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How to survive the roof warranty wars.

Today, the owners of buildings who need new or replacement roofs can become. to say the least. very confused, with the myriad of warranties that are issued by the roof system manufacturers who use warranties as weapons or marketing tools to sell their products. There is literally an ongoing war of warranties between the roofing manufacturers, but unlike a price war where the consumer benefits from the lower prices, the end user, the building owner, rarely benefits from the war of roof warranties. It. should be of great concern to the building owner that the roofing industry does not go the way of the vinyl siding industry with 50 year warranties that mean absolutely nothing. Other than a roof, the longest warranty a building owner gets on--any other part of the building envelope is generally one year. Yet. when it comes to roofs. 10 year warranties are common-place and many manufacturers are extending warranties to 15 years and longer.

Warranty versus Contract Documeats

Frequently, architects prepare elaborate roofing specifications. often adopted from the suggested specifications of a particular manufacturer. including a long term warranty. Whether the construction involves the entire building and not just a roof replacement. the successful contractor, usually has his own group of favorite contractors. Although the roofing contractor chosen to do the work may have an equal or superior product from that which was specified, and this roof product is approved by the owner's architecture when it comes, time-for thewarranty to be furnished, the owner may learn for the first time that this different manufacturer does not issue such type of warranty as specified because it is unrealistic in coverage and duration. The owner will hence becomes another victim of the war of warranties.

1990 Building Owner Research Study

An industry-wide research study was completed in 1990, pollng approximately 350 major buildng owners averaging s145 buildings each and totalling over 5.2 million square feet of roof. On a scale of 1 to 5, rating 5 as high, one question was "how important is the roof system warrant in making your decision as to which tdype of roof system to purchase?" The overall response rated the warranty wa a major consideration by these owners. In order of importance, the owners ranked these considerations:

1) Warranty service reputation

2) Roof system quality

3) Length of warranty term

4) Financial strength of warranty

5) Warranty exclusions

Remarkably, 54 percent of the owners surveyed said that they never made credit checks on the roofing system manufacturer selected. What good is a long tyerm warranty when the manufacturer is unlikely to be around? This reminds me of the late night televison programs where these special kitchen knives are advertised which can cut rocks in two and have lifetime guarantees.

Admittedly, the score, type and duration of a roof warranty: is an important: element of an owner's new roofing system, However, a warranty is not a cure all; it won't assure quality workmanship, nor will it assure good quality materials.

All of the warranties issued are known as limited warranties to conform: to the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). The exclusions contained in these limited warranties 'are geared to protect the manufacturer not the owner. There is a school of thought where it is believed that the owner is better off without a limited warranty because he would have recourse under conventional breach of contract remedies, which could afford him better recourse than under the limited warranty with its numerous exclusions including consequential damages resulting from a roof leak.

The writer, having had extensive experience in roofing litigation throughout the United States, feels that it is still have a warranty accompany the roofing installation. Here is a quick check list for evaluating waffanties. Know your waffantor, know the type of warranty including type, coverage and exclusions, and know what the implied warranties are and who is responsible for what.

Let us consider the types of warranties available. Is it a only warranty where the supplier alone is on the hook to the owner? The materials only warranty when a roof blow-off occurs will certainly not make the owner whole. The customary roof warranty today is a labor and materials warranty. However, the owner should see what dollar restrictions are incorporated in this warranty. It may limit the liability to only the cost of the original installation, which will certainly not cover the new installation seven years later when the roof fails.

A new type of warranty is known as the NDL in the industry and stands for"No Dollar Limit." This sounds great, but can any manufacturer afford to give such all encompassing coverage where there is no cost ceiling? Will that manufacturer be solvent when it is the owner's turn to cash in on the NDL warranty?

Last, but certainly not least, is an understanding of what the warranty covers. Is the warranty promising to 'repair leaks,' to keep the roof in a 'water tight condition,' or to keep the roof 'free from defects in material or workmanship.' All of these promises mean different things legally. The promise to repair is not a promise to replace. A promise to keep 'water tight' is also not necessarily a promise to replace.

Does the warranty cover the entire roofing system including fasteners, insulation and flashing or just the roofing membrane itself?. These subfie and semantical distinctions often go unappreciated until the owner makes a claim and finds that the type of repair he is getting is different from what he expected.

An excellent manual to assist the owner in determining the scope of waftantics available is the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) 'Roofing Materials Guide' which contains an analysis of what is covered in most of the warranties currently being offered by roofing manufacturers and distributors.

Peter Goetz, is a senior member of the Goetz, Fitzpatrick & Flynn law firm in Manhattan. Goetz, who practices in the construction law field, has had extensive experience in roofing litigation/ arbitration matters throughout the United States.
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Title Annotation:Property Management/Improvement; Section I; evaluation of manufacturers warranties
Author:Goetz, Peter
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Feb 24, 1993
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