March22

What You Want Isn’t Always What You Need

By Tony Shepley

How many times do we, or our homeowner clients, look at one aspect of a situation without considering the whole picture? A perfect example is one I ran across in which a builder asked me to review a disclaimer he had written. The homeowner requested that kiln-dried, pre-stained shingles be butted tight together in a sidewall installation to get that perfect Architectural Digest “sidewall nirvana” look. The installer had written up a “hold harmless” liability release that he wanted to have the homeowner sign in order to release the installer from future claims. I suggested the contractor stop right there and look at the situation through the eyes of a judge. After all, this is Massachusetts, in which we have very liberal courts, and a consumer protection stance that has few rivals in the other 49 states. Mass case law does not support this type of liability release in that the consumer may not realize what they signing off on.  And the very fact that a vendor or service provider is asking for such a release to be signed is a form of proof that the provider knows they are doing something improper. See the photo above that we recently received from a manufacturer to show the potential end result of butting kiln- dried shingles tightly.

Now picture yourself in a court of law on the witness stand, on the receiving end of the judge’s interrogation, answering why you decided to take installation matters into your own hands but hang the responsibility on your client. I’m getting itchy just thinking about it! Now imagine the poor innocent homeowner taken advantage of by the experienced professional, whose job it is to know better, compounded by a release that the homeowner now says they didn’t understand when they signed it. Your position in a Massachusetts court room could at this point start to feel like Custer’s Last Stand.

Building Codes, Arbitration, and Courts of law are going to go back to the manufacturer’s installation instructions. Typical spacing on dry white cedar shingles is called out at 1/8” between shingles to allow for swelling due to moisture absorption. Straying from that spacing and then confirming with a customer release that makes it clear you are not following the specifics of the installation requirements now leaves a smoking gun.  Don’t set yourself up for trouble. Protect yourself by explaining what the product requirements are and what the likely outcome may be of failing to perform the installation correctly. Any homeowner seeing a buckled sidewall photo will start to understand that shingles are thin, open grain, dry pieces of wood that will swell when exposed to moisture. Now you’ll be on the right side of the situation by preventing the issue, rather than the wrong side as the one who let it happen.

Mark Twain once said, “Common sense isn’t so common”.  Yes, often what we need gets overruled by what we want. The best cure for innocence is experience. One of the most important parts of building is guiding and tempering customer expectations. Next time someone asks you for something that’s likely not to work, try education instead of just plain accommodation. We’re happy to help you with the facts you’ll need to perform that education. Our job is to help you give customers both what they want and what they really need.

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