The focus of this blog is construction-related topics. The purpose is discussion, so please feel free to comment! See Specific thoughts for thoughts from the daily life of a specifier.

24 July 2011

Whose responsibility?

Design professionals rely on manufacturers and suppliers for the information necessary to design a project, and to create specifications and details for incorporation of those products. Advertisements, specifications, and performance data distributed by manufacturers are a primary source of information used by design professionals to determine if a product will meet the requirements of a project. This information is supplemented by discussion with the manufacturer's representatives, distributors, suppliers, and installers, but the written documents must be accurate, factual, and reliable illustrations of how products and assemblies should be used.

It is not unreasonable, then, to expect that a product advertised for a particular use is indeed suitable for that use. Consider a company that produces wood doors. The company's literature calls them wood doors, it specifies them by standards used for wood doors, and it shows pictures of them being used as wood doors. An architect should be comfortable choosing this product for use as a wood door; a specifier should be confident that it can be specified as such; and the owner should have no doubt that it is, indeed, a wood door, with all that implies. But I'm not talking about wood doors.

If manufacturers do not stand behind their products, if they do not accept responsibility for the technical information they furnish, then the design professional, the contractor, and the owner must decide on their own what products to use and how they should be used - often with little experience on which to base their decisions.

Assuming you agree with the previous arguments, you wouldn't use a products from a manufacturer that wanted to absolve itself of responsibility for its products. Or would you? Consider the following statement, found in product date from more than one well-known manufacturer:
It is the responsibility of both the specifier and the purchaser to determine if a product is suitable for its intended use. The designer selected by the purchaser shall be responsible for all decisions pertaining to design, detail, structural capability, attachment details, shop drawings and the like. [Company X] has prepared guidelines in the form of specifications, application details, and product sheets to facilitate the design process only. [Company X] is not liable for any errors or omissions in design, detail, structural capability, attachment details, shop drawings, or the like, whether based upon the information prepared by [Company X] or otherwise, or for any changes which purchasers, specifiers, designers, or their appointed representatives may make to [Company X]'s published comments.
In other words, "We just make this stuff. Even though our literature shows what it should be used for and how it should be detailed, what you do with it is your responsibility. If it doesn't work, that's your problem, even if you used information prepared by us."

Gives you a nice, warm feeling, doesn't it?

In the past couple of weeks, I've been visited by representatives of three EIFS companies, and I was pleased to see that all have made significant improvements in recent years. A few years ago they added drainage, and now they include an air barrier/vapor retarder as part of the system. They also offer multi-year warranties, though at this point I'm not sure what those warranties cover. However, even with an oral promise that they will stand behind their systems, disclaimers like the one above offer little comfort.

Many other manufacturers have similar disclaimers, but few go to this extent. Without the ability to rely on manufacturers' published details and specifications, design professionals are in a tough spot.


  1. The kind of limitations you cite from manufacturers are pretty common. I think these statements creep into the literature because attorneys get involved and try to limit liability.

    Sounds like all the software licensing agreements: We wrote the program to perform a task. We are offering the program to you to perform the intended task. However we make no guarantee that it will work as designed, nor provide predictable, reliable results. If you find it useful, great. If not, oh well.

    I am not sure how well the limitations will work when product data meets courtroom.

  2. I bet their "Limited Warranties" have protective language to match!

    Bob Johnson