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Lifetime Warranties: The Fine Print

By JR Girskis

Your five-year-old vinyl siding was just hit during a serious hailstorm. After the storm you go outside to survey the damage. It’s pretty bad, but you think, "No problem. I purchased a lifetime warranty." But when you try to make a warranty claim, the company gives you the runaround. You’re out not only the cost of the warranty, but also you incur the cost of a brand new siding job.

Scenarios like this are far too common. Unfortunately, many lifetime warranties on home improvement jobs are written to prevent or deter homeowners from actually using those warranties. You can save a great deal of time, energy, and money by reading your lifetime warranty carefully and keeping the following tips in mind before purchasing a warranty on a home improvement project, or signing any agreement for home improvement work that comes with a lifetime warranty.

1. Is the warranty unconditional? If not, what conditions limit or void it?

If a home improvement company refuses to accept claims arising from "acts of God,” including storms, you may not want to hire the firm for the job. While many companies won’t guarantee their products in instances of tornadoes or earthquakes, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that your siding job will be guaranteed to withstand a hailstorm. Additionally, a company may not honor its warranty if you’ve made any additions or modifications to the home improvement job. The bottom line: when you purchase a good or service that comes with a lifetime warranty, always make sure you understand what conditions limit or void it.

2. How easy is it to file a warranty claim?

A lifetime warranty won’t do you much good if the company makes it very difficult for you to file a claim and/or receive replacement materials or services. When signing a contract for home improvement work, always read the fine print to see how the filing process works and how long it takes for warranty claims to be processed. You don’t need to live with inefficient, faulty, or poorly installed building materials for any longer than you have to. If the warranty claims process in the contract seems too complex or is designed to deter you from filing a claim, don’t be afraid to try to renegotiate the contract. If the company won’t negotiate, choose someone else for the job.

3. How does the company determine the validity of a warranty claim?

Is one person in charge of approving your claim? Is a committee responsible? Will a representative come to your home to determine whether your claim will be honored? Does the company offer an appeals process if your claim is refused? If a company enforces overly restrictive guidelines for warranty claim validity, you should search for a company with less restrictive warranty policies.

4. Is the solution to a claim up to the manufacturer’s discretion?

If your supposedly scratch-resistant laminate floors scuff up two weeks after they were installed, a company may choose to buff them out rather than replace them. Familiarize yourself with the solutions section of any lifetime warranty. Often, a repair job on faulty materials will only lead to more problems down the road. If you believe that may be the case with the goods and services you will be receiving, try to negotiate a clause that offers you the choice of having your product(s) replaced—instead of being repaired—if they end up being faulty or inefficient.

5. Are parts and labor included in the lifetime warranty?

You may sign a contract with a lifetime warranty assuming that parts and labor are included. After all, it’s a lifetime warranty, so shouldn’t these costs be included? Yes, they should. Always make sure the contract and warranty you sign does not include any hidden fees. A lifetime warranty should have as few conditions as possible.

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