INSIGHT SERIES: Getting the right guarantee

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A decade ago, a 25-year guarantee would have been considered the gold standard, with many products guaranteed for far less time than that. Today, some of the industry’s leading manufacturers are offering guarantees of up to 40 years.

The reasons for this change are two-fold. Partly, it has been driven by improvements to product performance and resilience in recent years. Manufacturers are more confident offering long-term guarantees on products that stand up to rigorous longevity testing.

More than that, though, this shift towards longer guarantees has been driven by market demand. End users, whether they are building owners, occupiers or developers, have become increasingly aware of the importance of guarantees, and have higher expectations of the products specified on their buildings.

This uplift in market demand is partly because of a greater focus on the energy and carbon performance of buildings. Building owners are now much more aware of the total cost of ownership of their premises, especially given the change in energy prices over the past decade and advances in energy management systems. This greater awareness has also been driven by legislation and government incentives, with many businesses now financially impacted by the performance of their buildings.

On the whole, this increased demand for guarantees is good news for the industry. It highlights ways that the best suppliers and contractors add value to a project, and ought to drive overall standards higher. But there are still potential pitfalls out there for everybody involved in the construction industry, especially if the wrong guarantees are chosen.

What is covered?

To begin with, the guarantee must cover the most important aspects of the product’s performance. Many guarantees currently being sold as comprehensive actually only cover coatings. The coating is significant, but a guarantee that doesn’t cover performance is barely worth the paper it’s written on, especially given the market context driving guarantees today. Put simply, clients now expect the thermal and structural performance of the products to be guaranteed.

Mind the performance gap

Where a product has been chosen with a guarantee that covers performance, it is important to mind the potential gap between the figures the manufacturer guarantees and the actual in-situ performance of the product.

For example, a certain U-value may be guaranteed for a particular insulation product, but if it is installed improperly, the value will not be achieved. If later performance testing identifies this, it can cause problems between the contractor, installer, end user and manufacturer, with no simple way to determine responsibility.

Is the installer to blame if the product was not used in accordance with stringent installation guidelines? Or, with multiple manufacturers’ products in a system, which manufacturer is responsible? In the worst-case scenario, it can significantly devalue the asset, and lead to lengthy wrangling between contractors, installers and manufacturers.

Single manufacturer component systems have an advantage here, as they are covered by a single guarantee with one point of contact and responsibility. If something goes wrong with these systems, the manufacturer is very likely to take responsibility. While multi-component systems can still have long-term, comprehensive guarantees attached, there is more scope for potential grey areas.

Will the manufacturer be around in 30 years?

A final important factor to consider when assessing product guarantees is the likelihood of fulfilment should something go wrong.

The vast majority of product guarantees will never need to be used, but occasionally components do fail within their guaranteed lifespan. To plan for the potential of this happening, it is important to be confident that the manufacturer will still exist to rectify the problem in future years. This is especially pertinent now as longer guarantees mean that, in some cases, the length of warranty offered with a particular product can exceed the current age of the company offering it.

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So, there are many excellent manufacturers offering product guarantees to the market, but some protect installers, contractors and building owners more than others. It is wise not to assume that your current preferred products offer the protection you expect. Take the time to check, and compare with other products on the market. Doing this, and knowing how to interrogate product guarantees across the board, could save a huge amount of hassle, company reputation and in many cases, a lot of money.

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