6 actual emergencies in home repair

Keep educating clients about the distinction between ‘emergency’ and ‘inconvenience’
Most emergencies come down to educating the homeowners on what is normal. (Photo: Karenr, Dreamstime.com)

The dreaded middle-of-the-night emergency call from a homeowner as you reach for your phone, bleary eyed—these types of calls can range from an outlet in the kitchen not working to a water leak. It’s like the kid’s game: which one of these is not like the other, where one is a real emergency and the other is not. As a builder, this is another layer of the process you must plan for. If you manage warranty in house, then you or your staff are part of the midnight calling madness. As Mr. T might say, “I pity the fool” who must take those calls.

In our world of third-party warranty management, we have a definitive list of emergencies that qualify to dispatch a subcontractor at any time:

  1. Total electrical outage
  2. Electrical sparks
  3. Total loss of heat
  4. Gas leak
  5. Water leak requiring the main water shut-off to be turned off
  6. Non-operable exterior passage door or lock

Now, let me clarify a few things. For homeowners, all calls are emergencies, whether they are on the above list or not. On Thanksgiving, when the outlets in the kitchen are out, this is clearly an emergency for the caller who forgot how to reset a GFCI, or even remembers what it is. You will also notice that A/C is not on the list, even though everyone feels that a little discomfort is an emergency for them. In some cases, maybe you have subcontractors who will go fix an A/C outage on a holiday, but in our experience, most will not even answer their phones.

[Related: 7 common warranty claims for builders]

Most emergencies, in my opinion, come down to educating the homeowners on what is normal. Here is a prime example:

It’s winter and temperatures are below 0 degrees. A homeowner calls with a water leak coming from the bathroom fan.

The conversation goes like this: “Did you just use the shower in that bathroom?”

“Why, yes, we did.”

“Okay, that leak is normal because the hot humid air from the shower is condensing on the cold vent duct for the fan because of the unseasonable cold temperature, and the vent is cold because the attic is an unconditioned space.”

“So when will someone be here to fix it?”

“What is happening is physics; there is not a problem or a defect. It will go away when it warms up outside.”

This conversation goes on for some time with the hope (fingers crossed here) that the homeowner has some understanding that this is normal.

[Related: Guide clients through winter warranty issues]

Another scenario is in the summer when the filler on hardwood floors pops out. Again, this is a physics thing: Higher temperatures and humidity (yes, we do have humidity in Colorado) causes the wood floor to expand slightly, and any filler used has no place to go but out. As long as the gaps in the hardwood without the filler are less than 1/8 inch, it falls within the standard established by the NAHB and is not an issue, and certainly not an emergency.

Enjoy the emergency season(s) and make sure your phone is charging when you go to bed.

Bill Armstrong is president of ProHome Colorado. He can be reached at [email protected].

Bill Armstrong

Bill Armstrong is president of ProHome Colorado. He can be reached at [email protected]

Bill Armstrong has 7 posts and counting. See all posts by Bill Armstrong

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