Plenty of things are complicated. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you don’t understand something down to its tiniest detail — there’s no way to be an expert at everything. If there were, we’d all be plotting trajectories for the next Mars mission — or building our own cars in the garage rather than buying them from a dealership.
Most of us are comfortable with letting somebody else handle the Mars missions. But, there are times where we could really use a bit of expertise to deal with something we’re working on, and we just don’t have it. What to do? No need to delve into all the possibilities here — our focus is on situations where the expertise required is relatively peripheral. Certainly, it would help — but it’s non-essential. We know enough about the subject to acquire a solid grasp of the big picture, and that’ll have to be good enough.
But, every so often, the big-picture approach can mask some ambiguities that didn’t seem relevant — until later on when we discover there are unintended consequences. Which leads us directly to the subject of manufacturer warranties.
PAY CLOSE ATTENTION
If you are involved with the specification or purchase of building materials at a commercial level, you will no doubt be aware of how crucial warranties are. Everyone hopes they’ll never have to rely on one — but just about everyone ultimately does at one point or another. When you’re specifying and installing commercial flooring in multiple locations on a regular basis, inevitably, somewhere, something will go wrong. It’s just a fact of life.
So the warranty kicks in. And now you — designer, specifier, installer, end user, facilities manager: whichever role you might play — get to find out if any of those ambiguities we mentioned above might be about to cause you a problem.
WELL THAT’S COVERED, ISN’T IT?
Hopefully, it is. Whatever it might be. What interests us for this particular blog post, though, is to look more broadly at the way manufacturers set up their warranties, and a few things the savvy customer might want to pay close attention to.
Such as, when you look through the fine print — how much of it is there? When you see a manufacturer listing all kinds of exclusions, it doesn’t necessarily mean there should be a larger expectation of problems. Plenty of excellent products on the market have warranties with a whole bunch of exclusions. But what you definitely can glean from exclusions (and from the precise language of warranties overall) are the types of issues a manufacturer may have concerns about — and whether those particular issues are relevant to you.
One thing we really encourage you to do (if you can find the time, of course) is to look closely at a manufacturer’s exclusions and stipulations. Because, unlike marketing text, warranties are legal documents. This is where the rubber really hits the road. It’s worth the time — especially on large expensive projects — to delve into the warranty and see what a bit of detective work might be able to tell you.
ALL RIGHT, HOW ABOUT SOME EXAMPLES?
OK, why don’t we talk about moisture — which Starnet Worldwide and Fuse Alliance recently declared one of the two biggest challenges facing their members (by the way, the other one was recruiting and training labor, just so you know). Moisture is an issue that inspires lots of carefully worded language by people who are employed writing floor-covering warranties. Probably because when it does rear its ugly head in a claims situation, the worst-case scenarios can get pretty horrendous.
You’ll see quite a bit of text dedicated to allowable relative humidity (RH), and usually along with it, pH levels. Which is because moisture (and pH) can undermine adhesive effectiveness. Excessive moisture between floor coverings and subfloors can lead to mold and mildew problems. So here are some things to check: Are there limits for relative humidity in the warranty? If so, what are they? Limits in the 80s might indicate a bit more concern from a manufacturer about moisture — above 90 shows more confidence. Weigh what you see in relation to your particular circumstance.
Here’s a detail to consider: Some manufacturers no longer require moisture testing. It would be reasonable to assume that those companies have a fair amount of confidence in their product’s ability to deal with moisture. But pay close attention to the exceptions. If the manufacturer says you don’t have to test for moisture, does the warranty cover a failure due to moisture in the subfloor? You would hope that it does. But look. Just to be sure.
Another thing to keep an eye on: Reactivity concerns. Some carpet backings can react chemically with adhesives on the floor from a previous installation. What are the manufacturer’s requirements for floor prep before new product is installed in a renovation? Usually the component ingredient a manufacturer is concerned about is PVC, but there are cushion-backed and hardback products that don’t contain it — in which case there probably shouldn’t be an issue. The manufacturer’s installation guide will tell you what’s required — but there are all kinds of additional intelligence tidbits a warranty can tell you.
Such as — is the manufacturer taking on the full scope of the issue? If the problem is determined to be adhesive-related, did the company who made the carpet give themselves an out — with liability passing onto somebody else’s doorstep? So — if the adhesive starts acting up, do you now have to get involved with the people who made the adhesive? Ultimately, the cost of the flooring may wind up being covered, but how many different entities need to be involved, and how much time might these issues add to your timetable?
Here are a few more: Does the manufacturer cover the cost of installation if there’s a claim, or is it excluded? More specifically, will the manufacturer cover the cost to move the existing furniture, remove the flooring that failed, and re-install the replacement flooring? The warranty will tell you —but you have to look for it.
IS THIS SOMETHING I REALLY NEED TO BE CONCERNED WITH?
A quick word to designers and specifiers: Usually you or your company won’t be liable for these kinds of issues when they occur months or years after you complete your part of a job. Nor should you. But it’s useful to note that because claims often happen later in the lifespan of a product, a designer might never even be aware that there was ever an issue. Knowing what is (or isn’t) warrantied and how a product ultimately performs is unquestionably a benefit to your current and future clients. Happy clients come back. They say nice things about you to other people. They (obviously!) have an effect on your bottom line.
As we often mention on this blog — we’re big proponents of objective information. Our biggest advice is to always ask about something you see in a warranty that you aren’t sure about. Request a technical expert if you aren’t getting what you want — every manufacturer has people available who can answer your questions on a technical level, and often technical answers are what you need in order to understand precisely what is or isn’t going to be covered. The fact is, manufacturers’ sales reps should (and usually do) know their products very well. But their top priority is to sell you something. We don’t think this is a big secret, by the way — there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But it can have an effect on what they’re going to tell you.
As we always say — knowledge is power. If you don’t have the knowledge, get it.The result: You have the power.