Covering Your Bases The Importance of Knowing Your Warranties

Warranties for products are simple to understand, most people might think. You go to the store, buy a computer or a DVD player or a TV, or even a larger appliance like a refrigerator, and you get a piece of paper describing a one-year or two-year warranty, and what’s covered. Sometimes, for some extra money, you can get an extended warranty for another year or so.

But what if the item in question is not a personal appliance, but a huge building component that you’re purchasing in large numbers from a contractor? What if you’re purchasing, for your co-op or condo, a roof tank, pumps, a new roof, a new series of convectors for a central HVAC system, or mechanical parts for an elevator?

Surely, the technology in items like these is more complex than your laptop. Also, in addition to the manufacturer, there is usually now a third party—the contractor. Still, a warranty must be given. How do warranties work for such large items, and what do you, as a co-op or condo board member, committee member or manager, need to know?

A Matter of Scale

Asher Land, office manager of Edison Parker & Associates Inc., a Brooklyn company that provides heat pumps, motors, blowers, cooling fans/towers and other HVAC equipment to buildings, says one difference is that for small, personal items like that aforementioned laptop, companies tend to replace the whole item if it’s faulty. For a large building component, however, the company typically just replaces the malfunctioning part or parts, if it’s in the warranty period, he says.

Richard Blaser, president of Atlas Welding & Boiler Repair Inc. in New Rochelle, concurs. “A new blu-ray player may come with a 30-day unconditional warranty, and if anything goes wrong, they will probably replace the unit rather than repair it. It is highly unlikely that a boiler or burner would be replaced under warranty—it would be repaired,” he says.

Installers and Manufacturers

How do the manufacturers’ warranties fit with installers’ coverage of their work when it comes to these types of items? Ito often depends on what type of item you’re talking about, and what manufacturer is involved.

For example, Land says that in his experience with HVAC components, if an item develops a problem, the manufacturer usually asks the user to ship it back to them. “Whether the problem is their fault or the fault of the installation, they have to determine it,” he says.

For a roof, which covers a much bigger surface area and has no moving parts (although it does have stationary parts, such as flashing, perimeters, drains and insulation), the story is different.

According to Wayne Bellet, owner of Bellet Construction, a Manhattan-based roofing and exterior contractor, manufacturers of roofing materials usually offer a 20-year warranty, but “the first one or two years are on us.” This means that if anything happens to the roof in the first one or two years, the contracting firm must go back and fix it. After that, they roofing manufacturer itself will do the work.

In general, even when the manufacturer issues the warranty, the contractor or installer acts as the conduit. “That’s the way it’s done—we’re the ones who fill out the form,” says Bellet.

In other cases, the contractor and the manufacturer are one and the same, which simplifies things.

For example, Larry Zucker, president of Compusave Fuel Systems Inc. in Flushing, which manufactures fuel-economizer systems, says, “I offer a warranty of five to 10 years with one year free service. I install a computer that monitors the heat and hot water in the building, and it reduces the fuel and saves the co-op money. It monitors the inside temperature of several apartments, then adjusts the heat—it does the same with hot water.”

Can one purchase extended warranties on building components? Yes, they can, but they seem less popular than they do in the consumer electronics field.

Land says that “everyone offers extended warranties,” but usually it’s not the manufacturer who does so. In his experience, it’s the distributor or the plumber. Zucker also offers extended warranties on his product when requested.

In the boiler field, Blaser says that extended warranties are available, but usually only cover the burner and cover labor only, not parts.

In the roofing field, Ron Taylor, president of All-Star Roofing in Amity Harbor, Long Island, says he can users get extended warranties of up to 30 years on roof systems. On the other hand, Bellet says that maintenance agreements past the term of the warranty are more common—“For $400 a year, I’ll look at your gutters and flashing, and do maintenance work.”

Negotiating With Boards and Managers

Unlike, say, when you buy a DVD player, buying a new boiler, chiller or convector system is a huge responsibility, and several people have to examine the particulars and then sign off on it.

Often, the contractor negotiates with the manager, then the board approves the manager’s recommendation. “Contracts are usually negotiated with the owner or owner’s representative, including the management company,” says Taylor. “However, it always gets reviewed by the board when the estimate is presented.”

On other occasions, however, the contractor negotiates with the board as well as the manager. “I present my computer to the board of directors, and the manager is there,” says Zucker. “I discuss and explain what the computer does, and if they’re interested, they say, `send me the contract.’” And, of course, that contract includes the warranty.

Clearly, every building or building complex is different. Some boards are very hands-on, while others leave everything to the manager. In some buildings, an engineer or architect hired by the co-op or condo also takes part in the business-making process.

There are even some boards that have members who are in the construction trade, and in these cases, contractors feel comfortable talking about warranties and other matters with those people. “In one large Manhattan synagogue that I’ve dealt with, there’s a board member who’s a general contractor,” says Bellet. “He talks the talk. But that’s not usual.”

Parts and Labor?

Finally, do most companies that manufacture building components, and the contractors and dealers who sell them, offer parts-and-labor warranties, or only warranties on parts?

Land says Edison Parker gives warranties on both parts and labor, but manufacturers on their own tend to warranty only parts. Zucker also warranties parts and labor.

Bellet also says that a materials-only warranty is very common in roofing, but his firm, Bellet Construction, offers a parts-and-labor warranty with no dollar limit. (And there are many parts to a roof—they’re just not moving parts.)

“If something goes wrong even on the very last day of the warranty period, we will repair it. We don’t pro-rate the repair,” he said. Pro-rated warranties cover less as the product grows older.

Taylor notes that All Star Roofing has a similar policy. He says his firm can offer a warranty of up to 30 years, non-pro-rated, with no dollar limit. “Over the life of your roof, should the roof fail from a material and/or labor defect, it will be repaired at no cost to the owner at the manufacturer’s expense.”

Taylor also says that in many cases, the type of warranty the contractor or installer can offer depends on the type of authorization the firm has from the manufacturer. Firestone Building Products, for example, “has master contractors who are authorized to install all of their systems and offer the top of the line, Red Shield warranties” but also has “contractors who can only issue material-only warranties.”

Exclude Me?

Finally, warranties typically do have some exclusions. A look at a several of the high-end “Red Shield” roofing warranties, explains Taylor, show that they don’t cover damage caused by “failure to use reasonable care in maintaining the system,” alterations or repairs to the system that aren’t done in accordance with the manufacturer’s published specifications, and disasters and “acts of God” such as hurricanes, tornadoes, fires and atomic radiation.

These warranties also specify that the owner and Firestone, if they have any dispute, must try to settle it by mediation before undertaking any legal action; and that Firestone or its representatives must have access to the roof during normal business hours. Not the typical clauses you’ll find in a warranty on your TV or DVD player.

Clearly, contractor- and dealer-offered warranties for major building components are a complicated subject. Thankfully, you as a co-op or condo board member have many resources to rely on—the experience of board members and managers of other developments, members of your own board who might be architects, engineers or construction professionals, co-op and condo trade organizations, and, of course, your manager.

Raanan Geberer is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator.

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