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Q&A Spotlight

My Windows Were Installed Incorrectly. Now What?

Should the windows be removed and reinstalled?

This window was not installed according to the manufacturer's instructions. The homeowner wonders whether he should insist that the windows be removed and reinstalled. [Photo credit: Brian]

Brian is building a new house in New Jersey and has selected Andersen 400 Series windows. So far, so good. The problem is how the windows have been installed by Brian’s builder.

Many of the manufacturer’s installing instructions have been ignored, Brian writes in a Q&A post. The contractor used no caulk, chose Tyvek housewrap tape instead of flashing tape, and failed to overlap the Tyvek by at least 6 inches, as required by the instructions.

“It looks like they lined the rough openings with Tyvek and a bit of Vycor Plus flashing at the botton only, then installed the windows without caulk, then installed a layer of Tyvek across the tops of the windows, and over the top nailing flange, then taped the flanges with Tyvek housewrap tape,” he says.

In an earlier post on the same topic, Brian outlined what he believed were the shortcomings in the builder’s installation methods. When he asked around for advice, the replies were not encouraging: One certified Andersen installer told him he was convinced the windows will leak.

“My builder says the windows are fine,” he wrote. “They have installed thousands of them like this, he says, and never had a problem. He very much wants me to drop the subject.”

What’s the best course for Brian to take now? Should he insist that the windows be redone? “I am prepared to redo,” he says, “but given the cost I would like to be certain that it’s really necessary.”

Brian’s painful predicament is where this Q&A Spotlight begins.

It shouldn’t cost you a dime

The building code requires that all materials be installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions, GBA editor Martin Holladay says, so the cost to Brian should be zero.

“The…

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18 Comments

  1. hughw | | #1

    Given all of Brian's pictures at various stages of the window installation, it would seem to me that Brian was interested (perhaps concerned) about the installation early on. Was this conveyed to the builder before the installation was completed? Did the builder barge ahead despite the concern? My point is that the builder may have brought this on himself by pushing ahead even after the problem was brought to his attention.. If this was my house, I would insist on all the windows being re-installed. And depending on my feeling about the builder and the degree I thought he made an honest mistake vs. willful flouting of proper methods, I might offer to share some of the cost.

  2. JC72 | | #2

    True story about kick-out flashing. My community just went through a re-roof and a neighbor had a roof-wall intersection where the gutter had no kick-out flashing and consequently water left a 6 ft long stain on the brick wall beneath it. During my chat with the foreman who was managing the re-roof he assured me that kick-out flashing was going to be installed along with new gutters.

    End result, kick-out flashing has not be installed at any roof-wall intersections. I guess it's just too expensive to retrofit after the fact because each unit has 2-3 roof-wall intersections and there are over 150 units.

  3. joshdurston | | #3

    IMHO, Get it redone, even if it costs you something.
    Personally I couldn't be happy with the house knowing that the windows were installed that way. Even if they don't leak, it's still not right. You'll always be wondering if your walls are rotting from the inside. They didn't even get the little bit of Vycor flashing installed flat and parallel. Looks like they got a monkey to do it.

    "The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten"
    -Benjamin Franklin

  4. walta100 | | #4

    It has been almost 6 weeks since the home owner brought his concerns to the builder’s attention.

    6 weeks is an eternity on a work site, what happened?

    Has all work stopped or did they plow ahead?

    Walta

  5. rockies63 | | #5

    If you have a documented list of omissions or errors regarding the installation of the windows (according to either the instructions from the window manufacturer or local building codes) and the builder insists that what he did is acceptable and "the way he's done it for years and there's never been a problem" then sum up what you wanted done and what he actually did do when installing the windows and have him sign it. Turn it into a legal contract stating that if his changes to the recommended installation guidelines results in future damage to the home (from leaky windows or missing flashing) then he has to pay for it. See if legally he will stand behind his work.

    On a separate point, if you had concerns about whether he was going to follow the proper instructions for installing the window (and I suspect that the reasons you had concerns was because of concerns you had seeing him do previous work on the house - either framing, insulation or mechanicals, etc) then you should have been on site and watched him completely install one window. Video tape the install to prove what he did. If it's not what you want then tell him that's not acceptable and fix that one window before letting him install the rest.

    1. Hollywood_Engineer | | #16

      Scott,

      If the builder declares bankruptcy or creates a new company, your recourse no longer exists.

      Eric

  6. leenewton | | #6

    I can't believe a builder would do work like this, ok maybe I can, but I'm really speechless that there is any question about pursuing a remedy. Most states would specify that the contractor is vicariously liable for failure to perform pursuant to prevailing building codes/manufacturer's guidelines. Doesn't matter if it was discovered during the build or up to 18 months after completion (in Michigan). If there is any doubt, show the builder this article and the comments, if he can read.

    1. JC72 | | #7

      How does that liability work if the building inspector signed off on the work?

      1. Expert Member
        MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #8

        John,

        In Canada the case law suggests municipalities do not have Strict Liability. That is, they are only responsible to ensure the building will not be unsafe for the occupants. They are not expected to make sure it conforms exactly to the specifications on the plans, or is built in conformance with manufacturer's instructions.

        In the preamble to our code it says that ensuring a building meets the code is the owner's responsibility.

      2. 237ScottWilson | | #9

        Building inspector has no liability.

        1. Expert Member
          MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #11

          It's bit more nuanced here:

          "... goes on to state that inspector is not required to discover every latent defect or failure to meet the building code. Rather, the inspector is expected to act reasonably to detect defects and order them remedied (this includes latent defects). Although the municipality was ultimately found liable because the defect was a health and safety risk, the case suggests that the duty of care is limited to matters of health and safety. "

  7. dangrs1 | | #10

    Been through this. I was my own general on my personal house. I used an insulated vinyl siding. The installer assured me he had used the product before. I had used the same siding on a couple jobs I did myself but didn't have time to do this one. First the guy shows up a week early and starts the job without telling me. I didn't have all my outlets and lighting in place yet. Then I see the workers breaking the insulation off to make it easier to get it behind the J channel. I stopped the job and had him tear off the entire back of the house. He left and I didn't pay him and never heard from him again.
    That said if you haven't paid him yet I would tell him make it right or leave.
    Window and door manufacturers are low quality when it comes to foolproof installation. With all the advances in engineering you would think there would be something better than tape and caulk that will dry out, shrink, or fall off in the future. Think a submarine door.

  8. LeighaDickens | | #12

    I appreciate the nuanced understanding of human nature that the various technical experts have taken in talking about how to approach this situation. As an employee of a builder who's dealt with my fair share of homeowner criticism and even anger, I will weigh in here:

    Builders, (I imagine much like doctors), get absolutely bombarded with homeowners requesting impossible things or telling them they're doing all kinds of trivial things wrong, sometimes because "they read it on the internet/saw it on HGTV." They also deal with clients making mountain out of some of the most molehill-feeling of minor scratches, sub issues, scheduling snafus, and well as a good bit of "how dare you not realize that I really wanted it *this* way that I never told you, you're worthless" kind of anger. As well as constant "hey could you change this one thing?" (that will add a lot of time to the job) followed by "I'm incredibly angry that you aren't you finished already!!!" tension. So I do sort of understand why they react the way they do, and coming at them swinging isn't always effective for that reason--they deal with that really often on things that ultimately matter much less, and a person only has so much bandwidth for it.

    However, good builders have good systems for dealing with those things, such as robust communication practices, clear contracts (I really can't over-emphasize that one), and will often fix a fair amount of those things for the customer *anyway* as best they can, for the sake of preserving a relationship with someone who can give them good referrals later. Word of mouth is critical to a builder's pipeline a builder depends on his clients being, if not totally satisfied, at least mollified, when things go wrong in construction. And fundamental water management details such as window flashing and kick-out flashing are worthwhile details, not trivial ones, and builders who want to stay in business must learn from things that went wrong on their jobs in the past. It seems likely that unfortunately this method of window installation is probably pretty common in the area, and it is always harder to get a builder to go against standard practice in his area. (Or to succeed at getting his subs to do so. They work for all the other builders in the area too who don't enforce the same standards, so builders often must engage in the same "enforce an issue vs preserve the relationship of someone I depend on" trade-off with subs, though that *is* part of what we pay builders to do.) It's likely that the area has gotten away with taking this risk for so long because no one has had an issue early enough in the building's life to make the builder's life miserable enough about it to convince him to change, and past clients haven't been saavy enough about building to call it out during construction. The other mitigating aspects, such as guttering and not being hugely exposed to wind-driven rain (and most homeowners' tendencies not open up their own walls or rip off their own siding for fun) has probably helped this practice avoid causing a noticeable problem in the past as well. Still, someone has to call it out, to make the change ever start to happen. As miserable as I've sometimes been when clients have really let me have it--and as undeserved as their anger sometimes was--I've still learned some things that made me better, from those experiences. I'm grateful for them, in a way.

    So yes, it's a calculated risk to call the builder out, but if it's done in an friendly-but-assertive way (rather than aggressive and angry), and especially if taking the tactic of "you know, I wish we'd communicated this better in the beginning, but this is important enough to me that I'm going to insist on it for my most exposed windows, and I am willing to put up X% of the cost, but I need you to cover the rest" I think the risk of alienating the builder is actually pretty low, and the builder is pretty likely to feel a lot of social pressure to comply.

  9. user-7428008 | | #13

    take them out now and do it right! you will be sorry if you do not. will not cost you anything. it was done wrong! just point to mfg directions!
    i see this everyday! no one follows the direction from the material mfg's? wrong tape fish mouth in tape and sloppy installs.
    you should also have a slope which is covered in flashing tape below the windows if no pans are being used which directs water out.

  10. user-971778 | | #14

    Since I teach building science to Architects, contractors and engineers I thought I might put this into some perspective as it relates to a class I recently held attended by 51 contractors. I asked the class how many installed windows as a regular practice. 51 hands shot up. I then asked the class how many have ever read the manufacturers instructions on how to install windows. Zero hands went up. I then asked the class if they knew that the top (5) window manufacturers required the windows to be installed according to their specifications or the warranty was void. Zero hands went up. Does that put things in perspective?
    When we discussed the "why" the answer was basically that the contractors stated they had been doing this for 20 plus years and their way was the right way. They all said they were "taught" the right way to install a window. I did get a commitment that they would all read the instructions from now on.

  11. user-984292 | | #15

    Great topic, sorry I’m late to the party. This occurs every single day in our industry and as Peter notes more often than not it never proves to be a problem. When it does however it is a big problem! There’s no doubt about it windows have changed over the last 30 years. Anyone who brags that they’ve installed their windows the same way for 30+ years is actually admitting their fault to you.

    My apologies if this was discussed and I missed it but I would suggest not doing anything until you talk to Andersen. If you look closely at the warranty it may be useless once the windows are reinstalled. Not to be the bearer of bad news but the expense here may be far greater than sealant and flashing tapes. It is entirely possible in order to protect your investment the entire order will need to be re-manufactured at the factory. Right wrong or otherwise I would find out for sure before you take any action. Good luck!

  12. lookloan | | #17

    I had this stituation 10 years ago. What I did was cut and paste, meaning I cut the Tyvek around the window, preserving all Tyvek non-window areas. Then I sealed around the window flange and CDX plywood with Grace on the window sides, then the top of the window, leaving the bottom open for drainage. Then I went back and added Tyvek around the window where it was removed, overlaping the Grace and taping with Tyvek tape. When I started final Tyvek repair step, I made sure the top went under the upper layer of Tyvek left from prior install. The last step was I fired the help.

  13. Expert Member
    Peter Engle | | #18

    James,

    That doesn't preserve the window warranty, and it doesn't really fix the problem with the lack of sill pan flashings. if you get any leakage through the window sills (a common issue), you've got no protection against that water leaking into the walls. You are definitely better off than if you did nothing, but you're still not all the way to the durability of a proper installation.

    This is all so frustrating because it is not all that difficult to just do it right. We've known about this stuff for decades. Why is it so difficult to just do the right thing?

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