Question: Recently, while discussing with a contractor...

Question: Recently, while discussing with a contractor the possibility of a home improvement project, he suggested that I not use name-brand products as they would be more expensive. Instead, he told me that the unknown products were just as good, or perhaps even better. Is this really the case?

Answer: I have visited several of the national manufacturers of name-brand products over the years, such as Alcoa Aluminum, Formica Corp., Textured Coatings of America and the Whirlpool Corp., and I have found that name-brand producers manufacture top-grade quality products. For instance, Alcoa Aluminum's aluminum siding products have been consistent in color and texture over the years, and Alcoa is careful to preserve this consistency. The same is applicable to Textured Coatings of America, which is one of the primary textured coating manufacturers. Formica Corp. is also careful in making sure that the quality of its product is "top-grade" before letting it leave the factory.

On the other hand, virtually all of these manufacturers produce for other organizations such as Sears, and the quality of these products also is first-rate.

When buying off-brands, you must be knowledgeable about the quality of the product and at the same time be certain that if replacements are necessary, that they will be available at a future date. In aluminum siding, it is important that you are able to purchase the same product in the same color and style as it was manufactured five years ago.

For instance, if your car should smash into the side of a house that has used aluminum siding and made dents or broken pieces that must be replaced or repaired, the ability to find substitute material for replacement or repair is an important factor to consider.

Usually, name-brand products or products bought from reliable retailers such as major department stores, are well worth the investment, not only from the standpoint of quality and replacement needs, but also if further servicing should become necessary.

Q: We recently had a burglary in our home and had difficulty proving to the insurance company the value of some of the objects that were stolen. Do you have any suggestions?

A: The agent who handles your homeowners insurance policy can probably furnish you with a household personal inventory form for you to fill out in detail at least once a year. Since this is the early part of the new year, it would be a good time to fill out one of these forms.

In addition to this, I would like to suggest that perhaps if you have a Polaroid camera, you take a picture of the most valuable items in your home and mark down as closely as possible on the back of each picture the date of purchase and the price at which the item was purchased. Naturally, I do not suggest that you do this for all items, but for those of principal value such as important vases, china and furniture.

In addition to this, there are electric engraving devices that are available at very low cost at your local department or variety stores, and by engraving your name on these items, you can of course, substantiate that that item is indeed yours in case of a theft or burglary.

Fontaine is president of the Western Regional Master Builders Assn. He will answer questions concerning home improvements. Phone 213/858-2933 or write him at 8727 West 3rd St., Suite 203, Los Angeles 90048.

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