The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector
Dear Barry: Is it necessary to get my own home inspection on a newly constructed home, or should the inspection by the city inspector be accepted as adequate? Dean
Dear Dean: Some readers may wonder why this subject, in varying forms, is recurrent in this column. It is because questions about inspecting new homes are asked so frequently and because the answer is vital to anyone who plans to buy a new home.
Experienced home inspectors have learned that all new homes have defects of one kind or another, regardless of the quality of construction or the integrity of the builder. This is because human imperfection prevents anything as large and as complex as a home from being constructed flawlessly.
A commonly held fallacy is that all construction defects will be discovered by municipal building inspectors. This view is highly mistaken, but not because of professional shortcomings on the part of those inspectors. The purpose, scope, time allotment, and procedures for municipal inspections is not the same as for home inspections.
Municipal inspectors inspect primarily for code compliance, not for quality of workmanship. They can cite a builder for improper structural framing or for noncomplying drain connections, but a poorly fitted door, an uneven tile countertop, and slipshod finish work are not included in the list of concerns.
Municipal inspectors rarely inspect an attic or a sub-area crawlspace. They come to the job site with a clipboard and a codebook, not with a ladder and overalls. Construction defects in such areas can escape discovery.
Municipal inspectors typically inspect a roof from the ground or possibly from the builder’s ladder. From these perspectives, roof defects are not always apparent. And final inspections are performed before the utilities are turned on, so municipal inspectors cannot determine if or how well the appliances and fixtures truly work. They don’t test outlets for ground and polarity because this can only be done after the power supply is turned on. Nor, without power, can they test the performance of GFCI or AFCI safety breakers.
The lack of utilities also prevents the testing of plumbing fixtures such as sinks, showers, tubs, and dishwashers, and of gas fixtures such as furnaces, fireplaces, and water heaters.
As repeatedly expressed in this column, those who buy new homes should not forego the benefits of a thorough home inspection. Just be sure to find an inspector with years of experience and a reputation for thoroughness.