Someone's on the phone with a complaint about the windows you installed in their addition, what was it, three years ago? The windows are leaking air. Or the sills are rotting. Or the window just doesn't close right. Now what?

Fortunately for most companies, callbacks for window warranty work aren't that common. Production manager Rob Dagley estimates that maybe one in 20 calls requesting warranty work at Rhino Builders, Kansas City, Kan., have to do with service on a window. "If [windows] are put in right, we usually don't have problems with them," he says.

Rhino Builders has subs, rather than its own crews, install many of its windows. The company warrants installations for two years. Rhino Builders handles brand name products and deals with nationally distributed window makers as well as a vinyl producer out of Illinois.

"Typically," says Dagley, "if it's within the two years, I'll send out the trade I used to install it. If the callback comes after that, I'll send a supervisor to go out and see what the problem is."

If the problem is the fault of installers, the installing sub is expected to handle it. If the problem is with the window, the distributor gets a call and is expected to forward that information to whoever made the product. "I can usually get the manufacturer to take care of it for me," Dagley says.

Keeping manufacturers at bay

Other companies find manufacturers less than eager to replace on warranty. Tim Murphy Carpentry, in Chicago, specializes in installing high-quality windows in older structures, including factories converted to condominiums. The company warranties window installations for a year, "but we've never not gone back for something that was our problem," owner Tim Murphy points out.

Warranty calls, he estimates, come about once every three months -- "out of hundreds of windows." In situations where the window is defective, Murphy calls his supplier, Lee Lumber. Typically, Lee Lumber will send out its full-time service rep, and if the problem seems to be with the window rather than the installation, a manufacturer's rep will be summoned. When that happens, Murphy makes a point of having someone from his company there as well, because it's likely, he says, that the manufacturer will fault the installation rather than its own product. "I think they train them to do that," Murphy says. "So we try to do everything we can not to have them come out."

Split the difference

"Typically, window manufacturers have their own warranty," says Connecticut remodeler George Christiansen. "Which, depending on the manufacturer, can run from one to five years." Christiansen's company, Pequot Remodeling, warranties all its work for one year, including windows. After that, he says, "I handle it like any other service call. I go out and look at it and then I call the manufacturer's rep to have them come out and get a determination about what we could do." When the window is past Pequot's warranty period, and the blame behind a problem is difficult to pin down, Christiansen might make a deal with the homeowner to split the cost of re-installing.

Lately, he says, he's using clad windows more often, to avoid paint and rot problems. "It's not fun when you have to go back and fix it."