Do remodelers provide warranties for their work? Virtually all do, but not all do so in writing.

We provided a warranty statement in our contract. It was for either a year or three years, but it really didn't matter.

Why? Many states (and sometimes cities), have laws that say a contractor is responsible for his/her work for a certain number of years. In California, I believe, a contractor is liable for patent defects ("obvious flaws" or the like) for four years and latent defects (hidden problems) for 10 years. I would tell clients that it doesn't matter what a contractor says how long his warranty is good for. Ask him about the law.

The 10 year latent defect liability created a group of lawyers who would canvass all the owners of a condominium complex nine years after it was built, to see if the lawyers could put together a class action suit against the builders, developers, architects and anyone else remotely connected to the project.

Nine years after we built a house, the owner called to say a shower was leaking. We fixed that for free, partly because of the law and partly because it was the right thing to do.

Manufacturers’ Warranties Rule

How extensive should the warranty be? I believe a contractor can't be expected to provide a warranty for all the items in the house that are warranted by the manufacturers for different amounts of time.

Here is a painful story. We built a new home in which we installed a national manufacturer’s cast-iron whirlpool tub. The thing weighed a LOT. In order to get it into the second floor bath we used a crane and had delayed installing the windows in that room.

We tiled in the tub. The bathroom was completed. We then pulled back the clear plastic protection that was on the tub when it arrived. A two-inch piece of the porcelain covering the cast iron came off with the plastic.

The manufacture supplied a new tub for “free.” We had to pay to have the tile taken out, the windows removed, and the crane come back. We also paid for installing the new tub, putting back the windows, and redoing the tile. That stunk.

Make sure your client understands that you can’t warranty products longer than the manufacturer does. It is not good business for you to do that. Also, point out that if a product fails after its warranty is over, you are not responsible for the labor and related materials needed to replace it.

Limit Your Liabilities

Given all the above, make sure you have liability insurance. Liability insurance won’t pay to repair the pipe that leaked or the roof that leaked, but it will typically cover the repair of the damage from the water that went all over the place.

Make sure to limit your liability by getting certificates of insurance from your trade contractors. Ask, if not insist, to be named as an additional insured.

Check at least annually to make certain that the trade contractor is maintaining his liability insurance. Avoid the following:

After the Oakland Berkeley Hills fire in 1991, we rebuilt several homes. We used the same roofer for most, if not all, of them. A couple of years after the last house was built, the client called me up to say there is this weird tube growing down from the ceiling.

It turned out that the tube was an indication there were termites.The termites were attracted by water leaking through the torch-down membrane that was under the concrete deck above the room with the “tube.” The seams had not been heated enough.

We looked for the certificate of insurance from the roofer. What we discovered is we did not have a current one. Furthermore, the roofer had closed his original business and opened a new one. All the resulting repairs were paid for by our insurance company, which resulted in our premiums going up.

It is a dangerous world out there. Be careful what you promise. Make sure your clients know you want to be the first person they call if they have a problem. That you and they will work together to determine who is responsible. And that if you are responsible you will take care of what needs to be done.

After all, isn’t that reasonable?