner.

    Shame on Guardian, Kudos to Allison for calling a faulty installation out for what it is.

  11. Doug McEvers | | #11

    Lack Of A Skilled Workforce
    I have used a lot of fiberglass batts over the years in my cold climate building projects and have had good results. The batts have either been installed by me or under my supervision and proper installation is not that difficult. A good framing job makes the task easier, many of the batts require no cutting. I made a suggestion a while back of cutting a small v-notch in the bottom of 2 x 6 studs to run electrical wires eliminating splitting batts around wires.

    When it comes to building efficiency you get out what you put in. I believe the fear over increased efficiency through building codes is having to find experienced workers to comply. Building quality, efficient and durable new homes is a skill, it takes effort and oversight.

  12. John Brooks | | #12

    What is different?
    Martin, I don't understand...
    If Allison is posting almost the same message that you have posted....
    Why are you allowed to post an image that shows the product name and logo?
    Why did Allison have to go back and obscure the product name?
    When I read Allison's blog......
    I didn't think that he was criticizing a particular product
    I thought he was just making an observation about what typically happens in the field.

  13. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #13

    Response to John
    John,
    You might be right -- perhaps the lawyers will soon come after me as well.

    However, if Guardian chooses to continue to try to scare journalists and bloggers, they may discover that that path is not in their best interest. I imagine if their lawyers send me a letter and they pressure me to stop writing about this issue, other bloggers and journalists would continue to report on the issue -- and such reporting might not reflect well on Guardian.

    But perhaps I'm overconfident. I'm a journalist, not a lawyer.

    You're also correct that Allison was not criticizing a particular product. Guardian just didn't like the fact that the photos showed their brand of batts.

  14. Robert Bean | | #14

    An insult to science and engineering practice
    I can’t speak for all, but the colleagues in my network from the building science community do not by default assimilate installation practices of a product category with a specific brand name…this entire approach by Guardian’s legal department is an insult to science and the engineering profession and I for one as a professional practitioner in both building construction and HVAC engineering have taken personal insult by Guardian’s approach.

    Anyone else feel insulted?

  15. John Klingel | | #15

    I just emailed Michael and
    I just emailed Michael and expressed my dissatisfaction at Guardian's attempt to suppress the truth by a heavy-hand letter. It sours me on Guardian as a company. I've only installed FG batts in 4 or 5 houses, but to get them perfect is a pipe dream. In short, they suck, and I'll never touch another one. I will avoid anything made by Guardian.

  16. Marcus Taylor | | #16

    Legal bullying
    Thanks for drawing my attention to this. I have prepared a response on my blog buildinginyourblood dot com.au One of my fears is that Australia will become as litigous as the US.

  17. User avater Expert Member
    Armando Cobo | | #17

    Good Job
    Before I read this story, I had plenty of reasons not to specify ANY batt insulation on any of my projects; but now, thanks to a not-so-smart move by Guardian Insulation, I will NEVER specify their line of products. “Stupid is as stupid does” Forrest Gump.
    Thank you Allison and Martin for your great reporting of fair and newsworthy information.

  18. Dan Kolbert | | #18

    Keep linking!
    I've posted a link to this piece on my facebook page.

  19. John Brooks | | #19

    Bad Karma and Not-So-Good for Business
    I am seeing links to this story on many Construction, Home Performance and Building Science Forums
    Forums with a Large audience of Folks who buy, install and Specify Insulation
    LinkedIn and Facebook TOO

  20. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #20

    Spreading around the Internet
    Lots of tweets, too:
    Twitter posts about Guardian Fiberglass

  21. Amanda Evans | | #21

    Allison, I know you usually
    Allison, I know you usually copyright your photos but why don't you allow trainers to use this photo to illustrate bad insulation installation? And other people in the industry also, for their blogs etc.. Of course, don't take the Guardian name off the photo. I'm sure this photo will end up becoming part of industry lore.

  22. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #22

    "Oh, you know Guardian Building Products..."
    In a few years:

    "...they're the company that made the batts that you see in all the example photos that trainers always use to show you how NOT to install batts."

  23. User avater Expert Member
    Armando Cobo | | #23

    I suggest a counter lawsuit by Allison
    Few years a go at the USGBC Conference in Boston I had a chat with the NAIMA Director (sorry I forgot his name) about different kinds of insulation. I clearly remember when the EO asked me if I use Batt Insulation in my projects; I told him that I had not specified any batt insulation in at least a decade for the principal reason that it is usually not installed correctly. To my surprise, he agreed with me on the installation issue, and he added that the industry should do a better job training their installers.
    Maybe Allison’s attorney should give Guardian Insulation a taste of their own medicine and start suing their installers, wholesalers and manufacturers for their installation jobs; as we all know what the reality of batt installations are on the field. All they have to do is go around new homes shooting pictures with an infrared camera and start making a list… a very long list. I’m sure they can collect data and pictures from RESNET and BPI members around the country so they get the idea that it is not just a local issue.

  24. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #24

    You're right, Carl
    Carl,
    Of course bad installations have nothing to do with the brand of batt -- and Allison never claimed that it did. The only people who thought that the brand had anything to do with this issue were the paranoid corporate officers and lawyers at Guardian.

    The reason people are beginning to tease Guardian is not because of the bad installations -- it's because of their corporate response to Allison's helpful blog on how to install batts correctly.

  25. Bruce Kitchell | | #25

    Should we stop inspecting homes insulated with Guardian?
    I am a certified HERS rater doing Energy Star inspections. I inspect about 50 insulation jobs per month. There is a huge range of installation quality. My question is - should we stop inspecting Guardian installations because it may be necessary to give a less than glowing report? Why doesn't Guardian develop an education process for installers of their product rather than a litigation process for those helping to inform us concerning why our structures underperform?

  26. User avater Expert Member
    Carl Seville | | #26

    Let's spread the love
    Attached are a few photos of fair to marginal batt installations. Some have manufacturer's labels on them, some don't but we may as well call out all the companies. I don't have photos, but I have seen bad denim batt installs as well. I must also say that I am jealous of all the attention Allison has received from this, I tried to piss them off last year and all I got was a nasty letter: http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/green-building-curmudgeon/insulation-empire-strikes-back

  27. User avater Expert Member
    Carl Seville | | #27

    Just hoping to get threatened by Certainteed.
    I realize that Allison was casting no aspersions on Guardian. I'd actually never heard of that company before his post. Just thought a few choice pictures of other manufacturers might help balance out the conversation, and maybe even get Guardian to chill a little.

    Interestingly, Owens Corning quoted me on their Energy Complete website (http://www.ocenergycomplete.com/contractors/) - scroll through the "what others are saying" section) the last line of which is: "Now if they could only figure out how to get people to install batt insulation correctly." I was impressed that they were willing to to admit to the problem.

  28. John Klingel | | #28

    As a side note to this issue,
    As a side note to this issue, I followed a link to youtube that showed what was a very advanced German prefab housing operation, and was impressed with the machine-enhanced assembly line. Quite an interesting operation. However, when I saw the fiberglass batts in a wall section, I was quite surprised to see a pretty sad job. Everything else looked pretty skookum, so I surmised that even they have trouble w/ batts. Since I am not belittling the company, I guess it's ok to mention it was Hanse-house.

  29. Paul Vettoretti | | #29

    Guardian: Focus on your core competency.....not legal actions
    To Guardian: It's not too late. Take a step back. Say you made a mistake and support Allison. He is right that fiberglass batts typically are not installed properly. You support educating installers so that your product works as advertised. Develop relationships with 3rd party educators, produce training material, etc. This could increase your sales rather than decrease it.

  30. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #30

    Allison Bailes comments on the letter from the lawyer
    This morning Allison Bailes posted a new blog discussing the threat of legal action he received from Guardian's lawyer. You can read it here: Why Is Guardian Building Products Threatening Energy Vanguard?

    Also -- note that GBA has posted three more images to illustrate this news report.

  31. User avater
    John Semmelhack | | #31

    Grade I batts
    I've done insulation inspections for HERS ratings for well over 500 single-family and multi-family housing units over the past 4 years. 90%+ of the units had fiberglass batts installed. I gave a Grade I to just a handful of the installs.

    I'll also make a suggestion to Guardian that I just posted on Allison's site - if you don't want your name showing up in pictures of poor installations, consider removing your name from your product label.

  32. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #32

    This story was just picked up by TreeHugger.com
    Lloyd Alter just picked up this story and featured in on TreeHugger. Read it here: Guardian Fiberglass Threatens Blogger With Legal Action For Showing Lousy Installation.

  33. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #33

    New tweet from Allison Bailes
    Allison Bailes just noticed that anyone who Googles "Guardian fiberglass batts" will discover that the fourth and fifth Google results are news reports of the threats made against Allison's blog.

  34. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #34

    The Streisand Effect
    In a recent tweet, Peter Troast of Energy Circle cites Guardian's attempt to silence Allison Bailes as an example of the Streisand Effect.

  35. User avater Expert Member
    Carl Seville | | #35

    Streisand Effect
    Allison doesn't look anything like Barbra Streisand, nor does his house look like hers.

  36. John Nicholas | | #36

    Customer Service
    This whole incident has prompted me to start posting to my Blog, after a years absence. I see the problem with Guardian as a lack of customer service.

    New on the Blog: Insulation: How To Do Business with Customer Service in Mind! http://bit.ly/alMIbF Hire the Lawyers or Customer Service

    I also posted this on the contact page for Guardian Fiberglass.

  37. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #37

    More comments on the Web
    The latest blog post on this topic comes from Sean Lintow, Sr. of SLS Construction.

    Sean wrote, "While there are plenty of companies & manufacturers that act downright childlike, the icing on the cake this last week goes to Guardian Fiberglass."

    Read his blog here: Growing up is so hard.

  38. John Klingel | | #38

    Lawyer email
    I just got an email from Michael (Guardian lawyer). Another letter was fired off to Allison, this one a bit more intelligent and apologetic (in a tap-dancing kind of way). A simple "We really blew it. Sorry" would have been better, but at least it shows that they "Get it", or are only trying to dig their way out of a hole. Either way, it shows some character.

  39. C Reeder | | #39

    Defamation
    As a normal homeowner, I usually don't join in comments, but this article and the most of the comments are baffling. I can't believe that a seasoned journalist would print a picture that singles out one company while discussing a negative aspect of the product. If Mr. Bailes had used pictures of a variety of different products, then showing name brands could be understood. Guardian is right. It was defamation.

  40. Forrest Fielder | | #40

    fbgls insulation
    Fortunately, help is on the way - the International Energy Conservation Code requires (Sec 303.2) that materials be installed in accordance with manufacturer's installation instructions. Ask for help - a few month's of failed inspections in your jurisdiction will get the word out that it ain't right 'til its right. Please bear in mind that if its your practice to award contracts only to the low bidder, you can expect these kind of problems - doing it right takes more time.

  41. John Harris | | #41

    Batts Hard to install correctly?
    Having installed mostly fiberglass batts for insulation, my least favorite trade followed by sanding drywall, I would say it is not hard to install the batts correctly except in a few bays with lots of wiring or pipes, it just takes a little more time with attention to detail. Would I believe that 90% of batt installs are not done "well", absolutely. After walking through many new building tracks I see sloppy work, someone probably in to much of a hurry. Insulators learn quickly when required to carefully remove poorly installed batts and do the work a second time.

  42. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #42

    Response to C. Reeder
    C. Reeder,
    You wrote, "Guardian is right. It was defamation." I strongly disagree.

    I'm a journalist and a blogger, and I visit construction sites all the time with my camera. If I am visiting a job site at the invitation of the owner, and I photograph something that I see, and the owner gives me permission to publish the photos, I certainly have the right to publish those photos on my blog and to discuss whether the installation is done right or done poorly.

    The fact that a manufacturer chooses to plaster its name all over its materials does not in any way alter my right to use the photo. For example: can Ford Motor Company sue a newspaper for publishing a photo showing a Ford F250 -- with brand name visible -- that crashed into a telephone pole? Of course not.

    Guardian's bullying letter was a pure bluff. Fortunately, the president of the company stepped in to apologize.

  43. Bill Burke | | #43

    What's Next?
    OK. Very bad move on Guardian's part. Can anything positive come of this? Maybe rather than bashing Guardian over and over again, someone involved might invite them to participate in, or even better, demonstrate leadership in efforts to improve the installation of batt insulation? It's not good to stay angry forever after someone apologizes. Give them an opportunity to show their sincerity and good faith.

  44. Frank Bovio | | #44

    Fiberglass batts = 80 percent furnaces
    Honestly, there are some areas or money restrictions for homeowners to go with fiberglass batts. Not many in my book though.
    Fiberglass batts are good for 2 things: (1) Filtering air infiltration/exfiltration. (2) (In an attic) being a nice soft cusion for my cellulose to land on when we are insulating an attic!!

    I better not say what I tell customers when I am selling them SPF or cellulose!!! I can not afford to get sued!! ;)

    I will add a picture of what I see, not that the other ones are bad but look at this one!! I have many more as well........

  45. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #45

    Response to Bill Burke
    Bill,
    Your wrote, "Maybe someone involved might invite them to participate in, or even better, demonstrate leadership in efforts to improve the installation of batt insulation." Good idea!

    I would be happy to talk with anyone at Guardian Building Products about your suggestion, if they think that GBA could play a part. I certainly agree that it is in everyone's interest to improve the installation practices of fiberglass batt installers. GBA has always supported that position, and we try to do our part. If Guardian can think of a way we can work together to further that issue, we're ready to work with them.

  46. Michael Anschel | | #46

    Soul Searching
    Guardian says they have gone through a process of soul searching, but they limit their search to understanding social media, its impact, and their heavy handed standard lawyering. Guardian misses a massive opportunity to search their souls on the matter of training installers, and cracking down on builders who abuse their products. What they should have done was to ask for the name of the company the Allison found this poor insulation in, and made a public request to the building community to turn in Guardian offenders so that they could clean up their product's performance.
    M

  47. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #47

    Response to Michael Anschel
    Michael,
    As long as you are bringing up the topic, I must admit that there are several signs that Ziessler's search for his soul was a rather shallow spelunking expedition.

    His letter of apology never admitted that the response of Guardian's lawyer was over the top -- only that the response "may have gone over the top."

    His letter never admitted the lawyer's approach was improperly harsh -- only that it "was viewed as improperly harsh."

    His letter never admitted that it was inappropriate for Guardian's lawyer to ask Bailes to remove his photos -- only that Guardian might have found a better way to achieve their goal of getting Bailes to remove his (entirely legitimate and non-defamatory) photos.

  48. Tina Gleisner | | #48

    Let's Invite Manufactures to Work With Us, Not Against Us
    I was as angry as others when I read this post earlier this week. As a blogger, I had to respond and I think you'll like some of my suggestions to Guardian and others as to how they can join us in making homes more energy efficient, versus fighting us. Check out ... http://www.hometips4women.com/insulation-and-the-3-little-pigs

    In fact I think it's pretty powerful evidence that manufacturers can't stop the discussion, and I'm glad to be a part of this community as I learn so much from all of you, and then try to simplify for homeowners.

  49. Dave Adams | | #49

    Partial Solution for the price of some ink.
    Simply print installation specifications on the batts in large type! (French, English and Spanish of course!)

    Have check list questions on each batt; "Is this batt installed correctly?" "Did you just jam it in there? or did you take the time to fit it right??

    Sure shaming installers into doing it right may seem silly, but it would sure help Guardian's PR if they were proactive rather than reactive and mean!

    And in the future, when photos of Guardian ® products show up on the net, installed by monkeys, (apologies to bad insulation installers or monkies if either take offense) Guardian's PR apparatus can respond with pride that the instructions were right there and that they too wish their product would be used as intended.

    Win/win.

    :)

    Dave Adams
    http://buildingphotographer.net

  50. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #50

    Another blogger comments on Guardian's PR disaster
    The latest blogger to comment on Guardian's PR disaster is Peter Troast of Energy Circle.

    Read his blog here: A Communications Strategy for the Fiberglass Batt Insulation Industry.

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