Something stinks on Chicago’s Southwest Side

Midway Defective Windows Cause for Concern

Residents of Chicago’s Midway area have been couping with the smell of odorous chemicals coming from the installation of soundproof windows procured by Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA).

The issue began over ten years ago, when the city of Chicago created the Midway Residential Sound Insulation Program (RSIP) to help mitigate noise for residents who live around the airport.

The program installed sound-proof windows, for free, for eligible for residents. Eligibility was determined via the following:

  • The home must experience average sound levels at or greater than 65 decibels;
  • The home must have been constructed before June 20, 2013;
  • The home must live on a block where it is in proximity to another home which meets the 65 decibel requirement.

Figure 1 illustrates both homes that have had sound-installed windows as well as those that are potentially eligible.

Figure 1: Image extracted from the Chicago Department of Aviation

The CDA first procured the contract to Chicago-based company Republic Windows and Doors to perform the work. Since the program’s inception in 1996, over 10,000 homes have had the sound-proof windows installed. The estimated cost of RSIP is about $230 million.

Republic Windows and Doors installed about 1,200 windows until it hit financial and legal issues. In 2008, the company went bankrupt. However, the owners formed a new company called Sound Solutions Windows and Doors LLC. Sound Solutions resumed the installation of Midway Windows. The windows came with a ten year warranty.

While the program was popular at first, issues started to emerge. Reports of mechanical issues emerged. Additionally, residents started to complain that the polyvinyl chloride windows started to give off an odorous chemical smell. Complaints of the smells did not become prevalent until some years after the windows were installed.

The city attempted to recoup costs by the manufacture to help replace the windows but there was one big problem: Sound Solutions, like its predecessor, had also gone out of business in 2014.

According to a study by the CDA, nearly 10 percent of residents who had their windows replaced reported complaints of odor. About 55 percent of the windows were installed by either Republic Windows or Sound Solutions. Almost 86 percent of validated complaints had either Republic or Sound Solution windows. Figure 2 below illustrates these findings.

Figure 2: Chart extracted via the CDA

Although some residents expressed concerns of health risk, the CDA in 2018 also concluded the odorous smells did not pose any. Additionally, aldermen pushed an ordinance requiring that the city to extend the warranty on windows (originally there was a ten year warranty) and pay for the full replacement of windows for effected residents.

The Illinois General Assembly has also gotten involved by passing legislation to provide funding to the CDA to help replace windows of those effected.

Reinstallation Process

One of the main issues is the timeline of the reinstallation process. According to the CDA, it is estimated that the first wave of replacements will be be rolled out until Quarter Four of 2022, which are the months of October, November and December.

This has resulted in primary two issues dealing with timing. First, there are concerns on how slow the process has been to this point. As previously discussed, this has been an ongoing issue the last four to years and residents have been waiting to replace their odorous windows. They are not happy.

Second, a first wave of replacements starting in Quarter Four means window installation in unfavorable weather conditions due to the cold. There is, however, a CDA guideline process to mitigate this. Moreover, the CDA estimates it could take up to 5 to 10 business days to replace windows for a single home and a designated adult will need to be present.

Meanwhile the Quinn-Guerrero Service Office has been responsive to constituent concerns by holding numerous public forums (most recently on October 23rd).

According to CDA testimony, there are two pending contracts to be awarded: one to address warranty issues as it relates to mechanical issues of the windows and the other to address odor mitigation and replacement.

A contract to address mechanical issues is expected to be award by the end of the year. Work to begin replacing odorous windows is expected to commence in about a year.

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