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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ask The Builder: Some of what I learned at the builders’ trade show is not encouraging

Not everything you learn about new products at a trade fair inspires confidence in manufacturers. (Dreamstime)
By Tim Carter Tribune Content Agency

I attended the International Builders Show in January. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve been to, but I’ve been going for at least two decades.

Building product manufacturers use this venue to ply their new wares in front of builders and members of the press like me. Thousands of exhibitors are at the show, and tens of thousands of attendees walk many miles up and down the aisles looking at all the new eye candy.

This year’s show was the most unusual one I’ve ever attended for a number of reasons. The evening of the opening day, I was at a dinner where I was hypnotized by a comedian, along with five others. It was a very relaxing experience, but just 12 hours later I found myself schooling a major manufacturer about two of its new products.

This company had invited me to a private, media-only breakfast at its booth before the show opened to the general public. I have attended many of these distraction-free meetings. I was introduced to two very young product managers who did a very good job of explaining their new exterior spackling compound and a high-strength glue in a caulking tube.

One product manager rattled off a long list of things on the outside of your home that the new spackling would repair. As she named each one, an image flashed in my head of the typical homeowner rolling out his or her pressure washer out of the garage.

At one point I interrupted her and asked what would happen to the new product when it was blasted with a pressure washer. Silence. I followed up asking if they had tested the product on all the surfaces they patched trying to clean it with a pressure washer. More silence. I was deeply troubled by that response.

The second product manager told me how the new magic glue would be great to install ceramic tile, and he asked me to try it. I obliged him by gluing a 12-by-12 piece of tile to some vertical drywall. Then I asked him if he had ever installed ceramic tile on a job. No, he hadn’t. My followup question was, “Do you know how ceramic tile is installed?” No, he didn’t.

I left the booth shaking my head because I couldn’t think of any professional ceramic tile setter who would use this glue to set tile. How was it that this multi-million-dollar company could allow someone to make such a claim?

A company that sells composite decking, plastic exterior home trim and aluminum deck post railings had invited me to their booth. That was my next stop. Its representatives showed me some fancy new exterior trim, and as I was leaving the booth one of them asked me look at an aluminum deck post.

Within a few minutes the company representative and I were in a deep discussion about how treated lumber and water create a corrosive witches’ brew that rapidly corrodes standard galvanized bolts that hold the aluminum railing system to the deck.

I asked a probing question if the company included type 316 stainless steel through bolts, washers and nuts with the deck posts. This is what you need to prevent a homeowner, guest or child from being injured or killed when a railing fails. The answer was no.

I’ve done expert testimony work for more than 15 years, my most recent case involving a roofing defect at the home of the Brazilian ambassador to Antigua. I shared with the young man what happens when a building product becomes the focus of a lawsuit.

I speculated that consumers would readily pay a small extra fee to have the correct bolts and hardware installed with the deck posts. One of the leaders in deck railing safety, Simpson Strong-Tie, offers deck post hardware that contains special galvanized fasteners. You can also upgrade to stainless steel. The company provides detailed drawings and illustrations of how to connect the hardware to treated lumber decks.

I offered to survey the tens of thousands of consumers who receive my free newsletter to see if they would be willing to pay more for the appropriate hardware, but the young man had no interest. I decided to do it anyway after getting home from the show. I was not surprised by the results. Ninety-eight percent of the survey respondents answered they’d gladly pay the small extra money for the safe stainless steel bolts.

The point I’m trying to make is that you can’t hope a company is looking out for you. Unfortunately, more and more, consumers have to perform time-consuming due diligence to protect themselves. An easier alternative may be to get my free newsletter to see whose cage I’m rattling in the coming months. Be safe out there!

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