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Green Building News

Serious Energy’s Challenging Start to 2012

A fire destroys a manufacturing plant in Winnipeg and the company takes steps to shut down its window factory in Chicago

Retrofitting a landmark. Serious Energy was among the contractors that helped retrofit the Empire State Building. The company says the project included upgrading 6,514 dual-pane windows in the Empire State Building by reusing all existing glass and creating super-insulating glass units in a dedicated processing space located in the building.

Image Credit: Serious Energy

UPDATED 3/21/2012 with a link to a story about deceptive marketing claims

On January 2, an early morning explosion and fire destroyed the Omniglass factory in Winnipeg. Owned by energy efficiency specialist Serious Energy, the factory made fiberglass window and door components for Norwood, Thermotech Fiberglass, Accurate Dorwin, and Fibertec.

No employees were hurt in the fire, although four firefighters suffered minor injuries. Longer-term prospects for the plant’s 65 employees and the clients who relied heavily on Omniglass for components, however, are still up in the air. In an article posted on February 14 by the Winnipeg Free Press, industry sources told the paper that it seems unlikely that the facility will reopen. But Valerie Jenkins, vice president of marketing at Serious Energy, told GBA that the company is exploring several options and hopes to be able to announce details in a couple of weeks.

Serious Energy had purchased the plant from its founder, Laurie Davies, in 2010, the Free Press noted. Ominiglass clients told GBA that the hardships caused by the destruction of the plant have rippled well beyond the job-loss miseries in Winnipeg and now afflict the operations of the window and door companies. “It has been difficult to deal with the situation, but we have sourced out some suppliers and we hope that we will continue to produce the quality of product that we always done in the past,” Daniel Melanson, sales manager at Norwood, wrote in an email to GBA.

Doug Nowlin, of Accurate Dorwin (also based in Winnipeg), said that the company is preparing to resume supplying its customers with its fiberglass-frame 325 Series windows, in an improved version, in about 70 days.

Turmoil returns in Chicago

Another, more widely reported news story involving Serious Energy focuses on its plan, announced last week, to close its 268,000-sq.-ft. window factory Chicago, which employed about 50 workers. In a statement, the company said that “ongoing economic challenges in construction and building products, collapse in demand for window products, difficulty in obtaining favorable lease terms, high leasing and utility costs and taxes, and a range of other factors unrelated to labor costs, have compelled Serious to cease production at the Chicago facility.”

Serious Energy has expanded its repertoire from new-construction and retrofit products, such as its SeriousWindows and SeriousGlass lines, to soundproofing drywall to, more recently, a range of services designed to help building owners and operators increase the energy efficiency of their properties.

One of the company’s most high-profile projects involved a window-system upgrade for the Empire State Building, and included reusing the building’s existing glass. Initially, at least, the scene on February 23 at the company’s window factory in Chicago, Republic Windows and Doors, echoed the situation at the factory in December 2008, when Bank of America cut off Republic’s credit, prompting its management to summarily fire all 250 of the factory’s workers, without severance pay or a benefits extension. The workers protested by refusing to leave the factory, a move that sparked media coverage and prompted the bank to give the factory a chance to court a new owner.

Serious Energy stepped up

The shutdown this time around prompted yet another occupation of the factory. As a recent blog posted by The Nation points out, though, this occupation was far more swiftly deployed. Serious Energy soon agreed to a 90-day stay, the workers are back at work, and they are looking at options, including a fund-raising initiative, that would allow the them to buy the plant and run it as a worker-owned co-op. Things could go either way on this, obviously, but there is at least hope that Republic can avoid disappearing from the landscape.

Update: Serious Energy faced still another hurdle when the company was forced by the FTC to stop making deceptive claims about the energy performance of its windows.




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