Homeowners frustrated by melting siding - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Homeowners frustrated by melting siding as manufacturers seek solution

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Arrows show how the sun's movement across the sky creates a melting pattern on siding. Arrows show how the sun's movement across the sky creates a melting pattern on siding.

Going green is having unintended consequences for some homeowners.

The use of energy efficient windows may be keeping our homes cooler in the summer, but the energy they divert has to go somewhere.

As it turns out, that diverted energy is creating problems on the sides of homes all across the country — and here in the Triangle.

It affects all types of materials including painted surfaces, wooden shingles, plastic automobile parts and vinyl siding that may be in the direct path of the reflection.

It's a hot issue that's leaving homeowners out in the cold and costing untold millions.

"We're looking at siding that has basically melted," said home inspector Jeff Zehnder. "If you put a barbecue next to your house, that's what you'll get."

And in one Fuquay-Varina neighborhood, about 75 percent of the homes have the same problem.

"It's the worst I have seen," said Zehnder.

What's causing the siding to deform? 

It's the sun.

As anyone who's ever experimented with a magnifying glass knows, when the sun's rays can be destructive when focused.

Energy efficient windows can act just like a magnifying glass, when, under certain conditions, the sun's rays can be focused on to the side of a building.

And in the Summerdale neighborhood, the right conditions abound.

"Over time it started to melt and it actually looks like it's reflecting off our own windows," said homeowner Chris Errato, whose house is melting itself as well as casting rays on to his neighbor's home.

The warping follows the suns path across the sky and can occur anywhere based on home location and position of the sun in the sky.

When he focused an infrared detector on the reflection of the sun on the near-by grass home inspector Zehnder got a reading of 101 degrees.

"Where the infrared camera is focused, it's basically 10 degrees hotter than a few inches to the left on the grass," said Zehnder.

He was surprised by what he found.

"I did not expect this volume of concentrated heat coming off different windows," he said.

When Matt Scruggs and his wife bought their home, they were looking for a nice place to raise the family they wanted.

Instead their house raised turmoil within a year of its purchase as the siding started to melt.

"We contacted the window company. They determined it was the siding company; so we went back and forth with them for a little bit until  both finally came out to say it was an act of God and neither one would cover it," Scruggs said.

So he had all the melted siding replaced.

"We just decided to pay for it to be fixed on our own, thinking it was just something in the siding.

But within six months it started melting again.

"We're going to have to replace it again,'' said a frustrated Scruggs.

So why use that kind of window? Building codes In North Carolina require energy efficient windows.

"This is not just a problem in North Carolina; it's all 50 states," said David Smith of the North Carolina Building Code Council.

Three years ago, WNCN brought the problem to the attention of the Homebuilders Association of Raleigh/Wake County.

That prompted the state building code council to get involved, and it set up a committee to look for solutions.

"Insurance wasn't paying for it; warranties weren't helping," explained Smith.

The committee called in window makers, siding manufactures and experts from all over the country hoping to find a way to require changes in materials that would eliminate the problem. They couldn't.

"Folks have to live with it," said Smith.

After several years of research, the building code council's special committee produced report which says in essence: there's no code enforcement solution.

"We pretty much said this can happen and you need to be aware this is a concern," said Smith paraphrasing the report.

When Chris Errato watched his neighbor replace the melted siding on his home, he asked the contractor what he could do. Errato says he was offered a solution he rejected.

"He said off the record if we wanted that stuff to stop we could get our windows replaced with non-low emission windows and when we moved out; if there was a home inspection they'd have to be replaced," said Errato. "Why should I have to do that?"

The Vinyl Siding Institute is so concerned it put out an advisory video on-line and told WNCN in a statement that until there is a long term solution from the window industry it recommends window screens, awnings or shrubbery and trees to try and mitigate the reflection issue.

Click here to watch the Vinyl Siding Institute's video

"I would be willing to pay for my neighbor to put screens on his windows if it meant saving my house," said Scruggs. But he was told screens will slow it down but not necessarily stop it.

Scruggs says that is not a long term solution.

The state building code council says when technology improves, it will re-visit the issue in the hopes of mandating changes that will stop the problem; but until then homeowners like Matt have only one solution.

"Why replace it unless you are going to sell your house?" he said.

Steve Sbraccia

Steve is an award-winning reporter for WNCN and former assistant professor. A seasoned professional, Steve is proud to call the Triangle home since 2005 after over two decades in Boston, Mass.  More>>

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