VDI Celebrates 30 Years!

In May of 1985 at the age of 25 I was married with one child and I decided that I no longer wished to work for someone else.  I decided that I was going to open my own home improvement company. At the time I had been working as a sales person for several home improvement companies specializing in vinyl siding.  I had a relationship with another salesperson that had many years of experience so we decided to partner up with this new venture.

The first question to be answered was where we would open? We were both living in Texas and decided to move our families to San Antonio and there we opened VDI, specializing in the sale and installation of vinyl siding. On paper, my partner, John Finley was in charge of the sales and marketing and I was responsible for installation and administration.  The truth is we both found out early that we both had to do a little of everything. As I tell people today, when you decide to start your own business, you only have to work half days. You just have to decide what 12 hours per day that half will be. Now 30 years later, I am still working just half days.

The next question was, what products we were going to offer? Since we were both experienced with vinyl siding, we initially made that our primary focus. Then we needed to be clear on our philosophy. How were we going to run this company? John and I both agreed to keep it simple. We will treat our customers and employees like family. We will deliver exactly what we said we would and we will pay for everything that has to do with every individual project as soon as the project is completed.

Things got off to a quick start. John and I started going door to door telling homeowners of our products and services, and it did not take long for us to generate some business. By the second year, we had hired additional sales people and were keeping three siding crews busy. We both felt comfortable enough to purchase homes and my wife, Leslie and I had our second child. Then, disaster hit!   Texas was a one product economy- oil. In the late 80’s the price paid for a barrel of oil went from $40.00 a barrel down to $4.00 almost overnight. The economy of Texas along with all the other Oil dependent states collapsed along with almost all the Savings and Loan type banks in the United States.  Home values plummeted, including mine and John’s. The banks were foreclosing on whole neighborhoods. Don’t let anyone tell you that the mortgage crises of 2008 was the first time this sort of thing happened. It was exactly the same in the late 80’s.

Very few people in our market were interested in improving a home that was crashing in value and the few that were, could not secure financing. In October 1987, every contract we wrote either canceled or were rejected for financing.  John and I knew we had to find a new market. At the time we narrowed our search to North Carolina or California. We choose California.

We discovered that California required a State Contractors License to operate. We, of course, did not possess a California State Contractors License. Texas at the time did not require a State Contractor’s License so we decided we would go out to California and work for a California Contractor until I could obtain a California Contractor’s License.

So in early 1988 John and I left a manager in charge of our San Antonio office, packed up a car, said goodbye to our families, and drove out to California. We in a way felt a lot like the Okies of the dust bowl days. We had no idea how we were going to make this work, we just knew we had to make it work. Once we reached LA we secured the positions with the contractor that was operating under a contract with the Broadway Department Store Chain to sell vinyl siding, painting and a new permanent exterior coating product called TexCote. Then to save money, we checked into an old motel on Hollywood Blvd. across from Hollywood High School. We worked during the day and walked around Hollywood at night for our entertainment.

At that time, the contractor’s test was only given two times a year in the old convention center in Sacramento California. I purchased a book that covered the business law section of the test and hoped my experience in the industry would be enough for me to pass the contracting and building section of the test. John and I would stay in California for 3 months at a time and would then drive home for a couple of weeks and then go back. In November of 1988, I left LA on a Friday afternoon after running my leads and arrived in Sacramento. The next Saturday morning along with hundreds of other hopefuls I sat down in the convention center to take the test. Approximately 6 weeks later I found out that I had passed both the law and the contracting sections of the test and I was now a licensed contractor in the state of California.

In the beginning of 1989 John and I quit the Broadway and opened VDI in Sacramento CA. We commuted for the next year between Sacramento and San Antonio. Then in 1990, we officially closed our office in San Antonio and moved our families to Sacramento. Due to the fact that we both were upside down on our homes in San Antonio and we were trying to build the company, thus money was tight, we rented a three bedroom apartment in West Sacramento for John and his wife, Leslie and I and our two daughters. It was tight but is was what we had to do at the time.

Over the years we slowly built the business to where we both had our own homes and things were going smoothly. Then we secured the contract to operate out of 32, HomeBase Hardware stores. The stores were located from Washington through Oregon down to Bakersfield California and also Boise Idaho. For those that do not remember the Home Base stores they were very much the same as Home Depot stores. In order to finance this expansion, we incorporated VDI and sold 49% of the company to private investors. To cover these stores we opened branch offices in Washington and Oregon.  On paper this contract with Home Base looked good. Sales grew at an astounding rate, but due to overwhelming lead costs and a crippling percentage cut to Home Base, it never became a profitable endeavor. As a matter of fact, it almost bleed the company dry with the resulting pressure causing John to leave the company.

With the removal of John, and the company on the verge of bankruptcy, my wife Leslie came to work. I arranged for VDI’s gradual withdraw from the Home Base deal. The closing of the Washington and Oregon Offices and I bought out all of the private investors. It took approximately 5 years for Leslie and I to accomplish these goals but in the meantime the economy in California was booming. The housing market was going crazy and our business grew. We had added replacement windows to our product line up years earlier along with aluminum patio covers and the TexCote COOLWALL permanent exterior coating system. In the late 1990 and early 2000’s the federal government along with most power companies were offering incentives for homeowners to replace their old inefficient windows. These incentives included rebates and tax credits. These incentives along with drastic improvements in window and glass technology were very successful in encouraging home owners to replace their old windows.

Our two daughters Amanda and Michelle grew up and married. Amanda our oldest, came to work for the company along with Michelle’s husband Sean Chiquet. Amanda became responsible for all material ordering and Sean came on to help me with our Multi-Family division. Both additions were great because they are both very good at their jobs and  it brought our new grand children to the office on a daily basis.  Though as the grand children have grown they cannot come in as often and Amanda now has three children so she stays at home more. Sean is no longer assisting me with the Multi Family division, he is now in charge of that aspect of the company.  The company is, by all definitions, a family owned business. As when we started we have always made an effort to treat all of our employees as family and Leslie and I have been told on many occasions from many employees that they feel the same.

Then came the recession of 2008. Because of Leslie and my experience with the 1980’s recession and the oil collapse in the late 80‘s, Leslie and I were very debt averse. We had saved a large portion of the profits we had earned during the boom years. We had the company completely debt free and were in a good cash position. These fiscal decisions enabled us to weather the economic storm without having any layoffs. Though business slowed, unlike many of our competitors we stayed open and slowly built our business back to pre-2008 levels.

As Leslie and I have reached our mid 50’s, our exit plan is now entering the forefront. Though neither of us is ready at this time to sail off into the sunset, we know we have other activities we wish to pursue. With that in mind, we agreed in 2014 to sell ½ of the company to one of our sales personnel, Paul Cromwell.

So as VDI enters its next 30 years, we will continue to operate with the same family atmosphere and conservative approach that has guided us through the last 30 years.

Written and submitted by Stephen Kuhlke

Replacement Windows: Retro-fit vs. Nail Fin

Over the last 25 years or so, replacing old inefficient windows has become one of the most popular home improvement projects in the country. When the old aluminum or steel frame windows were first introduced, energy efficiency was not a factor because energy cost were low. We all know this is no longer the case. The other material used during these years was wood.  Though the wood frames are good insulators, they have and will deteriorated (rot, split, warp) to the point they no longer operate properly. Also like the aluminum and steel frame windows, the glass packages were either single pain and/or clear glass. Both of these glass packages have been greatly improved upon over the last 20 years.

Every energy expert agree that replacing these old inefficient windows should be a major part of upgrading a home’s energy reduction package.  Proper insulation, efficient heating and air system and eliminating excessive air infiltration should also be completed if possible.

Once a homeowner does all their research in deciding which window manufacturer and what glass package is best for their location and climate and which contractor they trust to work on their home, they now need to choose what method they want when the new windows are installed. The methods are different if you have metal frame or wood frame windows existing.

If the home owner is replacing their existing wood frame window the choices are pretty clear. It all depends on how badly the head, stiles and sill have deteriorated. If these parts of the existing window are OK then the homeowner would use a box frame replacement window placed in the area once occupied by the old wood window sashes. Leaving the old head, stiles and sill intact. If all of the old wood window was bad then the contractor would have to remove the entire old wood box frame window and replace with a box frame replacement window making sure to retain the existing window flashing.

Replace existing nail fin aluminum or steel frame windows are not nearly as straight forward. Especially when that window is in a stucco sided home. To understand your choices one must fully understand how the home was originally designed to repel exterior water.

Most home are designed in a similar fashion. Of course there are exception to every rule and if you are not sure how your home was built, a building inspector can usually clear this up. We are going to talk about the most common method known as Stick Built construction. In this method the home is framed with a wood 2×4 or 2×6 frame. On that wood frame wood shear is applied. On that wood shear the nail fin windows are installed using a form of “window flashing” as weatherization. The three basic types of flashing used for windows are Flexible Flashing, Rigid Flashing and liquid flashing. Flexible flashing can be separated into two categories mechanically attached and self-adhering. Mechanically attached flexible flashing  typically consist of two sheet of paper, reinforced with a water resistant material  and are attached using staples of nails. This is probably what one will find in a home that is more than 15 years old. Newer homes use Self-adhering flexible flashing which is a flashing material that has a self-adhering surface that does not require staples or nail to attach to the wall and window. Eliminating the nails or staples, lowers the number of penetrations through the system making the system more water tight.   Rigid flashing is typically made from aluminum, cooper, ABS, vinyl, or fiberglass. Rigid flashings are usually used as curbs and are field fabricated. Liquid flashing include some newly developed sealants that can be painted or troweled on the shear wall to create the weather barrier as is created with flexible and rigid flashing. Most manufactures require a minimum of 9” of width plus a top over type overlap on all 4 corners on the window flashing. Over the chosen flashing method, a solid building paper or liquid coating is applied over the window flashing directing exterior water away from the interior of the building. Then a siding material such as vinyl, wood, stucco, brick, fiber cement, aluminum, or steel  is installed to protect the building paper and flashing from damage caused by weather conditions such as wind, rain, Ice, sunlight, and foreign objects.

So to replace the old nail fin type window with a new replacement window, you must do so without damaging this water repent system. You have two choices. Install a new nail fin type Window or a Retro-Fit type window.

With a new nail fin window, the contractor must cut and remove the existing siding in such a way as not to damage the existing building paper, attempt to fold back the old brittle existing building paper without damaging it, remove the existing 9”wide window flexible and/or rigid flashing, remove the nails from the old window fin and remove the old metal frame window. Now since the new replacement window is usually thicker that the old metal frame window the contractor will need to cut back the interior sheet rock and sill to allow room for the new window. This is a very dusty procedure. Then then they will install the new window by re-nailing the new window to the existing shear, re-flash the window, fold back the old brittle building paper and patch the siding in a way that you cannot tell the window has been replaced. This will more than likely require painting.

The problem with this method are:

  1. It is almost impossible to cut back the existing siding especially if the existing siding is stucco and remove it without damaging the existing building paper.
  2. If you somehow are successful in removing the existing siding without damaging the building paper, the old existing building paper has become brittle over time and will fall apart when you try and fold it back.
  3. The existing window flashing is 9”wide therefore the area you must cut back and remove the old siding should be a minimum of 9” to properly create the same weather barrier when you are finished. If you have existing wood siding you will not be able to cover this cut with window casements unless you install 10” window casements. The standard width of window casements is 4”.
  4. If the exterior siding is stucco, the stucco will have to be patched. The new stucco will not match the old stucco exactly and will crack where the new stucco and old stucco meet.
  5. This method will require exterior painting. If the exterior paint is any older than 1 year is will have faded and matching the paint will be impossible. The interior of the home may also require paint due to the fact that the sheetrock and sill had to be altered.
  6. This method is also more expensive than the Retro –Fit Method.

Due to all the problems the industry encountered when it first started with the window replacement market over 20 years ago, many are listed above, the industry developed the new Retro-Fit type of window. With the retro fit method the contractor will measure the new window to fit inside the old metal frame window. The Retro fit window will come with exterior fin, not a nail fin. The contract will first remove the existing window sashes leaving the old metal frame with the existing nail fin intact inside the wall thus not disturbing the existing siding and trim, building paper, and flashing. The new window is inserted inside the old frame with the exterior fin being sealed to the exterior of the old metal frame sealing the new window to the old leaving two gaps in the sill for condensation. The window is then inserted shimmed and fastened through the sides of the new window into the existing wall framing. On the inside of the home the new window fits inside the existing sheet rock and sill so neither of these item need to be altered.  The gap between the new window and the existing sheet rock and sill is insulated with a backer rod or foam insulation. This area is then covered with a vinyl or wood trim piece.  Because neither the exterior siding or the interior sheetrock or sill is disturbed with this method no painting is required. If the installer is properly trained on the way to seal the new window to the old and the fact that the applied sealant is not exposed to the elements the window is just as water tight as the old existing window. Since the old metal frame is encapsulated against the heat or cold on both the inside and outside of the wall it will no longer conduct that heat or cold.

The problems with this method:

  1. You lose more glass space than with the new construction method.
  2. It is harder to meet egress requirements.

Though the vast majority of replacement windows are installed with the retro-fit method some people request the nail fin method of installing a replacement window basically because they are not familiar with the retro-fit method and think it will leak. However my experience is that the chance of a leak with the use of a nail fin window in a replacement application is much greater.  The retro fit method has been approved and is recommended by (AAMA) American Architectural Manufacturers Association and (WDMA) Window and Door Manufacturer’s Association.

As a homeowner you must decide which method of installation you desire before your new windows are measured and ordered because once the window is made you cannot change. A professional window contractor should be able to fully explain both methods to you so that you can make the proper decision for your home.

Written by Stephen Kuhlke
VDI CEO

Various Window Frame Materials

There are several different materials of which a window frame can be made. All of these materials will affect the performance and appearance of the window. The main materials used today for making a window frame are metal, aluminum or steel, vinyl, wood, and fiberglass.
Wood has been used as a frame material for as long as windows have been made. Most wood windows use finger jointed coniferous wood, but some specialty wood windows use hard woods. On most modern wood windows, all of the wood parts except for the stops and trim are treated with a water repellent prior to construction. Wood windows have a warm appearance and can be painted any color a homeowner could want. Wood is a very good insulator. However, the reason all the other materials have been developed to use as a frame material is because of the flaws of wood window frames. First of all, wood windows require constant maintenance. Wood, if not continually treated to repel water through painting or staining and sealing will swell, warp, fade, and rot.  All of these conditions will affect the way the window operates, looks and protects the home. They will also affect the thermal efficiency of the window. Many of the wood manufacturers have developed a cladding for the exterior of the wood frame window out of aluminum or vinyl to help the window perform over time. However, these additions to the frame increase the already high cost of the frame. The next draw back for wood frame windows for some consumers is the thickness of the frame. In order to achieve the strength to support today’s heaver IG units the frames have to be thicker than a metal frame window. Finally, wood frame windows usually occupy the highest price bracket when one is comparing the price of the different frame materials.

Aluminum and steel are commonly known as metal frame windows. Metal frame windows were the first material developed to solve some of the issues that were being encountered with wood frame windows. When the industry was first developing metal frame windows. They were designed to allow architects to design window openings that were larger with more glass space and could handle higher wind loads than wood frame windows. However at this time, builders were not as concerned with the energy efficiency of the windows. Design options and cost was the main driving force so metal was a great alternative to wood. However, times have changed. Though design and appearance are still very important, energy efficiency has taken center stage in modern window design. For most single family dwellings, metal frame windows are not an acceptable option and in some cases will not meet modern energy efficiency building requirements. Most metal frame windows today are manufactured for commercial use in multi-story and store front applications.

Vinyl or PVC frame windows have captured most of the window market for single family homes. Vinyl is a very good insulator. All vinyl frames are hollow. They are a combination of many different chambers to increase the energy efficiency and strength of the window. They never require painting, sealing or staining.  For larger window openings metal or composite material can me inserted into the frame for strength and wind resistance. Vinyl frames can be welded, as opposed to mechanically attached in the corners as is necessary for most of the other frame options which gives vinyl frames a higher air infiltration rating. Modern vinyl frames now come in a large assortment of colors however, white is still the most popular.  Vinyl does have drawbacks. Most vinyl frames are as thick as most wood and fiberglass frames. They are commonly more expensive than metal fame windows but much less than wood and fiberglass frame options. Even with metal inserts, vinyl frame windows are limited in size and wind load limiting their use in some commercial multi story buildings. Some customers prefer wood over vinyl for their “natural” look.

Fiberglass frame windows are relatively new to the window industry. The demand for a fiberglass alternative arose from vinyl’s early limitation in color, and rigidity. At one time vinyl windows only came with two color options, white and beige and could not be manufactured in the larger profiles due to the flexibility and expansion contraction of the products. However due to improvements in the vinyl product along with the introduction of the metal and composite inserts, the vinyl frame products can now be made in the larger configurations and in any color a customer could want. Fiberglass frame windows are a viable option for some situations that vinyl can still not fill, such as buildings over 4 stories tall or customers that prefer the aesthetic appearance of fiberglass over vinyl, wood or steel. The cost of fiberglass usually falls between vinyl and wood with wood on the high end.

Other materials that are starting to be seen as options for window frames are Composite Materials such as wood/plastic composites, Cellular PVC, ABS/ASA and polyurethane. Though these materials are viable, they are still new and are very rare. Unless an architect or engineer has specified these materials for a very specific purpose I would concentrate on one of the more common materials.

Basically, a homeowner needs to decide what energy efficacy ratings, aesthetic appearance and price range they are comfortable with and choose the frame material that will fit that need.  As you can see, there are choices.  As with glass options, a trained, window professional will be able to help you with these choices.

 

We are a FAMILY of Contractors

I, like so many people, get nervous about starting a home improvement project. Will I like the outcome? Have I made a wise financial decision? Will the process run smooth? All of those are legitimate questions that I hope can all be answered with a resounding YES when choosing VDI as your contractor.

We are a local contractor started by Stephen Kuhlke, and we have remained family operated for the last 30 years. A few years back, we decided to market our “family” because we are going to be coming into your homes and we want you to feel safe. We at VDI stand by this philosophy:

Family. Each member of our company family from sales, to office staff, installation and service work together to assure that your home improvement goals are met in a friendly and efficient manner.

Accountable. We at VDI hold ourselves accountable on a daily basis to providing the highest level of customer satisfaction.

Measured. Our level of success is measured by you, the customer. VDI’s growth is a reflection of your referrals to your own family and friends.

Integrity. We maintain the highest level of honesty, trustworthiness, and responsibility to our customers from start to finish.

Loyalty. We feel that a commitment to loyalty to not only the VDI family, but to our customers is essential to growth and stability.

You. We work for you, our customer!

When deciding to purchase new replacement vinyl windows, exterior siding or paint, a new patio cover, keep in mind that construction takes time, money, patience and imagination. We will work with you through each step of the process and hope at the end you are beyond satisfied with the work completed, the people you dealt with and the overall experience.

There are so many factors that go into each and every contract we work with, and as a company we aim to achieve the highest standards on each job. We all hope that you will join our family for your next home improvement project.

“Stay tuned for a HUGE upcoming Diamond (30 years in business) anniversary campaign (wink wink)”

Ever Wonder How Heat Moves Through a Window?

In order to help you make the best decision on what window to purchase for your home, you need to become familiar with the many factors that make up a window. One very important factor is how a window controls the way heat is transferred through the window. In order to understand that you first need to understand how heat moves through a window. There are three forces at work, conduction, convection and radiation.

Conduction is the passage of heat thru a solid material from molecule to molecule. Different materials conduct heat differently. For example, hot coffee in a ceramic cup will feel warm in your hands but hot coffee in a tin cup will burn your hands because metal transfers heat more quickly than ceramic. Therefore, the material used in the frame of your window, whether it be aluminum, steel, wood, vinyl or fiberglass will greatly affect the conduction properties of the window. The greater the temperature difference between the inside of the home and the outside, the more conduction that will occur.

Convection is the transfer of heat by the movement of gasses or liquids. When warm air on the inside of a home comes in contact with a cold window it cools and sinks creating a convection current of air. On the outside wind blows against the window. Both issues create air movement across the face of the glass disturbing the stationary air film next to the glass which lowers the insulating value of that air. Still air is a good insulator while moving air is not.

The third major mode of heat transfer through a window is solar heat gain radiation. Radiation is the transfer of heat from one solid to another through electromagnetic waves. It is the movement of heat through space without being conducted from molecule to molecule (conduction) or carried in a gas or liquid (convection). An example of this effect is on a cold night you face a campfire you will feel the radiant heat even though the air around you is still cold. The parts of your body within “sight” of the fire will be warm, but your back will remain cool.

Objects are constantly radiating heat to other objects. In fact, people radiate heat to cooler objects such as cold windows in the winter. This radiant heat loss from our bodies can significantly affect our comfort level.  However the biggest source of radiant heat is the sun. How much solar radiation passes through a window depends on the time of year, the direction the window faces, how much external shading there is and the ability of the glass to reflect solar heat.

There are two primary ratings that are attached to all windows to help you to judge how well a window is going to perform. The first rating is called a U-Factor. The U-Factor indicates the rate (how quickly) heat flows through a window. U-Factor is the inverse of R-values. A U-Factor accounts for heat flow through the entire window assembly, including the frame and glass. The lower the U-Factor, the greater the window’s resistance to heat flow and the better its insulation value is.  The second rating is the solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC). The SHGC measures the percentage of solar radiation that passes through a product. The windows with the lowest SHGC keep the most direct solar heat out of the home.

All windows are not the same and are not all made for every climate. Before you make a decision on what window will be the best for your individual circumstances you should consult an experienced window professional who will be able to explain all the different frame types and styles along with all the different coatings, spacers and glass options available to develop the best combination to fit your needs.

Written by Stephen Kuhlke