When it comes to roofing, replacements and repairs represent a significant financial investment. And, as Neil Harrison warns, failing to put guarantees in place might have dire consequences
19 May 2006
There is currently a great deal of confusion surrounding a client's position when investing in roofing products and services offering guarantees, but the legal point is quite clear: it is the client's responsibility to look very closely at what is being offered to make sure it is appropriate to their present and future needs.
General uncertainty is compounded by the wide range of guarantees and insurance products available on the market. These range from the basic product warranty, which comes free of charge, to the all-inclusive insurance-backed option, which must be paid for. Having a product guarantee lasting 20 years refers only to the condition of the product itself and will offer no protection if that product is badly installed or the roofing contractor goes out of business.
For a reputable manufacturer involved in a full roof installation there is a lot more to issuing or selling a guarantee than handing someone a piece of paper. It means the company has invested in training, has carried out a full roof examination and has complied with design and legislative criteria for insulation values, wind uplift calculations and condensation analysis. It means the company has designed a system for the particular job in hand, trained and vetted roofing contractors, inspected the installation at regular intervals and specified a detailed maintenance programme. It will also return and check the condition of the roof at an agreed period throughout the life of the guarantee. If any roofing procurement project has not resulted in these things happening then there is cause for concern
It is important to understand the different levels of guarantee that are being offered, and what they actually provide for.
A product guarantee is the most basic level of protection for the customer. This simply guarantees against the failure of the product to do the job for which it was intended, ie the product is fit for purpose but buyer beware that if the product is not installed correctly either to the manufacturers, recommendations or to the published codes of practice any guarantee is likely to be void.
Materials and labour or 'back to back guarantees' are offered as a joint agreement between manufacturer and contractor, with each party assuming responsibility for different parts. The manufacturer offers a product guarantee and the contractor offers a guarantee of the quality of workmanship. If materials fail the manufacturer will replace it, and if there is an issue around workmanship then the contractor takes responsibility. In most cases the contractor would be approved by the manufacturer, but if the contractor goes bankrupt, then that element of the guarantee becomes void.
Insurance-backed guarantees are what most clients want but they can be the source of much confusion, taking differing forms. In the most popular type of insurance-backed guarantees, the product manufacturer takes on the responsibility of providing a guarantee, which is independently underwritten by an external insurance company. This works in a similar way to home insurance policy in that a regular premium is paid by the manufacturer which rises according to the level of risk taken on by the insurer.
Some companies offer similar guarantees that are not insurance backed. In this instance the product manufacturer considers the financial worth of the company sufficient to fund any that may arise.
Alternatively, a client can arrange insurance through an external company, which can provide a policy that would offer protection in the event of either the contractor or manufacturer going out of business. The fee for this method of securing a guarantee is usually based on a percentage of the overall contract and can therefore prove an expensive option.
Trade associations are also getting in on the act by offering guarantees in conjunction with insurance companies. Organisations such as the National Federation of Roofing Contractors have co-partnership and latent-defects agreements to underwrite their own trade members. A client which has a roofing system installed by a contractor who is a trade member, using materials supplied by a manufacturer who is also a trade member, can seek insurance from an independent third party. As the two parties have previously been vetted in order to gain membership of the trade body, the trade body assumes responsibility and provides an independent alternative.
Before choosing a level of guarantee it is also important to look carefully at the financial worth of the company offering it. Consider its market experience, company size, the number of years in which they have been offering the type of cover required. If it has a turnover of £500 million then you can be assured it has the financial stability and experience to uphold and deliver its promise.
Like everything in life you get what you pay for - roofing guarantees are no different. Any guarantee worth having will be sold rather than given away so where is the line drawn between a manufacturer guaranteeing the quality of its merchandise and a manufacturer effectively selling an insurance product?
There has been some recognition of difficulties in this area. For a manufacturer to now be able to sell a product that offers insurance-backed protection has to be approved by the Financial Services Authority. Look out for this approval as many manufacturers don't have it: those that do have met extremely high standards of compliance.
In summary, don't be tempted to buy a roofing package on the basis of a long term guarantee without thoroughly investigating what it provides or represents. Before investing in roofing work or upgrades, seek advice or enlist the help of reputable, long-established manufacturers and experienced roofing contractors who can supply an overall picture of the requirements of the roof in question and detail exactly what is provided in terms of support. Consider the breakdown of the components that make up the supply chain because if you ignore it you will be left with no recourse.
Neil Harrison is technical director at Icopal