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 water.
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.