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Nashville Scene Empty Promises

Guarantees are anything but

By Walter Jowers

AUGUST 7, 2000:  Today on the radio, I heard a man guarantee paint for 25 years. He said it was special paint--leak-stopping, insulating, NASA-technology paint, with near-magical qualities.

Well, I don't care what he says. I'm going to go out on a limb here and make my own guarantee No paint is going to last 25 years. After 25 years, paint is going to be in about the same shape as a 25-year-old dog--if there's anything left of it, it's not going to be any dang good. To back up my guarantee, I offer $25. If any of you paint your house with this miracle paint, and it's in good shape 25 years from now, all you've got to do is find me, and I'll give you $25, cash money.

My point here is not to ridicule the high-tech paint. (Well, yes it is, but I've got a whole other point as well.) My main point is that guarantees are just about useless. Take my $25 guarantee, for example. Let's say you paint your house with this goop, and you think it's just fine 25 years from now. Do you think you'll remember this column? Do you think you'll be able to find me? Do you think I'll even have $25?

You people who believe in guarantees, listen to me: Guarantees are not guarantees. Guarantees are marketing. The whole idea is to make you choose one product over another. A guarantee is not an indication of the quality of the product.

Let's say I want to sell hammers. I know that I can make--and guarantee--a bunch of half-ass hammers way cheaper than I can make a bunch of fine, unbreakable hammers. I know that most people won't use them enough to break them. Of those who do break them, most will have lost their sales slip. When somebody does show up with a broken hammer and a sales slip, what do I have to do? Give 'em another half-ass hammer.

My favorite guarantee is the one that comes with most new houses: the 10-year structural warranty. If you read those warranties closely, and if you unscramble all the building jargon and lawyer gobbledygook, here's what they say: If your house develops a crack big enough to throw a cat through, somebody will come and put some duct tape over the crack. If the house actually breaks apart, somebody will come and staple up enough tarpaper to keep the wind and rain out.

If you get a chance to read one of these warranties, scan for the word "uninhabitable." As a general rule, any house that's not uninhabitable is considered OK.

I have seen brand-new houses supported by posts labeled, "Not for use in new construction." I have seen new houses with roof framing labeled, "Permanent support must be located here," but with no permanent support. I have seen new roof trusses--which should not be modified without an engineer's approval--cut all to pieces, then stuck back together with scrap lumber. In each of these cases, the first thing out of the builder's mouth was that it was all covered by the 10-year structural warranty.

Personally, I'd want things done right the first time. I wouldn't accept promises to fix obvious mistakes later. I say if it's wrong now, fix it now.

My second-favorite guarantee is the 25-, 30-, or 35-year roof guarantee. I'm talking about the guarantee on roof shingles, which in this part of the country are asphalt-fiberglass shingles. Ask anybody who's selling a house, and they'll be quick to point out that the house has a "25-year roof."

First of all, I've never seen a 25-year-old shingle roof that wasn't worn out. Most shingle roofs are worn out when they're 15 years old. Some, with light-colored shingles, excellent attic ventilation, and shade trees last a few years longer. Still, I'd be willing to bet that no shingle roof will ever approach a 35-year lifetime in this climate.

Just for kicks, though, imagine that your 30-year roof poops out at age 15. Let's say you call the manufacturer, they send out a representative, and he looks at the shingles. Within five minutes, he's probably going to tell you that the shingles weren't installed properly. That's because virtually all local roofers screw up some critical detail, like the nailing pattern, the drip edge, or the flashing. When that happens, all guarantees are off. But let's imagine that the roofer did everything right. Your warranty payoff is going to be for half the cost of the shingles. That could be as low as $200 to $300 on a re-roofing that's going to consume about $3,000 to $4,000. The shingle warranty won't pay for shingle removal and disposal, new roofing felt, new flashing, or labor costs.

I say forget about guarantees. Just buy the best products, and hire the best people you can afford.

Oh, if you want me to make good on my paint guarantee in 2025, you must present a copy of this column, on the original newsprint, and the Scene masthead from this issue. Don't forget, now.

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