Alice in Warranty Land: A Cautionary Tale
It’s time to stop using warranties as sales gimmicks
By Dick Fricklas
“The warranty will protect me,” said the Mad Building Owner.
“The warranty will protect me,” said the Rabbit Designer.
“The warranty does protect me, said the Shrewd Materials Manufacturer.
“How can this be?” cried Alice.
“In the roofing world, anything is possible,” explained Consumer Advocate. “It can be what you wish it to be, as everyone lives happily ever after – unless there’s a problem!”
What did the Building Owner wish for? A warranty that would take care of the roof for a wondrously long time, without the responsibility of keeping the drains free of debris or controlling rooftop abuse, and at a low price too.
Our Designer wished for a warranty that covered any errors of product selection, design, specification, or quality assurance. After all, if the Manufacturer warranted it, surely responsibility shifts to the Warrantor. Besides, we can tell the Owner what he wishes to hear – a warranty that lasts just about forever.
Our Manufacturer, after careful consultation with Mouse Lawyer, gleefully issued his warranty with exclusions covering materials, workmanship, weather, acts of God, and as an afterthought, indemnification so that the roofing contractor would have to pay all legal fees should anyone be rude enough to sue because of said exclusions.
The Manufacturer’s sales department wanted to join the party too. Their own technical department was a fussy bunch of nitpickers. They had the nerve to tell Sales not to take just any old roof condition. They want a sound substrate, dry insulation, and slope to drain. Now Sales could sell that job anyway, because the warranty would convince the other partygoers that everything would be just fine no matter how bad the actual conditions were, wouldn’t it?
Consumer Advocate wondered how logic could get so twisted. How could each party expect the warranty to supplant their own responsibility?
A Call to Arms
We are supposed to be roofing professionals with accountability to our roofing community. Why are we hearing of manufacturers accepting re-cover on projects where the covering should have been replaced and the deck rehabilitated as well? They assure us that everything will be fine because their warranty will take care of it.
Why are owners so willing to believe them? To complete the self-deception, the owner doesn’t even read the warranty. Why will contractors take the job, rationalizing that if they won’t, somebody else will?
Isn’t it about time for us to bring to a halt the practice of using the warranty as a sales gimmick? Perhaps we need to drop back to short-term warranties of five years from the manufacturer and one or two from the contractor, rather than the “super-warranties” of today. It makes it more likely that the roof system will be selected on its technical merit rather than promoted on its warranty length.
Even better, perhaps we should build quality into every roofing project by prequalifying good contractors, manufacturers, and inspectors. After all, it was a good roof that Alice was seeking, not a piece of paper with the Queen of Hearts’ picture on it, wasn’t it?
Over the last decade, there have been multiple reports of small surface blisters (rash blistering) appearing on asphalt shingles installed shortly before the blistering began. In some cases, the shingle manufacturer refused to furnish the specified warranty and claimed that the blistering wouldn’t affect the roof’s life.
Is it possible that roof life won’t be affected? Is it possible for the manufacturer not to say “If the roof life is affected, we will take care of it”? What does this do for the owner, who paid for a first-class roof and doesn’t have one? Or the general contractor, who is committed by contract to furnish a long-term warranty?
We sure hope Alice has a good lawyer.