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Building Materials

Six Steps to Success

Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED AP, Criterium Engineers
Published in Condo Media, June 2012

Which siding is best? Which roofing? What about the windows? What type of replacement deck boards should be selected? How should I choose? How can I make the best choice?

We often hear these questions from condominium clients, and with good reason. Choosing building materials, whether for repairs, renovations, or new construction, is tough. There are many, many choices. What’s right for your association?

Choosing the right contractor to install the product is often more important than choosing the right brand or product. Most of the problems I am asked to investigate in condominiums are the result of poor workmanship or lack of understanding regarding product installation, not the performance of the component itself. How do you choose? Here is a six-step process to optimize your results.

Step One – What category does the product fall into?

Is it an active (i.e. garage door) or passive (i.e. siding) component? Is it a unit (i.e. air conditioner) or incremental (i.e. roofing shingles)? Is it easy to replace (i.e.  easy – heating unit or hard – windows)? With those criteria, where does the component fit in the matrix below?

This step helps you prioritize the relative importance of product performance and installation workmanship, as shown in the following table:

 Importance of
Product Quality
Importance of
Passive / UnitModerateModerateGas fireplace, cabinetry
Active / UnitHighModerateFaucets, appliances, light switches
Passive / IncrementalModerate to LowHighSiding, roofing, flooring, masonry, drywall
Active / IncrementalModerateHighDrainage systems, gutters, windows, doors

Step Two – Workmanship/Worker Skill

When workmanship is of high importance, how do you find the right person? In this category, the person or company that installs what you choose is more important than the product itself.

  • Ask your property manager or engineers of recommendations
  • Check references for work they have done in the past 3 to 5 years.
  • Find out what warranty they provide for their workmanship.
  • Explore how receptive they are to input from you.
  • Discuss which products they recommend and use regularly.
  • Trust your instincts (if you are not comfortable, don’t use that person).

Step Three – Product Quality

When product quality is of high importance, what should you do? In this category, choosing the best product will result in the highest degree of satisfaction. But the best product for you is not always the best product universally.

  • Talk to knowledgeable people (suppliers, friends, consultants) about the performance of different brands.
  • Talk to your contractors about their preferences and experiences with different products
  • Make sure the product you are considering has been used by others in your area for at least 3 to 5 years.
  • Visit the Web sites for different brands of the same product.
  • Carefully review all the product’s warranties from the manufacturer.
  • For many products check resources such as Consumer Reports.

Step Four – Do Your Homework

Understand the product installation requirements. You should not assume that even the most well-intended contractor is familiar with each specific manufacturer’s installation requirement.

  • Visit the manufacturers’ websites. 
  • Review the various types of products available for your application.
  • Read the installation instructions in detail, especially noting any limitations with regard to contact with dissimilar materials, exposure to sunlight, types of adhesives not to use, etc.
  • Visit our site or related trade association websites. You will find industry standards for installation, universal guidelines and recommendations.  
  • Make a list of questions and/or comments, and discuss them with your contractor.  You will learn more, and the contractor will recognize that you are actively interested in the outcome of the project.

Step Five – Warranty Coverage

Understand the warranties that are provided. Typically, for any component or product, there will be two – one from the manufacturer and the other from the contractor.

  • Most states have a minimum requirement for warranties to be provided by contractors. Check with your Secretary of State to find those minimum requirements.
  • Identify the limitations of the manufacturers’ warranties. Most warranties provided by roofing manufacturers, for example, apply only to the service life of the roofing material; they do not warranty against leakage.
  • Clarify the warranty provided by the builder. It should cover the performance of the system provided by the use of a particular product. 

Step Six – Affordability

What if you are over budget?

  • Can you reduce the overall scope of your project? 
  • Can you complete your project in phases?  Perhaps you can afford to do one part this year and another part next year without incurring multiple mobilization fees from your contractor.
  • Can you substitute lower-priced components? This is where the ease of replacement becomes relevant. Compromising the quality of the siding, roofing, windows and doors will save money but will also compromise the overall long-term quality of the project because replacing these components in a few years will not be practical.
Choose those who will do your work well, and monitor their performance. Be assertive, reasonable and knowledgeable. You will be pleased with the results!