Covering Your Bases The Importance of Knowing Your Warranties

Covering Your Bases

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

Stuart Pruzansky, president of Pruzansky Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning in Passaic says one difference between the warranties on small, personal items like the aforementioned laptop versus much bigger components like a roof is mobility. “The big difference is that you can’t bring it into them. If you have a boiler problem, you can’t pick it up and put it in your car and drive to the store where you bought it. So they would have to send someone in and troubleshoot it,” he says. “For these large components, most companies replace the parts and for a limited time. They’ll give you the new sections but they won’t put them in for you. If you have a 20-section boiler and one section stops working and they give you a new section, you have to take apart the whole boiler to get in there.”

“As far as elevators goes, say a building hires us, they say ‘our building is old and we want you to renovate our elevators’ so we put in all new controls and put in new equipment and we will warranty the elevator for life, as long as we have a monthly service agreement,” says Michael Christopher Todd, president of Pride & Service Elevator in Cranford. “We have what is called a maintenance control program. For example, we’ll say these 300 items need to be checked throughout the year and the frequency. If you don’t have that monthly service visit to make sure the components aren’t getting hot or wearing down an extended warranty is out the window. How can you warranty something that needs monthly service? That’s where this industry is not standard. It’s unique. It’s not like ‘here’s your TV or computer, call me if something breaks.’ You need elevator service.”

Installers and Manufacturers

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

“Manufacturer’s warranties cover their materials and we cover the installation,” explains TinaMarie Cortina, marketing director and project coordinator for Liberty Elevator Corporation in Paterson. “Once you have a contract with us and have signed our full service maintenance agreement, this essentially serves as a warranty on all parts and labor for the term of the contract. The only time these parts wouldn’t be covered is if they are damaged as a result of occurrences beyond our control, such as incoming power fluctuations, vandalism or obsolescence of equipment. Otherwise, we guarantee the replacement of the equipment under the full maintenance agreement at no charge.”

According to Todd, manufacturers typically offer a one-year warranty, but different rules apply when elevators are custom-made.

“When you custom build elevators it’s not like you go to one manufacturer to get the parts,” he says. “An elevator company like ourselves when we pull a job together we go to six or seven different contractors and we custom build the elevator to the needs of that building. So we can’t custom make an elevator for someone in West Orange and then move it to Red Bank. The sizes are always off by an inch or two. So really when you go to your manufacturers, you buy off them and when they deliver it to the job site is when their warranty starts. And that’s really only going to be valid to the elevator contractor.”

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

“Only larger items extended warranties are definitely worth it,” says Pruzansky. “Because they are not asking a lot of money for warranties and it’s giving you a couple extra years of protection.”

“In order for elevators to run properly, it’s like a car—of course, it’s more complex than a car, but you need to change the oil, you have to make sure there’s gas, you need to make sure it’s not running hot, you need to make sure the ropes aren’t wearing down, there’s a lot of components you need to look at every month,” says Todd. “So I don’t know if extended warranties are worth it. What you need is the maintenance control program. The monthly maintenance contract on a high-rise usually runs between $25 to $300 per month, but if you’re talking about a 50-story high-rise then you’re talking in the thousands per month.”

Cortina adds that she has yet to meet a customer who is interested in purchasing an extended warranty.

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.

“A lot of times an elevator contractor will negotiate directly with either the property manager or the condo board depending on how much they understand the industry,” says Todd. “A lot of times the condo board will talk about pricing and a contract will be written up by their attorney. When we’re dealing with property managers and we provide the contract and it explains the terms and I would say 80 percent of the time that contract gets signed unless they say ‘we want our attorney to add this or that amendment.’”

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.

“Who negotiates the contracts depends on the type of building,” says Cortina. “Sometimes the buildings we service are owner-run and managed other times their management company makes the recommendations and negotiates on their behalf and other times the board members have the final decision. It is site specific.”

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.

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?

“We have a full service agreement and that covers everything. All parts and labor,” says Todd. “There’s always middle-of-the-line contracts. Some people will sign what we call an oil and grease contract, which is the bare minimum. They want us to come by and once a month and do the minimum service required but that includes no parts and no labor. The full service is more popular.”

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 New Jersey Cooperator. Staff Writer Christy Smith-Sloman contributed to this article.

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