Handling a Finish Failure Callback Three Years Later

Cabinetmakers discuss a customer service issue how long after the original job should you keep fixing a finish? December 6, 2008

In April 2005 I produced about a dozen cabinets in white lacquer for a general contractor friend of mine. I was at an initial meeting with his customer, and suggested thermofoil, and the idea was rejected. The customer was advised that if she wanted the kitchen in wood, it would have to be treated like fine furniture - damp cloth only and regularly waxed to help prevent water damage. Job was finished exactly three years ago this week.

In Feb 2006, 9 months after completion, I get a call from the GC and he tells me the customer is complaining of paint coming off. I was in the area, so I stopped by the house within a couple of hours. The two doors directly below the sink and the drawers adjacent to the sink had paint coming off on the upper horizontal surface of the sticking detain only, where water would accumulate. It was only a couple of pieces, so I said I would be back the next day to remove and I would repaint. The customer wanted the entire kitchen repainted, to which I said I would correct any problems, but I was not repainting everything. It is a U shaped kitchen with a bar and facing, a 3 sided food prep area in what used to be the breakfast nook, and a refrigerator surround and laundry porch. When I returned, the number had increased to about 20 doors and drawers. The others had scrape marks where someone had deliberately defaced the paint. Now she had problems in the food prep area as well as the kitchen, all in less than 24 hours.

When I removed the drawer fronts, the backs and bottom edges showed evidence of coffee spills that were never cleaned up as the round drips had dried on the bottom edges. I took photos and told the GC what was happening. About a week later I returned the fronts, and she again complained that the entire kitchen needed to be repainted. There was no problem with any of the interiors, face frames or vertical surfaces of any of the doors.

Today (2 years later) I get a call from the GC that she is complaining that paint if failing everywhere. I am sure she wants the entire kitchen repainted, and has done whatever to make it look like it needs to be. I have several other kitchens and offices in the same lacquer, and never had a callback. It is 3 years after the initial completion of the job. Am I wrong in saying it's well past the 1 year warranty and sorry, but you'll have to contact a finisher/painter at her expense?

To further complicate problems, and this is what bothers me a bit, the kitchen has a composite floor that the edges buckled in 6 months. She has 2 little rat dogs that pee in the kitchen regularly (I know this from frequent visits there during construction). I am personally sure that the floor was ruined by wet mopping by the maid, but nonetheless, the floor man was sued by the GC and had to pay $5000. Naturally the customer took the $5K and never replaced the floor. I think she is now just trying to get a further rebate on the cabinets.

The GC was my customer, not the homeowner. I work for the GC and billed and was paid from his account. The GC had his crew install. Am I justified with telling the GC to tell her to take a hike? I still work for the GC, and neither of us would want any further work from this woman.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor K:
If you provided her with a one-year warranty, and you serviced her initial complaint during that year, I don't see how she expects you to repaint the whole kitchen three years later, when you documented the abuse on the initial service call.

Not saying a lawyer couldn't make the case, but if you didn't provide her with an actual warranty stating the one-year period, then it turns into a "he-said, she-said" scenario, and I would probably just redo it, as the three days it will take you will save you the aggravation of dealing with it for the next 6 months, a strain on your relationship with the GC, and the possibility of her winning to a sympathetic judge who views all contractors as crooks.

I would only do it with the proviso that she has to pay for the service call (i.e. $75-$100 each trip - which should be in your contract if it is not already), and materials and get it in writing before doing it that this is the final resolution and does not extend the warranty another year. I would also state that she is the only customer who has had a problem with this finish and even though you feel that it is due to the documented abuse you have on record, and that it is past the one-year warranty period, that you want to "help her out." I would also make it very clear to the GC that you are doing this more as a favor to him, and come out the hero to him.

Your other option is to reiterate that you offered the thermo-foil, provided a service call within her one-year warranty period, and in effect, tell her to take a hike, and roll the dice...

From contributor B:
I think you are safely in the "take a hike" range. I can't imagine redoing a whole kitchen after three years. No way - wouldn't even consider it if it was my own brother. You documented the abuse which the floor guy probably didn't. If the GC gives you a problem you may be out of luck with future work, but just depends how much work you get from him anyway and how good your relationship is. Any of my good GC contacts wouldn't even bother me with crap like this. They would have already worked through it with the client.

From contributor W:
Write him a well worded letter on company letterhead explaining what you did, and all the relevant issues. Be polite but firm. You will not be held liable for circumstances beyond your control. Period. Then tell him you are buying the beer next time.

From contributor A:
Tell 'em to go fly a kite.

From contributor M:
One year warranty. You originally satisfied it. I wouldn't be surprised if the maid not only ruined the floors, but also ruined your cabinets. The old ammonia household cleaner trick. Lacquer paint isn't supposed to be used in kitchens anyways, but that amount of failure would indicate some aggressive outside forces at work. The maid was probably doing a great job etching the paint with an ammonia based cleaning agent.

I got yelled at by a customer for telling her maid to stop using green 3M scotchbrite pads on a newly installed Corian countertop. I gave her a 10 year supply of gray ones and she still thought I should buff all of the counters at my cost to fix the damage her maid caused. We had words and I haven't spoken with her in a couple of years.

From contributor I:
I'm in a similar situation, as I'm a finisher for a cabinet man whose cabinets have failed similar to these... for a GC who gives him a lot of work. What caused the failure was that the maid used vinegar and water to wash down the cabinets everyday. He's going to re-paint them, not because of the client, but because he feels that the GC would like to have them redone and he would give him more work, and just because he thinks that's the right thing for him to do anyway. I think that this is a judgment call. I think your client is trying to pull one off on you just because there was one failure early on. I think she destroyed those others to prove her point.

Even though you are not responsible for cabinets after 1 year (I think it shouldn't be more than that also), it would be in your favor if you did re-do some or all the cabinets. It would make you stand tall for the GC and future work and possibly referrals from the client. I'm just suggesting this - it certainly isn't easy to re-do a kitchen when someone is living there these days.

From contributor S:
My opinion doesn't vary much from what the others have stated, except I think you should also accept the lesson you've learned from this situation. Don't finish cabinets with standard nitrocellulose lacquer, catalyzed or non-catalyzed. They will eventually fail around water prone areas. The tops of cabinet doors under sinks, etc will all eventually deteriorate. Is this a problem you want to face in the future? If you don't want to refinish this kitchen, then don't. But prevent it from happening again by using conversion varnish.