The strange phenomenon that's melting vinyl siding

You do your best to keep things friendly with your neighbors.  But what if something out of your control started causing them big problems?  The ABC2 News Investigators are taking a look at a strange phenomenon that has the potential to heat things up between your house and your neighbors.

You already know about the power of the sun on your home.  It fades your shutters and scorches your grass.  But some say it's having an impact they never expected.  Sandy Cerreta says, "We felt really, really bad because then we realized we were burning their house."

Cerreta isn't kidding or exaggerating.  Two years ago, she and her husband, Joe, realized reflecting sun off their home was actually melting their neighbor's house.  Joe took us to next door house to point out the angle, saying, "The portion that was melting was a streak across the siding."

The rippling was so bad, the neighbor's wavy, distorted siding had to be replaced, not once, but twice.  Joe says, "It was quite a surprise to learn that the sun reflecting off those windows had that much heat."

You'd expect the heat to come from the summer sun.  But the Cerreta's say the damage was being done in the dead of winter by the windows on the side of his house.  While it was a surprise to Joe and Sandy, this problem isn't new.

The National Association of Home Builders even created a task force to understand it, publishing a study in 2010 that details how it happens.  They say the glass in double pane low-e windows can warp, reflecting focused sunlight almost like a magnifying glass.  As a result, at certain angles, the powerful beam of light can damage anything in its path, from cars to vinyl siding. 

Jery Huntley, the President/CEO of the Vinyl Siding Institute says, "Certified vinyl siding can withstand anything nature can throw at it."  But Huntley says the heat created by the solar reflection isn't natural.  She believes it's a by-product of the windows, with heat as high as 200 degrees melting peoples' siding if it sits in the path of the beam.  Huntley tells us, "I feel really helpless for the homeowners too because the damage is being done to our product, not by our product."

Jeff Inks, Vice President of the Window and Door Manufacturers Association says those windows are supposed to reflect light, "Low-e windows are performing exactly the way they're designed to perform."  That's what homeowners, homebuilders and energy efficiency standards call for according to Inks, who questions the strength of the siding, "We're seeing it occurring with certain types of vinyl siding and not all vinyl siding and we believe that's a major factor that needs to be considered."

Both vinyl and window industry reps say this is phenomenon is rare.  The WDMA says they've received no complaints about the problem while the VSI says one complaint has come in this year through their website.  The NAHB says the number of cases is unknown, although their 2010 report cites cases in eight states, including Maryland.  The Cerreta's, who live just over the border in Pennsylvania, would up the count to nine.  Their story, for now, seems to have a happy ending.  Joe says, "We worked together with the home builder to get it resolved."

Their resolution was brand new siding on their neighbor's house and new windows for them, both put in by the builder.  But no one's sure this ordeal is done yet because even though new siding has been installed, this is primarily a problem in the winter months, so the Cerreta's and their neighbors will have to wait until the New Year to see if the solution worked. 

In the meantime, shrubs have been planted, hoping they'll shield the siding from the sun and protect the friendship between these families.

The WDMA says that while they consider this a rare occurrence, the industry is still investing money into studying the phenomenon.  As for solutions, experts say you can add awnings to the window or screens or consider upgrading to heat resistant siding.

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