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 cost to fix this is the responsibility of the contractor who made the errors,” Holladay writes.
Maybe so, replies John Clark, but in demanding that the builder remove the windows and put them back in correctly he runs the risk of future problems.
“My concern would be causing ill will with the builder,” Clark says. “For example, is he going to make up for the lost time in future phases of the build? In one sense you really are at the mercy of the builder, the clock is ticking and interest is accruing.”
Causing offense may be of secondary importance, Brian says, because he’s decided to take over the project himself. His biggest concern at the moment is understanding the magnitude of the risk he runs by not forcing the builder to redo everything.
Visit other job sites and compare
Walter Ahlgrim suggests that before Brian insist that the windows be redone, he take a tour of nearby job sites for a look at how other builders are installing windows.
“Before you complain to the builder, visit a few other builders’ work sites,” he says. “My guess is you will find your house is much better than what you are likely to find in the wild.”
Does that mean most new construction doesn’t meet code? Brian asks.
“I don’t think it’s OK at any budget level to skip less than 1% in cost and effort needed to make a structure excellent, and now, instead, it is totally questionable and at risk,” Brian replies.
He could offer to split the cost
Brian is right not to want to alienate the builder so early in the process, Akos says. There’s still a long way to go before the house is complete.
His suggestion is to offer to pay for some of the materials — such as flashing tape and caulk — that would be needed to do the job correctly and then splitting the cost of labor.
“In the future, I would recommend agreeing on these kinds of details ahead of time to save time,” Akos adds. “It might seem infantilizing to go over details they should know, but it at least sets the expectation of how you want the job done. This does mean a bit of research on your end and not going overboard; you don’t want to sound like a Mike Holmes type of ass.
“Details are important to get right,” he continues. “They can also suck up a huge amount of time, so it is important to talk about it.”
He adds that the installation is probably better than many of the subdivision jobs he sees. “Sometimes it is worth a bit of effort and cost to move things along and actually finish the house,” he says.
Detailed drawings are not for routine work
Malcolm Taylor disagrees that all of this should be identified in drawing details.
“On the drawings I do, the details are for things that are out of the ordinary or particularly important,” he says. “In the absence of a specific detail, the default is to follow all pertinent codes and standards — and the manufacturer’s instructions. That’s typically spelled out in a prominent note on the first page of the drawings.”
Taylor adds that Brian isn’t asking for anything in particular — other than getting the windows installed as per the building code.
A massive waste of time and materials
The house is now trimmed inside and out, Brian adds, and all of that work will have to be ripped out and discarded.
“How stupid!” he says. “It is a colossal waste of resources, and a colossal act of disrespect to a homeowner to build a house in this fashion, precisely because it cannot be easily or inexpensively fixed, and now the life and performance of the whole structure is compromised.”
The builder had assured him that he had years of experience and would install windows according to code. Nor was there anything especially unusual about the job.
“It turns out that not only did they not follow the fairly straightforward manufacturer’s instructions,” Brian says, “they did not follow any of the standard advice given in the multitude of articles and videos available. No caulk was used. No flashing tape. They stupidly skipped 5 minutes of work per window and $500 total of materials on a job that should obviously be done right to protect the total investment in the structure.”
Our expert’s opinion
GBA technical director Peter Yost suggests that Brian conduct a spray test with a garden hose, something along the lines of the ASTM E1105 test, to identify any windows that might be leaking.
Later, he adds these comments:
Brian asks a really tough question: Will these windows leak? It’s a difficult question to answer without more information about exposure, the region, the site, and the use of design features that shelter windows from weather exposure. Brian was kind enough to send me many more photos of his home and we talked at length on the phone.
We started by reviewing and agreeing on just how far off the mark the builder window installation was from the manufacturer’s instructions. Here’s a summary of how well the builder did on that count:
- Install WRB before the window? No.
- Full wrap of rough jambs? No.
- Sill pan flashing? No. (See the photo below.)
- Weatherlap the drip cap to tape and WRB? No.
- Proper flange-taping sequence and lengths? No.
- Weatherlap WRB to window flashing (head and sill)? No.
And the best practice of installing sloped or back-dammed sill pan flashing is not part of the window installations.
In addition, there are shortcomings in the installation of the WRB. Key elements of the housewrap manufacturer’s instructions were not followed. Those errors include:
- Fasteners were staples rather than cap nails. The staples that the builder used were not “equivalent” fasteners.
- Many vertical and horizontal joints were not taped.
- Not all laps were overlapped with the minimum 6 inches.
Now for the siding. The manufacturer, James Hardie, publishes a Best Practice Guide to help installers get the installation right. In this case, several points were ignored.
- There is an improper gap between the siding and a perpendicular roof.
- The siding was cut tight to the window head trim and caulked instead of leaving a 1/4-inch gap.
- The cut ends of the siding are not treated or sealed.
The bottom line
The key question is whether the windows will leak. Here’s my take:
- Site: Brian’s home is not anywhere near a coast, nor is it on a lake or other large open area. (Brian estimates the “fetch” around his home to be between 50 and 150 feet.) This qualifies in my book as a fairly sheltered site.
- Design: Some windows are quite sheltered by eave and rake overhangs and porch roofs. But some windows are quite exposed, and more than one window is located very close to a wall/side roof connection. (See the photo below.)
- Flashing and gutters: The entire home is guttered, but at all sidewall-to-roof connections, there are no kickout flashings.
- Exposed flashing protection: Each window is missing a window cap; there is a half-round projection in the profile of each Azek head trim but no separate window cap protecting the head of the window or the head of the trim. The head of every window should pull that water load away from the window just below it.
- Drainage at the cladding level: The course of lap siding just above each window is installed tight to the window head trim and Brian believes this joint is also caulked (essentially, a face-sealed approach at the cladding level). A face-sealed approach in any area with greater than 20 inches of precipitation a year (all of New Jersey is much greater than this) is not matching protection to risk.
Brian had a lot of detailed photos of these installation shortcomings, but he thought that publishing them would risk his anonymity. The photos certainly confirmed serious issues regarding window, WRB, and cladding installations.
Some of Brian’s windows are going to leak — some much sooner than others. Brian is not interested in trying to get his builder to protect him for just the 10 lost years of the voided guarantee from the window manufacturer. He wants windows that won’t leak for their entire service life. Difficult as it may be on his relationship with his builder, Brian will need to insist that his builder reinstall at least all of the windows that are more exposed to the weather. That includes windows on the prevailing-wind side of his home, and the first-floor windows on gable ends. Even if kickout flashings are installed at all sidewall/roof connections, I would insist that these windows be reinstalled as well.
As Brian has expressed, what a shame that an otherwise quality builder does not understand the primary importance of bulk water management. Banking on “been doing windows like this for years” rather than meeting even the manufacturer’s installation requirements is inappropriately placing experience — without the support of actually knowing how his windows do over time — higher than physics and building science.