Fear of the unknown may discourage you from trying a new or innovative product, but the reward may far outweigh the risk. Perhaps a different product can offer a first-cost or labor/installation savings over the product that is currently used. Perhaps a new product would make your homes more energy efficient, green, or otherwise marketable to potential buyers. Perhaps you’ve even been approached by a product manufacturer to give a new product a try. But, because of all that needs to be considered for even a seemingly minor product switch in residential construction, you should try to minimize the risk you are taking by asking and answering key questions.
Is it up to code?
First and foremost when selecting any building product is knowing if it meets your local building code. This is particularly true for products that affect life safety, but holds true for any product or technology that is subject to inspection. Be sure to check with your local code official to avoid any added costs or delays in the construction process.
You can also see if the product has an ICC Evaluation Service (ICC-ES) Evaluation Report on file – ICC-ES has a complete listing of their reports online (http://www.icc-es.org/Evaluation_Reports/index.shtml). ICC-ES Evaluation Reports provide evidence that products and systems meet code requirements.They include information about what code requirements the product meets and how the product should be installed to meet the relevant code requirements. ICC-ES has developed acceptance criteria defining test methods and performance benchmarks that are used by independent, accredited laboratories, like Home Innovation Research Labs, to test the product. Code inspectors frequently rely on Evaluation Reports when confronted with a new or innovative building product, and you can, too.
Beyond codes, be sure that your project is not subject to any private covenants that may restrict your use of certain products or materials. Check with your homeowner association and/or its architectural committee to make sure your plans are in step with these regulations; you may even want to get a written confirmation from the association or committee that you are able to use the product or material you are considering.
Is it field tested?
You may also want to check to see if the product has been somehow tested and proven in the field. If it is not yet widely used in the industry, thereby limiting other builder testimonials, field evaluation reports are the best way to get to that type of information. Field evaluations are cooperative efforts between builders or remodelers, manufacturers, and a testing agency or engineering firm like Home Innovation Research Labs that place new technologies into homes so they can be evaluated in real-world conditions. Local or federal government agencies and/or utilities may also be involved in field evaluations in various parts of the country, for various purposes. The Home Innovation has been conducting field evaluations for decades and posts findings from some of its evaluations on ToolBase.org. You can also find field evaluation results through manufacturers, government agencies, or utility companies – but always consider the source and make sure the information presented is as unbiased as possible regarding the product you are investigating.
Will the manufacturer be there for support?
You should obviously look into manufacturer warranties provided for any product you select, but also find out if the manufacturer will provide any additional support. Will the manufacturer provide field training and support for your contractors? Will they provide any support or guidance after the home sale for your homebuyers?
What about your insurance?
Check for exclusion provisions in your business insurance to ensure that the new product is not listed as “excluded” from coverage. An excluded product or system implicated in a legal claim could diminish your coverage and raise your risk.
Does it provide marketing benefits?
Weigh the marketing advantages that making a product switch might provide you. If there is some added cost up front, it may be balanced out by your ability to market a quieter or more energy efficient home. Always be careful not to overpromise the benefits of your homes or the products in them. For example, avoid any unsubstantiated claims about dramatic reductions in utility bills or improvements in occupant health, safety, or comfort. You want to be particularly careful when marketing any green claims about your homes – make sure you comply with Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides (www.ftc.gov/bcp/grnrule/guides980427.htm). But, if there are supportable benefits of the product you are incorporating, you certainly want to highlight those to your potential buyers.
Is it compatible with your other products?
Make sure that you know how the new product or material will work with your other current products, materials, and designs. You don’t want one intentional change to create a domino effect of necessitating other unintended changes or causing potential warranty issues. Consider asking a representative of the product manufacturer of either the new product or your other standard products to review your plans and assess the compatibility of all the products you are using.
Beware the learning curve
As with anything new, there will always some learning curve involved with a product switch, but some are greater (and more costly) than others. Gauge how familiar your current trade crews and your superintendent are with the new product you are investigating. If they have no experience, you’ll need to account for the time and cost involved to provide adequate training before the switch and some extra supervision during the transition to ensure proper installation. Defective installation could negate the manufacturer’s warranty and could also open you up for liability if the homeowner ever experiences any problems.
If the product is being implemented to attain some sort of external green or energy efficiency certification or recognition, improper installation could also hamper your ability to achieve that goal. Proper installation is always important, but even more so with high-performance or green homes, as they are more likely to have interdependent or complementary systems that create enhanced efficiency.
Also assess if your trades are overly resistant to the change you are proposing – not that you can’t overcome this kind of opposition, but it’s better to know it’s there before making the switch than be surprised by it after the fact. Try to get to the root of what their objections are and see how you might be able to mitigate any negative feelings toward the switch.
Finally, a product switch may require you to educate your homeowners more than or differently than you already do. Be sure your customer receives all the related maintenance and operations manuals, and that any “non-typical” instructions or manufacturer recommendations are built into your homeowner manual. Again, with high-performance, green, or energy-efficient homes, owner operation and maintenance of the home and its systems play a critical role in the home’s long-term performance.
If you are considering a switch in products, materials, or systems, be sure you run through this checklist to determine if the switch is the right option for your company, your homes, and your homebuyers.