Do Try This at Home

When reports of formaldehyde off-gassing in certain Lumber Liquidators laminated flooring products was splashed on national television earlier this year, the home building industry was understandably nervous about the possibility of collateral damage from disputes between manufacturers and home owners.

Home builders can’t have all the answers about all the products used in home construction. But that just means they need to be careful to ask lots of questions — particularly about new products and how they have been tested.

In a June discussion the Business Management and Information Technology committee, David Jaffe, NAHB vice president for legal advocacy, said that testing process is particularly important.

Products can be tested in labs and in manufacturing facilities, but home builders need to know whether a new product has been tested in the field — in this case, an actual house, as part of a system. As homes get tighter, it becomes even more critical for components to work together, he said.

“If a manufacturer can’t give you that information, you need to ask yourself whether this is really going to work in the home as a part of a system,” he said.

Resiliency: The New Green

When green building became the buzzword of the last decade, many builders began incorporating new products and materials to improve energy and resource efficiency and making promises of future performance.

Manufacturers touted green paint, fixtures and appliances and some builders went along with their sales pitches, promising healthy homes or guaranteeing money savings from decreasing energy use.

tornadoThat was a problem for a few builders, he said, because in some cases the products did not work as expected or brought unanticipated problems, or were dependent on home owner occupancy preferences and habits, over which the builder had no control – such as how high the home owner sets the thermostat or what sorts of products he or she brings into the home that may worsen air quality.

Jaffe is now cautioning against the same kind of hyperbole around resiliency or the idea of building homes to withstand extreme weather events, like tornadoes and hurricanes. “Sometimes, we have to be the naysayer,” he told members. “We don’t want to make promises we can’t keep. Can we build to the promised resiliency standard? Have these new products been tested in the home?”

For example, if a builder decides to relocate certain appliances and get them out of the basement to keep them from potential flooding, “Are there consequences to moving it to the attic? As with green building, the builder should be cautious when making promises or representations about future benefits. If the builder can’t answer the question, ‘Is this verifiable and/or measurable,’ that’s a problem,” Jaffe said.

In an increasingly litigious market, “It always comes back to us,” he said. “We have the liability. There may be a manufacturer along with you [in a lawsuit], but it all comes down to doing due diligence. You may not do it for every product, but you should always be able to assess what products may be a problem. That’s why you test.”

For additional resources, visit the Construction Liability Resources page and download a checklist for evaluating new building materials.

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *