With warranties, the devil is in the details

By Tom Gocze, BDN Staff
Posted June 19, 2009, at 8:45 p.m.

As I age, I find myself sputtering about the cost of everything.

When you are contemplating your next big-ticket home improvement item, the warranty should factor prominently in your decision.

If we take a look at an important, usually costly, project such as roofing, there are important things to consider. Recently someone asked me whether he should purchase a 30-year asphalt shingle roof or one with a lifetime warranty. At first blush, it would make sense to think seriously about a lifetime warranty. But, of course, the devil is in the details. Warranties are written to sell materials and they are written by the manufacturer. They can contain a lot of weasel language. (A lawyer friend once used that term to describe something those other lawyers do.)

So what is important and what isn’t?

In roofing, the materials are rather inexpensive in the overall scheme of things. The labor is the big cost. In fact, labor is the big cost in most home improvements.

Roofing labor is a real killer. You are paying for the cost of handling a lot of heavy stuff up in the air at least 10 feet, maybe 30 feet off the ground. The contractor also has to try to keep his people from falling off the roof and still be productive.

If you ever have the chance, ask an insurance person what the workers’ compensation insurance is for roofers. It is more than you may think.

There probably will be two warranties: the contractor’s and the material manufacturer’s.

Read the warranty carefully. Ask if you do not understand something. Is your contractor doing everything properly to cover the manufacturer’s warranty? Remember that labor is not always included in a materials warranty. A pile of new shingles 20 years from now will not fix your leaking roof without some extraordinary year 2029 labor cost.

Most important, make sure your contractor has insurance.

House painting has similar issues, except paint can fail a lot more quickly than roofing.

And yes, surface preparation is important and good paint does make a difference.

I painted my house five years ago. I used a lifetime-warranty house paint. It is on primed fiber cement siding that will hold paint forever. Unfortunately, I can see the paint fading and expect to repaint in the next several years. Fortunately, the house is small and I can do it in a weekend without too much effort.

This project is solely an aesthetic one, but I can assure you I will not be using the same house paint again.

I had to write a warranty recently for the solar and wood boiler tanks that we manufacture. I did this 25 years ago when we first started making solar tanks. At that time, I simply stated that we guaranteed the tanks for 10 years. That seemed straightforward enough until I got a phone call from a guy in California who actually as-sembled a tank inside out! I cannot, to this day, understand how he did it.

He told me the tank did not seem right after he assembled it and filled it with water. He was a pleasant enough fellow, and when he found out what he had done, was rather embarrassed. I sent him a new liner for his tank for free. It wasn’t leaking, but he had damaged it as he installed it inside out to make it all fit together.

This time, we have a very in-depth assembly manual with a lot of color photos explaining how to assemble the tank. We also have a more explicit warranty.

To wind this up, if I had to replace a roof, I would use metal roofing. I will be repainting with Benjamin Moore paint. I don’t care too much what the warrantees are, because both work well and will last. (Benjamin Moore is not a sponsor; it’s just very good paint.)

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a hlome-project blog are at www.bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.htm.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/06/19/living/with-warranties-the-devil-is-in-the-details/ printed on April 16, 2014