Why Is Guardian Building Products Threatening Energy Vanguard?

62 Comments Read/write comments

fiberglass batt insulation installation grade heat transfer building envelope electrical junction box 7 skinny

See that photo? It's one of the reasons that I received a nasty letter from Guardian Building Products, a manufacturer of fiberglass batt insulation. They were upset that that I'd written an article about poor fiberglass batt installation and used photos showing their product with the name Guardian plainly visible.

Clearly, no reasonable person would look at that photo and say, Wow, I'm never going to buy Guardian insulation because the installer did a really bad job there. No, the fiberglass batt is fine for what it is, but the installer didn't fit it to fill the wall cavity completely. In fact, most people wouldn't even notice the name on the batt.

Two days after I wrote the article, I got a call from Guardian's attorney, Michael Metz. He told me that they didn't like my use of photos of fiberglass batts with the Guardian name showing. I don't recall him trying to negotiate with me about changes. I think he may have asked me to remove the article from our blog, but he mainly wanted to make sure he had the correct address to send his letter.

One business day later, I received their letter. The first page is shown below, in reduced size. Click to see the whole letter, including page 2.

Guardian Building Products fiberglass batts letter from lawyer p1 small

Now, I'm a reasonable person, and you would never have heard a word about any of this had they taken a friendlier tack. Instead, they wrote:

"It is Guardian’s position that these comments by your company together with the picture of Guardian’s products constitute libel, slander, and commercial disparagement. The statements may also be a violation of the Lanham Act."

and:

"Guardian will aggressively pursue its remedies to the fullest extent permitted by law, and any further conduct by Energy Vanguard of a similar nature will be dealt with accordingly."

They clearly have no legal grounds for their claims because:

  • I made no mention of their name in the text.
  • Although the photos did show their name, the article was about installation, and Guardian did not install or even supervise installation.
  • Nowhere in the article did I say that batts from different manufacturers had any effect on poor installation quality. 
  • There is plenty of evidence that poor installation of fiberglass batts is rampant and that it affects thermal performance.

I recently amended the original article with some evidence for my statements by adding this paragraph:

The installation problem is also well documented by others in the field. In 2009, Martin Holladay wrote an article on fiberglass batt installation in his Musings of an Energy Nerd blog. He cited research done by the California Energy Commission in which not a single home of the 30 in the study had the fiberglass batts installed correctly. Rob Yagid, an editor at Fine Homebuilding magazine, wrote an article detailing the same kinds of fiberglass batt installation problems that I showed above and cited Oak Ridge National Lab's research on the diminished R-value of poorly installed fiberglass batts. This is not an isolated or rare problem.

So, I'm left wondering why they chose such a heavy-handed approach. Apprently they thought they would get their way with me and scare me into never saying anything bad about them or their industry again. I think the most ominous line was:

"...any further conduct by Energy Vanguard of a similar nature will be dealt with accordingly."

It seems they wanted to let me know that they'd be watching, so if I didn't toe their line, they might haul me off to court. But you know, I'm just not a big fan of threats like that. I believe in free speech and speaking the truth and not feeling like I have to self-censor my writing to stay out of trouble. I'm certainly not going to be stupid about it and make ridiculous claims that could deservedly get me hauled off to court. I believe I was far from crossing that line here.

It's unfortunate for Guardian that they chose this route because they're going to lose business as a result. The story broke on the Green Building Advisor website on Friday when Martin Holladay wrote an article about it called Guardian Fiberglass Threatens Blogger With Legal Action. It's gotten dozens of comments already and is spreading around the Internet. In fact, the story has spread as far as Australia, as blogger Marcus Taylor wrote an article about it called Send lawyers guns and money. Since this began, I've received nothing but support, including promises of financial assistance should Guardian choose to ignore reason and pursue their claims.

It's also unfortunate that Guardian didn't just talk to me about what they wanted rather than pulling out the big guns immediately. I had no problem making the changes to the article that they asked for because they didn't affect my point at all. Not only could they have achieved their main objective, they might've even made a friend in the industry. In fact, they still can, but first they'll have to get out of this hole they've dug for themselves.

Guardian: it seems to me that you've got two choices:

  • Keep digging your hole deeper.
  • Admit your mistake and see what you can do to make amends.

This story isn't big yet. If some of the bigger news outlets pick it up—say Grist or Treehugger or maybe even the big news networks—it could easily spiral out of control. With building materials sales already way down, can you really risk this?

Readers: If you support the right of anyone to tell the truth without intimidation, please leave a comment below and hit the share buttons at the top of the article. Let's send the message to Guardian that bullying won't work.

Comments

John Poole
Nov 7 2011 - 2:40am

Well said, Allison. It seems to me their lawyer decided to take an old school "hit 'em fast and hit 'em hard" approach. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail and all of this will just blow over. Better yet if they were to engage in a dialogue with you to determine how to get the word out to installers of the importance of careful and correct installation. That would be a big win-win for all parties.

Tom Brudzinski
Nov 7 2011 - 4:06am

It appears that those at Guardian pursuing the point with you are not familiar with the fact that it is very, very difficult to install batts (fiberglass or otherwise) correctly. That is obvious by how rarely they ARE installed properly. Continuing to flaunt reality will only cause more people to be aware with this issue. A better use of the Guardian lawyer's time would be to draft an agreement that they would require all installers of their product to sign that would commit to "properly" install the product. Interestingly, after typing the preceding sentence, I googled "issues with batt installation. The second hit was a Green Building Advisor article where Carl Seville titled "Should Batt Insulation Be Outlawed? 
"Or maybe just restricted to licensed installers)" I, for at least one, never thought you were claiming the problem was only with Guardian products.

Elizabeth Guinn
Nov 7 2011 - 4:37am

I will never recommend Guardian. Big mistake on their part, hopefully someone with a little more sense and a little less bravado will step up to the plate and make things right from inside the firm.

W. Blake. Talbott
Nov 7 2011 - 4:37am

The original article was great and forwarded to our staff. Did not even acknowledge the Guardian name, reviewed on installation only, With the attorney response, I know Guardian now and it does not give me positive thoughts.

Sam Young
Nov 7 2011 - 6:29am

I'm with you, Allison! Manufacturers aren't responsible for the way a house is built. The building code and manufacturer say to install products per manufacturer's instructions. 
 
I don't think Guardian will get far or every news reporter in the land for be sued for reporting accidents with pictures. Putting your name on your product is a two-edged sword in the court of public opinion. When it is good, it is very good . . .

Bruce Kitchell
Nov 7 2011 - 7:09am

Allison - keep up the honest reporting. Let's hope that Guardian sees the error of their ways and that installers see the importance of doing their job correctly.

Todd Vendituoli
Nov 7 2011 - 7:20am

As we have discussed Allison, Guardian could have taken this situation and used it to their advantage. They could have gained a great deal of good will and admiration but instead have brought the ire of many upon themselves. A perfect example of why business needs to re adapt to the times. 100% behind you!

Ckmapawatt
Nov 7 2011 - 7:42am

Wow, I was just planning on buying a whole bunch of Guardian insulation. Guess I'll have to look elsewhere now!

Eric
Nov 7 2011 - 7:45am

Hi again "Mr." Bailes, 
 
We're with you; we were accused of defamation a while back, and it came to nothing because what we'd say was A) True and B) Provable. Goodness, the lawyers states in his letter to you that you wrote an "opinion". It is my opinion that Guardian needs new counsel--echoing many sentiments here, it seems that they figured you'd cave under threatening sounding litigious jibber jabber. Good luck. 
 
Eric B 
Pow!Science!

Bob
Nov 7 2011 - 7:46am

Idiots. Lawyers petty lawsuits are hated much more than any "energy violation" that is posted on the blogs. As you stated, I nver noticed the brand of insulation in the article, much less wanted not to buy it. However knowing how "Bulldog teeth" their legal department is makes me NOT want to buy their brand !!!

Ginny Powell
Nov 7 2011 - 7:47am

If I, as a manufacturer, was made aware that a product I manufactured was not being installed properly by my customers I would want to take steps to better communicate the proper installation techniques. Instead Guardian choose to communicate via their lawyer in what, in my opinion, is a very heavy handed approach. With the usage of the internet and social media companies need to adapt to how they respond to issues. Guardian obviously hasn't.

Franklin Menendez
Nov 7 2011 - 7:49am

You've got my full support. I shared that article around when you published it (Canada doesn't have batt installation discounts in its modeling software, unfortunately). Lets start publishing performance stats of blown fg in attics too!

Bud
Nov 7 2011 - 8:14am

I can understand how you were taken back at their response. It surely was harsh. Your claim that they are being a bully could be valid as well. Generally, there two sides to every story though. You have to realize (and you did) that these are tough business times for everyone, even manufactures. If the person responsible for negative advertising of the Guardian product saw your article, or worse yet- had it brought to his / her attention by a superior, that person has a professional accountabilty to do their job in a way they think will be the best. Maybe they lacked good judgement in hindsight...It seems to me you are taking it a bit too far and could be leaving yourself open to the same accusation of bullying and using your articles (which I enjoy) to have the group fight for you. Personally, (my opinion only) I think everyone's energy would be better invested in a positive nature. No offense intended- just another point of view.

Armando
Nov 7 2011 - 8:28am

Counter suit them. I’ll be really easy to have members of RESNET and BPI to send infrared pictures and door blower tests of homes insulated with batt insulation from all over the country; it’s an installation issue that is very well documented and known in the building industry. Even better, use comparison pictures and test results of houses insulated with blown-in and foam insulation, so they get the "picture", pun intended. 
 
I’m sure you would not have any trouble getting a class action Attorney willing to take on this issue. 
 

Green Curmudgeon
Nov 7 2011 - 8:29am

Allison 
 
I'm glad you are getting so much support and getting the word out about Guardian's foolish behavior. I assume that you got good legal advice before you posted the photo above without covering up their name. It will be interesting to see if they respond publicly or, as I expect, just hide their heads in the sand and hope that this all goes away. Somehow we need to work on getting this issue spread to the overall construction community and make sure that it doesn't remain primarily in the world of green building and those already enlightened about building the right way. And I'm really jealous about all the attention you are getting about this. It's been a while since one of my posts got this much attention.

Clayton DeKorne
Nov 7 2011 - 8:33am

You're so right, Allison. I didn't notice the name of the insulation when I read your article the first time. Now that's all I see, thanks to Guardian's General Counsel. I am glad you're standing up to their ridiculous strong-arm tactics. Let me know when/where to contribute the your legal defense fund. This sort of nonsense has to stop.

christopher cadwell
Nov 7 2011 - 8:47am

Old school stop tactic. New school public response. What are they going to do when they start to search the negative PR on twitter? 
 
Well, I think it is actually if the Exec for the insulation company could actually "read" then he/she would have gotten the point of the blog post, and not called the lawyer.  
 
By the way, what the he== are they doing looking at the blog, if they were not there to learn something about the industry? I am sure the photo was not tagged with the 'ardian name. Was it? 
 
Have them contact me about creating a buzz course on how to properly install a bat around a light switch. They can post the link with the statement: "We know that our insulation was installed poorly here, we actually paid the guy to do this and had others blog, tweet and rumor about it, so we could be the first manufacturer to show you in a video how to do it right!" 
 
Or maybe another manufacturer wants to roll with the buzz.

Robert J Susz
Nov 7 2011 - 8:51am

Allison, if you'd like further evidence of your position, Fred Lugano wrote articles about this same topic in 1999-2002 era at Fine Homebuilding. 
 
And to Guardian - I've made it a point to tell every client I've talked to about your business practices. Turns out home builders and commercial contractors really don't like companies that send threatening letters via their attorneys. It turns out they are not so price sensitive after all - go figure. 
 
Shoot self in foot - check! 
 
-Rob

t hardy
Nov 7 2011 - 8:51am

It's certainly a clever letter from Guardian. Just shows what a law degree will allow one to do. 
 
The interesting thing is that they are in fact claiming that fiberglass battts are easy to install properly. They also avoid suggesting that the pictures do in fact show improperly installled batts. They imply that our profession and training as raters might not be valid. It would be interesting to know whether Guardian provides instructions on the proper use of their product with appropriate warnings on each bag, and wether Guardian has a program that shows or ensures that use of their product in the field generally meets their insulation claims.

Gary Smith
Nov 7 2011 - 8:57am

Guardian could have thanked you for supporting their manufacturer's installation instructions? 
 
They do have recommended install instructions, right?  
 
Hummmm....

John Barba
Nov 7 2011 - 9:03am

Hate bullies. Always have. Gotta say when I read your original blog post I didn't pay any attention to the brand name on the insulation. Didn't seem pertinent to the point of your article.  
 
However, if I ever buy insulation again, you better believe I'll be paying attention to the brand name and will definitely vote with my dollars! 
 
Good luck, and all of us on the hot water side are with you!

John Semmelhack
Nov 7 2011 - 9:28am

Suggestion for Guardian - if you don't want your name showing up in pictures of poor installations of fiberglass batts, consider removing your name from your product!

Craig McManus
Nov 7 2011 - 9:40am

Unless they apologize and pay you for your time and there are monetary penalties for their lawyer I will not be buying their product and will show others their letter and the photograph etc and spread the truth.

Glen Gallo
Nov 7 2011 - 10:15am

One must wonder what the company was thinking. This is a excellent example of how not to conduct business. While I agree the batts are difficult to install correctly, I think most of us can agree the product is popular and not going away anytime soon.  
 
Guardian could still save face by admitting that there are challenges to install properly. Instead of threatening those that are critical of installation or the process maybe they should concentrate their efforts on training and promoting proper installation and improving the process. 
 
Keep up the good work Allison

Ben Stallings
Nov 7 2011 - 10:19am

Apparently their lawyers -- aside from not noticing that you weren't reviewing their product -- have never read reviews at Amazon, Google, eBay, Angie's List, or any of the countless other places where people routinely post negative reviews of products and companies without getting sued. If they had the remotest chance of succeeding in this suit, it would open up all the negative reviews on the Internet to libel suits. And since judges are themselves subject to a public review process, I don't see that happening.

Lee Beckman
Nov 7 2011 - 10:45am

Great exposure. I've seen a lot of lawyers use scare tactics in hopes to end a dispute quickly. In this case they are giving themselves a negative image, and also revealing how sensitive, and perhaps less confident, they are in their product. This could have easily been a chance for them to comment on the picture and how it "wasn't" installed properly, yet thank you for product placement.

Tom Boes
Nov 7 2011 - 10:48am

Read your article, saved it for future reference as I usually do. Did not notice the manufacturer (Gardian)as it was obvious that was not the issue. It must be a sensitive issue for Gardian (maybe because it is true).

Walter Stachowicz
Nov 7 2011 - 10:57am

Allison, I have walked away from potential jobs because I knew that the customer was litiguous, and I don't have time for that. Thanks for pointing out the strongarm tactics being used by this company. I will make sure that all of my contractors know of their habits so they can judge if they want to do business with them. Keep us posted on their actions.

Nancy Scott
Nov 7 2011 - 11:05am

I thought the article was excellent. I use batts and now appreciate even more how particular my energy inspector is about how they are installed. I never once looked at the name on the batts. Clearly the article was about installation, not the manufacturer.

Michael
Nov 7 2011 - 11:17am

They've got nothing on you buddy, and proving that kind of suit is next to impossible. They can try and beat up on you at your expense, but I'll bet there are some law firms out there that would step in to help you out probono simply because of the visibility and the positive PR for them. 
 
Guardian won't be losing any business over this from me...since they never had it in the first place. Is their heavy handed and mean spirited approach worth drawing some attention to? Absolutely. 
 
Rock on. 
M

Harris
Nov 7 2011 - 11:37am

Talk about short-sighted. Guardian reminds me of so many self-serving politicians today, and if Congress' lowest approval rating in U.S. history is any indicator of American dissatisfaction with politics, Guardian has just shot itself in the foot. With both barrels.

Vic Hubbard
Nov 7 2011 - 11:52am

Allison,  
 
 
 
Thanks for not caving. I will DEFINITELY reshare. If they end up being stupid enough to persue this in court. Let me know where to send a donation to your legal defense fund. 
 
 
 
Vic

Robert J Susz
Nov 7 2011 - 12:07pm

Lee Beckman makes a very good point - They could have taken the opportunity to be gracious, educational, build positive P.R., come out as an advocate for quality. Act like gentlemen. 
 
Instead, they DECIDED to make it worse. Invested time and energy into making themselves and the industry look worse. 
 
Their arguing the zero-law of fiberglass batts! 
 
Will O-C and Knauf be sending them threatening letters asking them to stop with their own threatening letters? 
 
-Rob

Pam Worner
Nov 7 2011 - 12:37pm

Wow! Thanks for sharing this, Alison. I've wondered how careful I should be about mentioning and showing products - I now consider myself duly warned. Book reviewer Nancy Pearl says she only talks about books she likes - never, ever mentions any she doesn't. I wouldn't show anything that negatively reflected on a specific client, so I guess it makes sense to apply that to products, too. They have WAY more money than I do. Good thing there are lots of good products and practices out there to spotlight.

Stan
Nov 7 2011 - 12:42pm

Allison- 
 
 
 
One more message of total support for you and your very valuable blog. 
 
 
 
You're one of the "Good Guys" among a growing volume of The Good, The Bad, and the In-Between. Oh, and the lawyers now. (God bless them, they need to make a living) 
 
 
 
Coincidentally, I just read an email from RESNET that Icynene Inc. has teamed with them (Us) to work together toward the education of their installers on proper installation of their products. Wouldn't it be nice if the manufacturers of the toughest product in the home to install properly would follow suit? 
 
 
 
I just returned from the second re-visit of a FG batt job; they got it up to Grade 2! (with some improvements while I was there). This is a very common experience, and I attribute it to the fact that installers are poorly trained, if trained at all, on the proper installation of FG batts. 
 
 
 
Keep up the great work! 
 
 
 
It's great to see the number of your supporters here and at other sites. Time for Youtube? :) 
 
 
 
Best regards, 
 
Stan Kuhn

Patrick Carter
Nov 7 2011 - 12:46pm

Whilst I understand the frustration of all energy auditors when it goes to F/Bat installation.  
 
The lawyer does have a few points. 
1. They are not hard to install. 
2. "maybe fiberglass batts should be outlawed" with that sentence it is not a big leap for a layman to start thinking that it is the product not insulation that is the problem. 
3. I see as many problems with other insulation types and unlike F/B the consequences are normally more severe.  
 
These companies spend a lot of effort building their reputation so to see their name associated like it was in your article is damaging. Unfortunately it is a sound bite world and you really need to understand how easy it is for a layperson to not read completely or understand an article like yours. 
 
Take this scenario a local news team is doing a article on bad Energy Audits in the article they have a photo of a house that they say was poorly audited.  
 
Unfortunately for you your company van was driving by when the photo was taken and can be clearly seen in the photo.  
 
What would you do? 

Bill Smith
Nov 7 2011 - 12:48pm

Allison, 
 
Like most of the others I never noticed the name on the batts, I just agreed with the content in the article. The lawyers response was so far out of proportion as to be laughable, except of course he could actually take you to court. I doubt that this will actually happen, see laughable in previous sentence, but add me to the potential witness list in case he does. 
 
Let's look at the positive side. This should raise your public profile in a positive way and that is well deserved. We now know the name of at least one fiberglass manufacturer who would rather spend money on legal bluster than on addressing the problems of poor installation. 
Also we can respect the lawyers marksmanship; I haven't seen a foot so cleanly shot since my high school buddy was shooting rats at the dump. I think I'll leave that comparison alone.

Steve Larson
Nov 7 2011 - 1:38pm

Hang in there Allison. Certainly cooler heads will prevail, and your honest reporting can continue. I think Guardian will see that this type of attempted intimidation is indeed harmful to them as a building material supplier, but also to the building industry as a whole. And who needs that type of reaction in this building/economic situation we all find ourselves? Nobody!!! 
 
 
 
Best regards, 
 
 
 
Steve Larson LEED AP BD + C 
 
All Home & Energy Services LLC 
 

Peter Van Buren
Nov 7 2011 - 2:36pm

Well done Allison. Thank you for standing up for yourself and all of us.  
We certainly would encourage someone at Guardian who understands the best interests of their customers to become involved in this situation.  
Your blog supported the proper use and installation of insulation products (including Guadrian) so that people who use them will obtain the full benefits possible. They should be grateful for this help to their/our industry, and the free publicity that the photo provided. 
Sincerely, 
Peter Van Buren 
President, TerraLogos Energy Group 
Baltimore, MD

Chris White
Nov 7 2011 - 3:03pm

ironically, another attorney could argue they don't have a case since their product name isn't explicitly shown due to the way the insulation is shoved into the cavity. they need to get over themselves.

William S. "Stan" Folsom, LEED AP
Nov 7 2011 - 3:20pm

I think your blog was not at all slanderous or defaming, but rather informative. It just so happened that the brand name was showing and they got sideways by way of their installers failure. I believe they definitely over-reacted but, like some others, I see both sides of this. I'm sure most raters/inspectors/contractors would not like us including their paperwork or reports (name showing) as an example regarding mistakes or outright falsification without first blurring it out. You have to remember that once you write anything and put it on your site, it goes everywhere - they call it the world-wide-web for a reason - and it stays forever. Most companies who publish already have this as SOP and is probably time we pay attention as there will always be that alligator looking for their pound of flesh. Keep up the great work and please call if you need help rattling some more cages - we enjoy that sort of thing! :)

John Mattson
Nov 7 2011 - 3:20pm

Lawyers have an old, but unfortunately true, saying "the trail IS the punishment". One of the biggest wastes of energy is that wasted in legal suits. Personally, I would have blurred the product name. We want the cooperation and mutual support of manufacturers. So, hey, everyone calm down and work together.

Jeffrey
Nov 7 2011 - 3:53pm

I read the original article. Never noticed the brand. I've actually never heard of Guardian before. Maybe they've already irritated builders in my area with similar tactics and are no longer relevant in this market. 
Guardian, thanks for introducing yourselves! Good to know the real you.

AlexandraFunFit
Nov 7 2011 - 4:11pm

Sigh. What a waste of their time and yours. Here's what I wonder - whose job is it to sit with a magnifying glass and pore over blog post pictures? As someone with a counseling background (nothing in building except a desire to not buy their product for my in-progress remodel) I do wonder why they went to 100 when going to 30 might have worked. You know, "Hello Allison, can you please remove the photo as we see a 1+1 possibility here?" They don't know better than to mess around with a guy named Allison!

John Nicholas
Nov 7 2011 - 5:42pm

Allison, 
 
Good for you! Your stand on principle gave me the push to restart my blog postings. I've not posted one for a year! So my first one shows some FG Batts installs I've found. http://bit.ly/alMIbF Insulation: How To Do Business with Customer Service in Mind!

Chris
Nov 7 2011 - 5:56pm

Absolutely you are in the right and anybody with an iq above room temperature would not think bad install is the manufactures fault. 
 
Stupid lawyers

John Turner
Nov 7 2011 - 6:33pm

I have installed a lot of batts, and Owens Corning used to have a lot of shiny red text on foil faced batts that really did show up. One client had exposed roof beams at 16" OC and we carefully stapled in a lot of rolls of foil faced! A lot of effort to do it right, and no outlets or plumbing to worry about. The only thing the client said was "The advertising sure shows!". Rob was right, poor installation is the problem. I worked for my dad installing batts while a teenager, and I was getting a nickel over minimum wage. After a couple years, he paid me $ 0.01 per square foot, and I made good money for a kid. Some of my installations, especially homes that were not framed really well was not up to the standards I would have liked. 
It is important to document that your work is quality, you stand behind it, and you will remedy any shortfalls. However, when plumbers and electricians come in later, take out the insulation, and say it is not their job, I would as for enough to get gas in the truck and a man to replace the needed insulation. It depends on the client. If possible, the ones that manufacture should have more responsbility to see that proper installation is acheived, and in California insulation inspection is often required as well.

Kevin Virobik
Nov 7 2011 - 6:53pm

I did a little research on the internet and found contact info for their PR flack (Ed Thompson at: ethompson@guardian.com). I sent an e-mail and asked for a response from the flack and from their newish CEO (Steven D. Ziessler). I cc'd in Michael Metz. I don't actually expect a response, but will share if one comes through. 
 
Kevin

Ben Keeshner
Nov 7 2011 - 7:34pm

You're absolutely right, Alison. You're reporting the truth, and made no implied claims about their product. They should be talking to companies who are installing their product incorrectly!

Nora DePalma
Nov 7 2011 - 8:02pm

Brilliant post, Alison. Every quality public relations professional will applaud you calling a brand to task for this ham-handed handling of such a smart, generous well-connected influencer as you. Note to Kevin: we're actually not all "flacks" and sometimes can't stop our employers from listening to legal counsel instead of our counsel. Ergo, I'd like us to give the Guardian PR team the benefit of the doubt.