Obviously the most important component of a good home inspection
is a good home inspector. In the early days there were few standards for training
or proficiency and almost anyone could buy a flashlight, a ladder, and print
up business cards. In some areas this is still sort of true but the industry
as a whole has become pretty professional.
The American Society of Home Inspectors, founded in 1976 has established standards
for home inspections and home inspectors; provides training,
and attempts to keep its members informed of changes in state regulations and
innovations in equipment and construction standards. Membership in the Society
should be one criterion to research when hiring an inspector.
According to the Society, a home inspection is a visual assessment of a home's
structure and systems. In some cases, in practice at least, an inspection should
extend beyond the visual to the operational, but an inspection should look at
the following which is based in part on ASHI Standards of Practice
and in part on experience with dozens of inspectors in several states. For an
excellent description of what ASHI Standards specify that inspectors do or not
need to do, take its visual tour at www.ashi.org
Our suggestions that go beyond these Standards of Practice might be used as
a guide when interviewing a potential inspector.
An inspector will inspect entry ways, foundations, siding and porches looking
for such symptoms of trouble as sagging roof lines, gaps in or damage to the
siding, porches pulling away from the building, obvious signs of rot or insect
damage (although this is not a substitute for a pest inspection) settlement,
certain types of cracks in foundations. Inspectors will usually probe the cill
or rim (the wooden support that sits on the foundation and into which the framing
is fastened) and framing where it is exposed, to test for soft or hollow spots
caused by rot or pests.
An exterior inspection will include a visual assessment of
decks, balconies, eaves, soffits and fascias. An inspector will look at the
grading of the land around the house for obvious drainage problems, and check
walkways and driveways for apparent deterioration or safety concerns. He will
also visually inspect vegetation surrounding the house for obvious problems
such as the intrusion of roots near the foundation or buried utilities or overgrowth
that might promote excess humidity or contribute to security issues. Electric
garage door openers should be checked to confirm they are in compliance with
current safety standards.
The exterior inspection is not expected to include outbuildings or fences,
or any evaluation of hydraulic or geologic conditions.
Some inspectors will get up on any roof, some will tackle low slopes, and others
rely on binoculars to check portions of the roof visible from the ground or
will inspect lower parts of roofs from upper floor windows. The age of a roof
might be as good an indicator of its condition as an actual visual check and
a good inspector can usually estimate the real life of a 20 or 25 year roof
in a given climate or on a particular type of construction. Where safely possible,
an inspector should also report on roof drainage systems, flashings, skylights,
chimneys, and roof penetrations (for vents and flues).
An inspection should consist of testing the interior water supply and distribution
system including water pressure, water heating equipment (estimating age and
approximate time to replacement) and the appropriateness of vents, flues, and
chimneys. Most inspectors will flush toilets to check for leaks and run all
faucets to assess water pressure and the immediacy and volume of available hot
Electrical System Inspection
The inspector should check for over current protections, grounding, and the
presence of any aluminum wiring (a serious fire hazard and banned for many years
in most states). Most inspectors remove the face of the electrical box if it
is safe to do so. The inspector should also check a representative number of
switches and outlets in the house and note the adequacy of smoke detectors if
the state does not require a separate inspection by the local fire department
before the deed transfers.
Heating and Air Conditioning Systems
No matter the time of year the furnace should be tested by turning up the thermostat
and checking the response. Air conditioning cannot be checked if the ambient
outdoor temperature is below a certain point. If the energy source is oil an
inspector will check the condition of the tank and any visible lines running
from the tank to the furnace. Some inspectors will run an efficiency check on
the furnace for an additional charge.
An inspection should include a visual scan of floors, walls and ceilings for
signs of water intrusion, or sagging. Stairways and railings will be checked
for safety and code compliance and a sample of windows and doors inspected for
condition and ease of operation. ASCI suggests that inspectors look at countertops
and a representative number of the kitchen cabinet interiors and drawers for
condition and integrity. The basement should be checked for indications of previous
water intrusion in addition to signs of structural problems.
Poor ventilation can lead to rot, mold, poor air quality or excessive energy
consumption. An inspector should check insulation and vapor barriers in unfinished
areas of the attic and in the foundation area and look for the presence and
operation of any mechanical ventilation systems in the attic and other high
humidity areas such as kitchens and bath.
An inspector will usually run a dishwasher through a full cycle and will check
stove burners and oven to make sure each is operating properly. If other appliances
such as washer, dryer, or microwave are to be included in the purchase these
will also be checked to make sure they are at least in operating condition.
Fireplaces, particularly in older homes, are a frequent source of problems.
Inspectors should check for the integrity of the flue, proper draft, any blockages
in the chimney (even a birds nest can be a major problem), and will visually
inspect, as much as possible, the exterior of the chimney for damage to bricks,
pointing, and flashing.
A thorough home inspection results in a lot of information. How can you, as
a buyer, make the best use of an inspection and the resulting data? We will
discuss some strategies next.