Warranties: Who's Really Protected?

April 1, 2009
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You get the stone or tile sealing products to protect your beautiful new kitchen counter or bathroom floor. You’ve got the warranty right on the front of the bottle that protects you. Right? Read the fine print on the back of the bottle, and you may be in for a surprise.

When you get to brass tacks, the warranty generally protects the manufacturer, leaving the consumer holding the proverbial bag of empty promises. In almost every warranty provided by the makers of stone and tile sealers and protectors, the warranty only reimburses the consumer for the cost of the product. That’s right; the product and not the cost of the damaged stone or tile that the product is intended to protect.

So you spill some red wine on that beautiful natural stone counter, but you’re okay, you’ve sealed it against just such an occurrence. Wipe it right up and everything will be fine.

Wait a minute. The wine has soaked into your countertop. Your beautiful kitchen’s now blighted by a stain on your counter.

But, you’ve got the warranty, so you’re covered. Not so fast. First, was the stonework installed by an installer certified by the maker of the sealer and was the stone free of flaws or defects prior to the installation? Yes? That’s good.

Now, was the application of the sealer done specifically as instructed? Yes? Were you absolutely diligent about cleaning the stone only with the products allowed by the maker of the sealer? Yes? Great. And do you have the original receipt from the purchase of the sealer six months ago? Of course! Then here’s the $20 back that you paid for the sealer. Sorry about your stone.

Wait a minute. It will cost several hundred dollars, maybe even thousands, to repair or replace the stained stone. Who pays for that? In many cases, you do. Moreover, the burden of proof that you have abided by the covenants of the warranty falls on the consumer as well, which means keeping every shred of documentation, including those that seem trivial. It could also mean a test by an independent lab that proves the sealer product was the weak link. That too is likely to cost hundreds of dollars for what is overall an insignificant return.

So, why would any makers of stone and tile care and protection products offer warranties like the one outlined above? Because it’s an enticement at the point of sale and sometimes a show of “oneupsmanship.” If one brand offers a warranty of 10 years, another will offer 12, and a third will offer 15. For the same or nearly the same price, the consumer will go with the 15-year backed product almost every time.

What’s more, some stone importers and suppliers offer similar warranties on their stone with built-in protection. However, they also place significant restrictions on what they do and do not cover. Many warranties begin by limiting the stone to indoor use only. From there, they go on to stipulate a variety of restrictions including, but not limited to: only using certified installers, excluding stone installed in close proximity to a heat source like a stove or fireplace, and a wide variety of other scenarios that a consumer would presume to be normal use. Still, one difference with the importer/supplier warranties is that if proof that their protection is lacking, they will help to repair or replace damaged areas. Again, this requires that the consumer will have to provide an abundance of evidence. In addition, most warranties are not transferable when the home or property is sold.

So what does the end user do? Do your homework on the product. Get referrals from other users and look into whether any litigation, claims or complaints have been filed against the company or product. See if a company has ever been accused of misrepresenting a product or failing to deliver on its claims. No matter what it says on the bottle, that is the best warranty money can buy.

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