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To What Extent Are Contractors Responsible For Defective Materials Used On Jobsites?

Updated: May 16, 2021

To what extent are contractors responsible for materials used on jobsite?

A building contractor is responsible for the results of any particular job they engage in, to the extent of the contracted work, as long as the materials are not the cause of any failure and the contractor could not know in advance about such failure.

Problems related to construction claims of any kind, should be looked at and distinguished from problems related to failing materials or improper installation procedures.

The separation in between adverse results caused by installation problems and adverse results caused by materials failure is a very important factor to define the contractor’s responsibility on any matter pertaining to adverse results on a building project.

That being stated, adverse results due to substandard, poor quality or defective materials that were chosen by the client, should rarely be the contractor’s responsibility unless that the particular defect or result was obvious to the contractor and can be proven scientifically and/or proven from a technical point of view AND contractor deliberately installed in a different manner than the manufacturer recommends.

Remember that the keyword here is — AND. Keep in mind that some materials don’t even have a recommended installation guidelines, specially Chinese tiles and other imports.

To obtain that kind of proof, one would have to go to unimaginable levels of forensics and exploratory work, sample collection and other procedures that would not justify the expenses.

A new installation, specially for cheap materials, would take care of solving any problems with installations of finishing products. 

If anyone goes to the extent of doing lab tests, exploratory work and incurs such expenses only to obtain some kind of proof of culpability of a contractor, I would immediately discredit the results as a reason for financial gains.  

Nowadays, anyone can get an expert to prove just about anything to corroborate your case. Insurance companies do that all the time! But I digressed.

A very common complaint I have experienced in these 25 years in the building and contracting business, is the failure of lower quality finishing materials.

These materials are usually anything that you can look at, once a building is finished.

Now here is where this post takes a twist. Since you read this far, keep reading to the end no matter how you feel about this post.

My posts are designed to help our friendly network of sub contractors, but I am sure that customers and prospective customers are reading this too, so hold on to your chairs.

At least in the cases that I helped, these failures are always caused by a particular type of customer, yes I said customer, whose main goal is to save money by choosing the least expensive materials, haggling over prices and never giving one single thought to the reasons behind a price. 

These clients are the first to call a contractor like you and request a free redo if an adverse result comes up.

Tiles chipping, locks failing or braking, floors getting easily damaged, wood getting cracks or weathering too quick, the list goes on an on, but this particular kind of client will have one specific characteristic that is impressively similar in all claims of defective installations or complaints about contractors.

I wont tell you what it is yet because other factors also play a part here, but it is obvious to anyone that have been doing this kind of business for an extended amount of time who these customers are.

These customers are easy to spot during the contract negotiation process. They will compare your price with a hand-written price on a back of a napkin and insist that you should beat that price.  

They will say that you are too expensive, they will compare your professional proposal with unlicensed, unregulated, home-depot day laborers.

For that particular kind of client I recommend a time and materials contract with a fair low hourly rate.

In this kind of contract, the client can be responsible for picking and paying for whatever materials they would like to use and, at the same time, agreeing to take responsibility for adverse effects and/or failure of any of these materials however they get installed.

In this link you will find the guidelines I use for my business, feel free to use it for your own business.

Since it is a known fact that cheaper materials are often more time-consuming to install, this type of contract will also assist in transferring back to unfairly cheap customers the financial burden of any increased price due to materials that break easily during handling and extensive preparation to assist on the installation of substandard and cheaper materials.

But make sure to do everything in your power to install the materials to the highest standard because being cheap material it will most likely develop a problem with a minimum hick up and also explain to the customer verbally, and on as many clauses on your contract as you can, that you will be paid for, based on the time that the jobs takes and the materials that they choose.

Keep track of every workers time and all receipts. This way, any contractor can be legally and financially safe doing the work that they love and the dirt-cheap kind of customer will get what they want as well.

If you are not a contractor but you are reading this, or you are looking to blame your contractor, you should reconsider your money-saving negotiation practices.

If you are a customer, you are not helping anyone by insisting in rock-bottom prices when it comes to construction.

All you are doing is creating situations that some less-experienced contractor will be caught in, which can be clearly a predatory technique if you insist in a close-end agreement and a cheap price combined.

There are a lot of good contractors out there, them all have a particular set of skills and want to deliver a good job on every job.

I meet and deal with hundreds of sub-contractors on a monthly basis. Most are seasoned craftsman, some are newbies, but they are all trying to make a living in a hard world by using their particular set of skills.

No one goes out on a job with the intension of doing substandard work or delivering bad-quality materials.

As long as your general contractor is overseeing the installation and you are satisfied with the price vs. results ratio you should not go after a contractor to repair problems on finishing materials – unless you overpaid – in which case is easy to prove based on the hours a job took and the materials that were used, what brings us back to the need of a time and materials contract.

The bottom line here is that the common denominator in between construction problems and claims of defective installation of finishing materials is always the cheapest price!  

So you, my contractor friend or you, my client reader, be aware and ask for insight before pushing for or accepting the cheapest price out there — or have a time and materials contract instead!

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