Faisal Hussain, Chief Executive of the Double Glazing & Conservatory Ombudsman Scheme (DGCOS) discusses with Total Installer magazine, the conundrum of manufacturers’ warranties and what they mean for installers and homeowners.
Warranties. It’s a word we hear a lot but what does it really mean? The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition is: “A written guarantee, issued to the purchaser of an article by its manufacturer, promising to repair or replace it if necessary, within an specified period of time.” That sounds quite straightforward, but is it really as easy at that when it comes to home installations?
Many installation businesses in the window and door sector shout loudly about the 10-year product and workmanship warranties on the products they install, which give the homeowner reassurance that they are protected if they have any issues with their windows and doors. Quite often, these warranties stem from what the manufacturer provides to the installer, and some don’t actually apply to the end user. This is because the warranties provided by a manufacturer are provided to their customer, the installer and not the end user, the homeowner, something that isn’t always clear.
Perception vs Reality
The average homeowner, who has made a big investment in their home improvements, can be forgiven for thinking that a 10-year product warranty, provided to them by the installer, on their new windows and doors means the product will be fixed or replaced if for example, their composite door bows, their painted windows/door discolours or a lock/ handle breaks. In other sectors, this is commonplace, but the reality is that unless the manufacturer warranty is able to be passed on by the installer to the consumer, only the installer can make a claim on the warranty and not the consumer should the product fail.
Most reputable installers genuinely offer and stand by the warranties they advertise. If there is a problem with the product, they deal with the manufacturer, the problem gets resolved and everyone is happy.
Transparency is Key
With a trade only warranty between product manufacturer and installer, the manufacturer has no legal obligation to the homeowner to replace their product if they become faulty. From my experience, this is where it gets complicated – and expensive. We have come across many instances where the consumer has found an installer by going on a manufacturer’s website – the consumer feels reassured when reading the product has a 10-year warranty and it gives them the peace of mind. This is all well and good when the installer is still trading – any problems the consumer can go straight to the installer. The complication is where the installer has ceased trading or is no longer contactable – where does a consumer go for a product fault? They try the manufacturer but only to be told, sorry we can’t help because of the trade warranty.
In place of the installer, the insurance company steps in to investigate and rectify any issues when valid. If the product has failed and it is a manufacturing fault rather than poor installation, the insurance company then tries to contact the manufacturer for a replacement. However, because there is no legal responsibility for the manufacturer to offer a replacement - the insurance company covers this, usually at market value (and pays to get it installed). Fine. But have you considered the wider implications: what happens when you have to make a claim on your car insurance – even if you are not at fault? Your premium increases.
As an industry, we’re pretty expensive and will all be affected should insurance go up. However, how is it appropriate for a manufacturer to avoid its liability for product failures, just because the installer is no longer trading? The simple solution is for manufacturers to honour the manufacturer warranty, which the consumer believes they have and replace a faulty product; sure, there is a cost involved but it is significantly less than the insurance company replacing that composite door at market value as most of them go out and get a quote from another installer to replace.
Another point for installers to consider is the cost of servicing these blanket warranties, but that is a whole other conversation!
Clarity and Communication
In our role as a consumer protection organisation, we would like to see far more accurate marketing and communication about warranties from manufacturers. A quick internet search of window and door manufacturers shows that some – not all – are listing 10 year warranties on their consumer-facing sites. This is disingenuous if the warranty is not passed on to the consumer because any visitor to that website will take that as read, without realising that this warranty is only a trade only warranty; it’s written in front of them after all. If the visitor to that site then employs an installer to fit, say, new windows, they don’t know to check that this warranty is valid. Accurate promotion starts with the manufacturer. In order to give clarity to the homeowner, the warranty claims should either be removed from their consumer marketing or should come with a visible disclaimer.
Let’s not promote trade warranties as consumer warranties. Let’s give the consumer proper information and real protection.