5 On Your Side

Residents seek building code change after windows spark multiple fires

Posted March 14

— Nancy Monda said she fears for her safety every day. After several fires at her Davie County home were sparked by her neighbor's energy-efficient windows, called Low E windows, she traveled to Raleigh Tuesday to share her fears.

She spoke in front of the North Carolina Building Code Council in push for a change.

"A known fire hazard lurking in neighborhoods throughout the state, frankly country for that matter, but it’s causing fires in heavily populated family neighborhoods. Yes, I find that to be a huge problem," Monda said.

Eight weeks ago, Monda’s security cameras filmed the yard smoking at first, then the flames appeared. The fire raced across her yard and surrounded a propane tank.

A nearby landscaping crew tried to trample the flames that surrounded the tank, but it was at least 20 minutes until professional help arrived to extinguish the fire.

"My legs were shaking, my neighbor’s legs were shaking," she said.

After another spark, investigators came back and poked around the property. This time, though, one of them felt a clue: sunlight reflecting off a neighbor’s brand new, energy-efficient window.

The firefighter’s report described the reflection as so intense that a person couldn’t hold his hand in the light for more than 30 seconds before it felt like it was burning.

The fire reignited two more times that week, four total in one week at Monda’s home.

Homeowner Patrick Heinzelman had a similar problem. He had to call the fire department in November to put out a fire that destroyed a bush and some of the surrounding landscape. The next day, the same area caught fire again despite the ground being wet.

"It literally was in flames you know, four feet high...above the tree," he said.

Monda wants the building code to take action.

"I asked them to actively begin generating public awareness about this dangerous issue, not just among unsuspecting consumers, but fire authorities, construction industry employees, and really all of the industries," Monda said.

Council Chair Dan Tingen said the easiest immediate solution is to switch out the problem windows or add screens. He said a long-term fix is not as simple.

"Obviously there is going to be a lot of concern over (Monda's) problem and the fact that other people have experienced a similar problem," Tingen said. "In order to overcome the larger question of how to eliminate this completely, in new construction, it's going to be a difficult task to get your arms around."

Tingen told Monda that while although she is making people more aware of the problem, it is not a predictable event.

"But, when it occurs it could obviously be very devastating and we're going to have to take a look at it," he said.

When 5 On Your Side's Monica LaLiberte reached out to Monda's neighbor, he said he would replace the window in question. So far, he has not.

Heinzelman's builder added a solar screen to his problem window.

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  • Jimmy Clifton Mar 14, 2017
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    As someone in the residential building business I have seen the results of low E windows for a few years. I have most commonly seen vinyl siding melted and warped. The fix has usually been to replace the window with a standard glass model. This is done after the house has had a final inspection and nobody is the wiser that the window is not Low E.