Robert Ullman

Smaller projects allow less margin for error. Stronger product warranties put more emphasis on proper installation. Given the facts, will many remodeling companies embrace an opportunity in 2010 that they’ve mostly ignored until now: getting manufacturer approval — through programs such as certifications and credentials — as qualified product installers?

As little as five years ago, many manufacturers wouldn’t go near the word “certification” because of liability concerns. Increasingly, certification is being recast as a way to ensure that products are properly installed, in part to lower liability against improper installations by do-it-yourselfers and other untrained individuals.

While the overall manufacturing trend is toward “making installation easier and more foolproof,” a big goal of certifications is “to reduce callbacks and the training burden” for pro-installed products, Nora DePalma says. Her PR and marketing company, O’Reilly-DePalma, represents companies including American Standard, which two years ago launched a “no-callback” promotion on its Champion 4 toilet for plumbers who joined the company’s “ProChampion League.”

“The implications for remodelers can be big,” says green building consultant (and former remodeler) Carl Seville. “When a contractor is confident that a product will be installed properly and backed up by a reputable manufacturer, they will have more confidence in using it.”

In some cases, product complexity lends itself to certification. About a year ago, Pat Strand and two installers at Total Home, his Kansas City Mo., company, became certified installers for Marvin Windows. “Most windows fail due to bad installs,” he says, pointing out that Marvin products are high-end and constantly improving, “and we want to make sure that our customers are getting the best possible job.”

There’s also the marketing angle. “It’s a sign of the times that companies are looking for any edge,” says Jay Butch of CertainTeed Roofing. The manufacturer has long had two levels of education-intense installer “credentialing,” and the rewards (such as extended warranties and marketing support) get a bit sweeter each year, Butch says.

With loyalty, of course, there are potential downsides. Contractors sometimes “take on a strong bias toward the product” that might compel them to not recommend the best product for a given situation, says green remodeler Michael Anschel of Otogawa-Anschel Design Build, in Minneapolis. To mitigate this risk, and to ensure higher-quality installations overall, he thinks manufacturers should require that contractors be certified to buy or install products, but adds, “This will never happen, though.”

—Leah Thayer, senior editor, REMODELING.