CLEVELAND - In neighborhoods across America, there's a strange phenomenon happening that's melting paint, siding, pool covers, and car parts. It's a problem that even caught the attention of the Department of Energy.
The vinyl siding on Lynne Loudon's home survived 20 years of hail, rain, wind and sun. So, she couldn't figure out why it suddenly started melting.
"I thought maybe it was lightning or because I bought a new microwave," Loudon said.
Over time, the melt zone got longer and wider leaving Loudon to think her house was shifting. Something else was shifting up above in the sky.
"Came out one day and noticed like a spot of light, like yellow light and it was coming from the window," Loudon said.
Loudon wasn't seeing things. A neighbor saw it too.
"It was just a bright circle with an X in it," Kathy Stec said.
Loudon and her neighbor agreed that the bullseye of sunlight appeared to be reflecting off the new, double-hung windows added next door. They're energy efficient with a low e-glass coating. This means they reflect sunlight in the summer and keep the heat inside during the winter.
Vinyl Siding Institute says it's not just siding that's melting
The National Association of Home Builders says the curvature of the glass in the double hung windows can create a magnifying glass effect that focuses a light beam at other surfaces that can reach 200 degrees.
NAHB says low-e glass windows "exacerbate" the effect.
"The damage is being done to our product, and not by our product," Jery Huntley said.
Huntley is President of the Vinyl Siding Institute . She said anything in the path of this unnatural sunlight will melt.
"We've heard reports of paint, trim on houses, car parts, pool covers anything in the path of this magnified glass effectively can be damaged," Huntley said.
We setup an informal test in our parking lot to see how much heat the windows generate. We simply bought a double hung window, directed it toward the sun, and instantly we saw that circle with an X.
We used two thermometers to measure the temperature of the concentrated sunlight as it hit the vinyl siding. It was 78-degrees outside, but more than 150-degrees in the hotspot. It was so hot a plastic bag melted in seconds. In a matter of minutes, it bubbled and split open.
Home inspector sees the problem monthly
"I have one case where the paint bubbled," Certified Home Inspector , Marko Vovk said.
Vovk says he sees heat distortion once a month in Northeast Ohio. He's measured temperatures similar to what we saw with a thermal imaging camera.
"The temp of the non melted siding is 123 degrees and the melted siding is 170 to 180 degrees," he said showing us pictures of a thermometer and heat camera.
The reflection doesn't just hit homes.
"There it is - wow," Vovk exclaimed, as he found the reflection in his gravel driveway.
Trade groups conducting studies to find the cause of the problem
While experts in the field, and trade groups like the National Association of Home Builders says certain windows cause the problem, the Window and Door Manufacturer's Association says, "there is no definitive cause of the phenomenon."
The president told 5 On Your Side that windows are performing the way they're supposed to. He said many factors impact the performance of vinyl siding.
"Unless the cause is mitigated in some way this problem won't be solved," Huntley said.
The Vinyl Siding Institute said it asked the three window and glass trade groups to work on a collaborative study, but it didn't work out.
Industry stakeholders are working on their own study, and the Department of Energy released a scientific report on the issue. The report said, "Environmental conditions play a primary role in heat transfer at the siding surface."
The DOE report said there have even been reports of damaged garbage cans.
"These reports are much less common than vinyl siding reports though, in part because they are fewer and/or smaller targets," the report said. The report added that "all the factors involved in vinyl siding distortion are not yet fully understood." The DOE suggests believes more research is needed.
Until something is done, consumers are left fixing the damage.
"If we ever wanted to move we wouldn't be able to sell the house," Loudon said.
5 On Your Side gets action
Andersen Windows is the parent company for the windows that were installed in Loudon's neighbor's home.
After the neighbor reported this problem, some windows were replaced and the neighbors say that concentrated beam of sunlight disappeared.
Nothing was done to address the melted siding on Loudon's home until our calls to Andersen.
Loudon says the company has agreed to pay for replacement siding.
In a statement, Andersen said, "Andersen Corporation is aware of isolated reports of vinyl siding damage that is potentially linked to the reflection of sunlight off windows. It is important to note that many factors can impact the actual performance of siding made from vinyl, and distortion of materials