Selecting a High-Quality Skylight Contractor (Podcast)

Selecting a High-Quality Skylight Contractor (Podcast)

We talk with Ryan Sturgis, Senior Sales Representative at Velux, about selecting a high-quality s contr. We also discuss the essential qualities to look for in a skylight product, certifications and warranties homeowners should prioritize when selecting a skylight brand, and common misconceptions about skylights.

John Maher: Hi, I am John Maher and I'm here today with Brett Rogenski, General Manager of Master Roofers, the most trusted roofing company in New Hampshire for over 80 years. Welcome, Brett.

Brett Rogenski: Thanks, John. Thank you for having me.

John: Sure. And our special guest today is Ryan Sturgis, Senior Sales representative at VELUX, a residential and commercial skylight and roof window manufacturer. Welcome, Ryan.

Ryan Sturgis: John, glad to be here. Thanks.

Worker fixing skylight

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Essential Qualities to Look For in Skylights

John: Sure. Today we're talking about some important factors in selecting a high-quality skylight contractor, but Ryan, let's talk a little bit about skylights in general. What are some of the essential qualities to look for in a skylight product in terms of durability, energy efficiency, and safety?

Ryan: Well, John, skylights are all over the world. They need to withstand summer heat in Florida, Arizona, Texas. They need to withstand the cold of Canada, of Northern Scandinavia. So, everything about the skylight is chosen with that rigor in mind, if you want to think of it that way. The gaskets, the sealant, the glass, thermal characteristics. There's a lot that goes into it and it's always being iterated on, if you will.

But really, probably one of the most important things is regarding safety. Skylights come standard now with laminated glass. I don't think a lot of people are aware of that. It is the most safe because that inner pane of your skylight, it's glass on a slope above you, sometimes above your bed, and so it behaves like your car windshield, which is also a skylight when you think about it, and so if that glass were to ever break for any reason, it would just hang there stuck to that acrylic interlay of laminate. Skylights are very durable and definitely code compliant in the safety department for sure.

John: Do all skylights have that safety measure or is this something particular to VELUX?

Ryan: No. A lot of manufacturers, that would probably be a choice and an upcharge, something that you would have to be educated, have a certain knowledge to specify and you would have to pay extra.

For us, it is just a standard. When we feel like we carry the flag for the skylight category, we have to take leadership and we want to make sure that everything that we put out into the world, if you will, is code compliant almost no matter how it's used, basically. And that's what that laminated glass assures us.

Skylight Energy Efficiency

John: What about in terms of energy efficiency? Are modern skylights more energy efficient than older types of skylights?

Ryan: Very much so. You would find if you were driving by older skylights from the '80s, in the winter, that the snow would be melted off of it, but also melted sometimes even all around it, which is indicating how much heat's being lost. Glass has come a long way, not just for skylights, but for regular vertical windows as well and with the glazing variant that is standard, it's so efficient that when you add a shade to it, a solar-powered shade, which we provide frequently for customers, the tested U-value that the government uses for Energy Star drops all the way to 0.25. And that may not mean too much to a lot of people -- what it amounts to, though, is if you can see behind me, the snow doesn't immediately melt off that skylight. The snow can last a couple of weeks. And some people don't like that. I do like it. I feel that the snow is adding another layer of insulation and it's just indicating that it's not just a hole in the roof. It's quite well insulated. The snow finally melted off that skylight behind me when it warmed up outside, Brett, because it's been unseasonably warm for the last week or two.

Skylights can be quite energy efficient, and that's something that a lot of people aren't aware of if they're just used to skylights from the '80s.

Brett: Yeah, I think that that's something that we... That's feedback that we get very commonly from customers and prospects, people who are looking at maybe replacing older skylights, is they're really shocked at how much more efficient modern skylights are, how much more well insulated they are.

Going back to the other discussion on the safety, that's something a lot of people don't think about and, living here in New England, a lot of folks have skylights because they have beautiful trees around their home and that sort of thing. I lived in the lakes region for a long time. Well, occasionally that beautiful pine tree loses a large limb and it lands on your roof, which is a problem. But you and the owner and the insurance company and a roofer will help figure that out. But what you don't want to have is a family member get injured with glass raining in, and you're right, with VELUX, you don't have to worry about that. With some other manufacturers who do not use laminated glass, that's a distinct possibility.

The whole key to a situation like that is we don't want anyone to get hurt, and we certainly don't want them to get hurt from that, so that added protection is fabulous.

Skylight Certifications and Warranties

John: Absolutely. Ryan, what sorts of certifications and warranties should homeowners prioritize when they're selecting a skylight brand?

Ryan: I would say unless you have an unusual local code like Miami-Dade certification or something like that, then skylights have a wide range of certifications that are most relevant to, probably more so, architects, they certainly fulfill every requirement where we're at, which is New England right now.

The most important thing that I would want a homeowner to know is about the warranty, specifically, there are different warranties for different aspects of the skylight. The hardware, any electronics, the glass. The glass is warrantied for 20 years, as a matter of fact.

But the most unexpected one may be that we have a no leak warranty. If that skylight leaks, under any circumstances, then we cover damages, product, and labor for 10 years. And it certainly isn't that we expect there to even be an issue in 10 years, it's just that the idea is, within a decade, that skylight has been put through its paces. You have had that storm come up the coast, you have had that ice storm, you've had a lot of snow and then had it rain and freeze. You've had all these conditions occur and the skylight has come through on the other end and performed.

So, you have cut a hole in your roof and we just need to be worthy of that trust. It's a big deal to us and part of that is taking explicit ownership of that hole in the roof with that no leak warranty.

Common Misconceptions About Skylights

Residential Skylight

John: Are there any common misconceptions that people still have about skylights and roof windows that they should be aware of?

Ryan: Yeah, I would say there are probably two primary ones. One would be that skylights leak, that all skylights leak. An enormous amount has been done with that. Starting in 2010, we redesigned our skylight, again to take ownership of that hole, and that's when that no leak warranty started. Everyone likes what skylights do, John. Everyone likes natural daylight, everyone likes fresh air, but there are some for whom the risks of a skylight outweigh that. And so we had to take ownership at that time and we redesigned everything, putting it through real world practical tests, not computer modeling, to make sure that it performed to our expectations. So, we've hit that on the head and folks that are inclined to get a little extra day lighting into the core of their space, they can do so with confidence. That would be the first one.

The second one is just that the skylight is an energy drain. There is that thought out there, and what we've done there…I mentioned earlier about U-Value, and that's probably a little bit obscure for listeners, I guess, but all reputable companies submit a product to a third party lab for testing, and that is used by the NFRC and Energy Star. And what that effectively does is, our skylight has a 0.42 U-Value without a shade, but with a shade people would be, I think, shocked to realize that it improves the energy efficiency about 40% by adding a shade to the skylight. Creating that dead air space between the fabric and the inner pane of glass makes an enormous difference in energy efficiency and provides a very, very generous federal tax credit at the same time, in the amount of 30% on the entire project.

I mentioned earlier about the snow on my own skylight. That's demonstrating that in a very clear, real world way to me as well. So, I feel like both of those common misconceptions, we've hit right on the head. Confidence and energy efficiency.

John: Right, with that snow on the roof, like you said, if your snow is immediately melting off of your skylight window, that just means that all that heat from your house is just going right through that window and melting that snow, and so the fact that all that snow is just able to stay right on the window and not melt means you're not losing that heat from inside the house.

Ryan: Yeah. A roof certainly has a certain insulating value, R-Value, and the skylight is not quite at the level where the roof is, but neither are regular windows compared to the walls that contain them either. But you get twice as much light per square foot from a skylight on a slope as you do from a vertical window, like a double hung or a casement.

So, usually when I'm talking to architects or design professionals, I'm explaining how skylights punch out of their weight class, if you want to think of that expression in that regard. Surprisingly energy efficient, even, because they're in a roof, they're a very small part of the roof in terms of square footage and they bring in twice the light per square foot of other windows as well. It's very possible, Brett, when you're replacing a skylight on any given house in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, or what have you, that window will be the most energy efficient window in that house.

Brett: I would tell you, Ryan, that I 100% agree with you. I guess every case is a little bit unique, but I would tell you certainly in 9 out of 10 cases where we're retrofitting, replacing, someone's older skylight or maybe even installing a brand new skylight, it's going to be newer than most of the windows in that home, if not all of them. And I would agree with you, it's probably going to be the most efficient opening in that space.

And to your point, Ryan as well, I was just thinking as you were expressing it, skylights today, this is not your grandpa's skylight. There's a lot of misconceptions that may have been true, or truer, once upon a time that are no longer the case because of, like you said, a couple of misconceptions that they're inefficient and that they all leak. Well, once upon time, I don't know if that was true, but it was more prevalent and you're absolutely right. VELUX skylights now, they're standing behind that with that no leak warranty and it stands up over time. And the efficiency, of course, that can just be measured by third parties as you said, and we can prove to people that, "Hey, this is very efficient."

So yeah, it's not your grandpa's skylight. They're really quite a joy to live with.

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Factors in Ensuring a Successful Skylight Installation

John: Brett, while we're talking about installations, beyond the quality of the product from VELUX, what are some of the crucial factors in ensuring that a skylight is successfully installed in a roof, especially when you're working with the existing roof structure?

Brett: Sure. In general, I tend to think of skylights in two classifications. There's a new installation, so someone who does not have a skylight currently and chooses that they would like one, and that comes with some structural change. This isn't just re-roofing where someone's taking your old shingles off. They're actually cutting into the structure of your home's framing and doing this, so this bridges between just roofing and construction because you have to box that, you have to do finish work inside, all that stuff.

And then the other part is replacing an existing skylight, which is probably the more common situation. Most homes either get built with or don't get built with skylights. What are some of the most important things to be looking for there? Experience. The more skylights you and your crew, your company, have experience with, the more competent you're going to be in either of those categories, either replacing a skylight or installing a new skylight.

Not every company is actually built to support skylights, either. Any roofing company can go to their distributor and purchase a skylight. They all can do it. My question would be how often are you guys doing this? How often are you replacing skylights? Do you have a crew of team members who are certified by the manufacturer to replace skylights?

In our case, for instance, at Master Roofers, we're a five-star certified contractor by VELUX, so we've had to, in essence, prove to VELUX that we are experts in skylight replacement and in skylight installation.

So, the biggest things are coming down to experience with skylights and do you have team members with those right skill sets, which again crosses really into construction, in some cases, not simply, "Do you have a guy that's a roofer?", who -- not to demean that at all, that's a skill set in its own, it's just different than installing skylights. Any thoughts on that, Ryan? You work with a lot of folks in this space.

Ryan: Yeah, you would definitely want to partner with a company that has seen it all, I guess, for lack of a better term. There are certainly skylights that are VELUX now and they're 25 years old and you're replacing with the exact same size, and those are a little bit more pedestrian, whatever you want to call it. But there are less optimum applications. Sometimes you're close to a valley or close to a ridge.

Sometimes you're replacing a competitor from the eighties that is not around anymore, of which there are many. Now we have to navigate and flow like water to an efficient solution, and you need to have all of the solutions that VELUX offers at your fingertips. A different installation method, different sizes than you're accustomed to, different flashing kits sometimes. You have different roofing, particularly in New England, you can have metal roofing. That is another not-insurmountable challenge, but it's just a different installation that experience pays off with.

It's definitely always an advantage to, as I say, partner with an installer, an applicator that has seen it all before, for sure. Absolutely.

The Skylight Installer Certification Process

John: Can you give us a little insight into what that certification process is in terms of certifying a company like Master Roofers to install VELUX skylights?

Ryan: To be a specialist, which is what Master Roofers is, you need to go through a physical roof section, installation training on a variety of products, ganging our products together, which is a bit of a different and more detailed installation. Installing roof windows, installing sun tunnels, installing shades. I think even at that time it was re-glazing skylights probably as well, so it's a quite wide-ranging installation training.

These days, you have to know about how to register electronic components, remote controls to windows, so that you can operate your shades. Comfort level with our active system so that you can run our products off of your phone with our app or our other touchscreen remotes, so it's even more wide-ranging and stringent than it even would've been in the past, and a significant part of that is also understanding, as I mentioned, all of those solutions.

You never know what you're going to encounter based on the roofing material, based on the application and the functionality that the homeowner wants from their skylight now as opposed to what the homeowner wanted 30 years ago. So, how to best explain the correct installation method and the correct method of control for the skylight for each homeowner. A lot of the training is sales related in that regard so that you can understand your solutions, provide that for a homeowner.

Brett: Ryan brings up a good point with the sales related, and when we talk about differentiators, at least our approach at Master Roofers, our salespeople are very well-trained and they're going in... It all starts with a good design. Yeah, you need experience to go execute it and do it right and we literally have "master roofers" on staff. We have folks who work on metal, slate, copper, asphalt shingle, everything in between.

I'm thinking of one particular gentleman, Pat Shea. Pat's been doing this for 40 plus years. He went to a roofing trade school and Pat literally is a man who can do anything. But what Pat needs, the real beginning point, is from visiting with the homeowner and aligning on what's possible and what their goals are, starting off with a great design. Otherwise, we're putting Pat in a position where he has to maybe pull out a miracle that he may not have. And our relationship with VELUX goes back, gosh, what Ryan? Is it two decades or more?

Ryan: Well, almost certainly the skylights have been used for many, many, many decades, but as a certified installer... Geez, I would say probably 12 years maybe? I would guess.

Brett: Yeah, I was going to say…long time. A long time.

Ryan: That is a lot of skylights. Yes.

Brett: That is a lot of skylights. And one interesting thing is that most roofers avoid wanting to cut holes or mess with holes and roofs. Their goal is, if it's not leaking, don't touch it and don't cut a hole.

We're a little unique. We like it, and that's just because we're so comfortable in our skillset and with the product that we use, that cutting in a new skylight sounds great to us, doesn't scare us. Want to replace the skylight? Super. We love doing that. We love helping people like that.

Whereas I think that you'll find with some other roofers, there's some apprehension. They're pretty happy sometimes to say, "Oh, what? We're re-roofing your home. We're taking a 30-year-old roof off and you've got a 30-year-old skylight? Oh, it's not leaking. Go ahead and leave it."

Think about it. Now you have a 30-year-old window in your house with your brand new roof. What's the likelihood that's going to work out well? And it's because they're not comfortable with their skillset, whereas we embrace that. We enjoy that.

Choosing a Skylight Contractor

skylight fixing by a worker

John: Brett, what else is involved in choosing a good contractor for installing skylights? You mentioned experience, which you obviously have, and what about licensing and insurance, things like that?

Brett: Sure, absolutely. Yeah, you should absolutely be seeking someone who's a certified home improvement contractor, and can prove that on paper. They should provide you with copies of all. So that's essentially your licensing in that space. You should also be getting copies of their certificates of liability, etc. Any reputable contractor is going to be able to provide those to you in real time and make you a named insured of their insurance and of showing that they're a certified home improvement contractor, which of course, the state regulates that.

Another great resource, as well, is the Better Business Bureau and things like Google. That's one of the neat things of the modern era is that if someone's out there doing a bad job, it's going to catch up with them. You can't control what people say about your business on Google. They can just do it. And we all know that occasionally there's some folks who give poor reviews, because they're whatever, they're just having a bad day, but if you see a company with a lot of reviews and they're overwhelmingly good, that's a good sign from the field as well.

But the three biggest things I would look for, absolutely insurance, absolutely that they're a certified home improvement contractor, and then the next thing I would actually look at is their longevity.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of folks in the roofing space who are around for a few years and then they disappear. There's a lot of folks in the roofing space who decide to, "Hey, I'm a roofer. I worked for someone else. I'm going to go out on my own." And they don't do things like get proper insurance or they, "Oh, I'm supposed to pull a permit in your municipality for this? We won't pull a permit. I'll save you some money." They're probably not trying to save you money. They probably don't have proper licensing to be doing that.

So yeah, absolutely seek people who have that longevity, can provide you with proof of insurance, can provide you with proof of licensing. And you're also going to find that they're aligned with quality companies, that they're going to be aligned with companies like VELUX where we have their certifications. In roofing, where we're a master elite roofer with GAF. That comes with very similar needs to being certified with VELUX, and that'll put you on the right track to finding someone that you can trust to be your homes partner.

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Skylight Project Timeline

John: Right. And then Brett, what else is involved in the project timeline? You mentioned it starts with the sales and the design of the project. What happens after that?

Brett: Sure. Great question. The initial sales call is going to align with our skylight expert about what you're trying to achieve. So, we do that. We actually do full measure calls. We actually get up on the roof, so whether it's a replacement or it's a new installation, we're getting up on the roof doing a physical inspection in most cases, too, depending on the design of the home, if there's an attic that needs to be addressed, some sort of space that needs to be addressed for getting in there. We're doing that on what we call our measure call. The key components of that are aligning with the customer's expectations and then the second of all, accurate measurements, because again, remember this is a construction project in some cases, so where do roof rafters lay? To Ryan's point earlier, where are valleys, etc.?

Once we've designed it, presented the solution to the customer, they choose to accept it, the next part is ordering skylights, so ordering the windows to go in the roof. There are some standard sizes that we can adapt with. There are custom sizes that Velux can actually make for us. So, depending on the need, the lead time -- in most standard cases, roughly a two-week lead time on us getting the material in and getting it into our schedule.

Once that material is successfully available to us, so it's been distributed to us through our distributor by VELUX, then we're going to align with you on what time works for that. Obviously we're going to be putting holes in your roof or we're going to be taking what's not a hole and opening it up and making it a hole. We have to work around weather.

So, I guess what I would tell you is, from the time that you sign that agreement after the measure call to the time that you're actually executing, replacing, or installing your skylights is going to be in the two-week to four-week time range for most cases, depending on weather, depending on if you're getting a custom skylight, those can make it longer of course.

Common Questions and Concerns About Skylights

House with skylights on roofing

John: Okay. And this can be a question for either one or both of you. What are some of the most frequent questions or concerns that you encounter from homeowners regarding skylights?

Ryan: Sure. Well, I would say from my part, there are probably three different common questions.

Identifying Skylights

The first would be people want help identifying. They have an old VELUX skylight or an old skylight of another manufacturer, and they need to identify what is the current comparable VELUX to be able to go into that opening gracefully, either on its own as a separate project or as a part of the roof. Or just recommendations, if it's a new skylight, for size, they want to daylight an area.

I'll give you an example with COVID, a lot more people were in their offices and all of a sudden they realized that their home office wasn't especially pleasant. It didn't have as much natural daylight. So, we would get a lot of calls from people with basically a Teams meeting showing us their space and asking us how many skylights it would take to be able to have a pleasant amount of natural daylight in their area. And there's a lot that goes into that with framing, and even the color of the walls can help make it more reflective or less.

Tax Credits

But probably the most common question that I get these days is related to tax credits. Solar-powered motorized skylights run off a remote. They close if it rains so that you can use them spring, summer, and fall at will with confidence. But probably the most important thing about them is they're eligible for 30% uncapped federal tax credit on the entire project, installing those skylights. Everything that you pay because you decided to put this skylight in, you can take a 30% federal income tax if it is a home in the United States and if you do pay federal income tax, if you have a federal tax liability. So, if you have a number of skylights, you can see where that would add up to a significant amount of money.

The federal government is helping you to replace old skylights when you do your roof, if you want to think of it that way. It makes all the difference in the world in the calculus of what you do when you're replacing a skylight. And we did that for a few years and we realized that if we, the manufacturer, pre-install a solar-powered shade into any type of skylight, even a fixed skylight or a manually operated skylight, it imbues that skylight as well as a solar electric property and you can take a 30% federal tax credit on the entire project related to the installation of it.

So, really almost all of our skylights that we sell now, unless they're custom sized, you have it within your power to take a 30% tax credit on the work that Brett and his team are doing, and that is a powerful tool to help people with their project.

John: Yeah, that's an important consideration. Absolutely.

Brett: I think for us, a lot of the questions we receive, especially during the sales process, go back to something we chatted about earlier that, hey, this isn't your grandpa's skylight anymore.

A lot of folks maybe have an existing skylight and for whatever reason, it's time to move on, replace it. A lot of what Ryan just spoke about, about solar-powered shades, about being able to vent it without having a giant pole that you're cranking up and that sort of thing, about the fact that it will close automatically when it senses rain and seal up your house. Most people aren't aware of that, so we like to take time and educate in the process because people love the light of skylights. They love, in many cases, the ability to vent and get fresh air. Most of them don't realize how much more convenient it is, maybe more now than it ever was before, certainly.

And even doing things like home automations. Ryan mentioned the app and then there's some other stuff that's associated with it. You can set it up so shades are opening and closing automatically on preset times and same thing with venting your home, having these open and close. And for us, I guess, maybe a lot of the most gratifying part is educating people to... In addition to the light that skylights provide, how easy they are to live with now with these modernizations that have occurred to them over time, and the fact that you're not going to have to worry about this thing leaking. The product is going to be leak proof. And then when you work with a quality contractor, they're going to do a great job and you're not going to have issues there. So, it's not going to leak at your roof either.

John: Right. Speaking of quality contractors, do you have any cautionary tales, Brett, things that you've seen where maybe a homeowner got a skylight installed by a different contractor and now they're having problems? What have you seen?

Brett: Sure. Unfortunately, we meet a lot of people in that situation. "Hey, I'm getting leaks around my skylight," that sort of thing. "I had some guy do it. He doesn't call me back anymore," And that sort of thing. So we do get that. We don't like meeting people in those circumstances, but what we do like is the fact that we can help them.

So, again, it goes back to working with someone who works with and who installs skylights all the time and is really competent and confident in their skills.

A lot of times what we do is we get up there,and the skylight itself may not be leaking, but it's leaking around the skylight. We do what's called a water test, which is exactly what it sounds like. We're up there with a hose figuring out exactly where the permeation is and we're helping then. We usually have to remove shingles and redo flashing and then make it so that this is truly watertight around that opening.

Occasionally, we may find the skylights themselves, not if they're working with a VELUX skylight, as long as it was properly installed, the skylight itself is not going to leak. We're pretty confident of that. It's usually all the other work around the skylight that is where the risk is, if you will.

So yeah. A lot of folks go, "Wow, I was able to save. I worked with Joe in a truck and I was able to save 10% over that certified company." Well, some days you get what you pay for, and I'm not trying to dump on any other contractors, whatsoever, but I guess my cautionary tale would always be, work with that certified contractor, work with someone that the manufacturer recommends, because they have standards in place that help ensure that you're going to get a quality installation by a competent company that will stand behind that work as well once they leave.

Collaboration Between Skylight Manufacturers and Roofing Companie

John: And then finally, guys, what collaborative efforts between manufacturers and roofing companies and roofing installers can be taken to ensure a seamless and positive experience for homeowners who are choosing skylights?

Ryan: Well, we do ask for regular training to keep folks up to date so that you have the right…At any given application, you have the right solution at your fingertips if you're a salesperson for a certified company. So you know what's available, you know what the best way to approach it is, if they want it venting, if they want it fixed, know the best way to approach that. You're conversant with the tax credit information that I mentioned earlier.

One thing that's unique about this area is that the majority of skylights are venting. Most skylights are venting around here in this part of New England and so people are usually trying to evaluate the best way to do that. What's the best experience? And if you don't understand the tax credit in its totality and believe that you're going to be able to achieve that when you do your taxes, then you might wind up with a suboptimal result, I think. Definitely ongoing education and touch points.

Also, to me, a good roofer knows when to bring me in as the rep, which I go out and look at stuff, or maybe it's someone from another part of the country. They should have access to their VELUX rep. We want these things going smoothly. We want people putting in the correct skylights, enjoying them, and when they are working for them and they're using them on a day in and day out basis, then someday when they build another home, they will put more skylights in presumably. And that's the best result for VELUX for sure.

Brett: Yeah, absolutely. And ourselves, being the roofer integrator, if you want to think of it, that's a lot of our job is to work with manufacturers, both shingle manufacturers, work with construction consultants, work with folks like Ryan at VELUX, and make sure that we're staying fully trained and that, number two, we're using the best and optimal products and methods for all those things that come together. Because there's a skylight there that's being built into construction that now has shingles around it. So, at the end of the day, they all converge, and that's our job is to stay current and fluent with each of those facets of the game to give the customer the best experience.

John: All right, well that's all really great information, Brett. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Brett: Oh, thank you so much. I appreciate you having me.

John: And Ryan Sturgis from VELUX Skylights. Thanks for joining us as well.

Ryan: You bet. Glad to be here.

John: And for more information about Master Roofers, you can visit the website or call 603-623-4973.

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