Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I’m a Realtor and have recently found fault with your advice. You often emphasize the importance of hiring a home inspector who is highly experienced and who has a reputation for thoroughness. One of my listings was recently inspected by a very experienced inspector, but some of his findings turned out to be inaccurate. For example, the insulation in the attic was reported to be 5-8 inches deep. The inspector said this appeared inadequate for a relatively new home and he recommended that we check with the building department for insulation requirements. I called the contractor who installed the insulation and he said the insulation had settled but that it still had the same R-value. The other inspection error also occurred in the attic, specifically the work platform at the furnace. According to the home inspector, the platform should be 30 inches wide. But a carpenter I know said that a 24 inch work platform meets code. What good is an experienced home inspector if his disclosures are not reliable? Dennis

Dear Dennis: When differing disclosures arise in a real estate transaction, the wisest approach is to seek a third source of information, rather than to assume that one or the other disclosure is correct. It is also a good idea to weigh the relative credibility of each source. For example, when a home inspector says the attic insulation is not deep enough, this could be regarded as an unbiased opinion, whether or not it is correct, because the inspector has no vested interest in the quality or quantity of the insulation. He is simply expressing a professional opinion. The installer of the insulation, however, has an undeniable interest in the outcome of the disagreement. If the thickness of the insulation is substandard, then the installer is in a position of professional embarrassment and is liable for the cost of correction. Why then would his opinion be given greater weight than that of the home inspector? It should also be noted that there is a factual error in the installer’s response: When insulation settles, the R-value does not stay the same. It is a recognized fact that thickness and R-value are directly proportional. But final judgment between the installer and the home inspector should be determined by consulting the local building authority, as the home inspector suggested.

As for the work platform at the furnace, Section 307.3 of the Uniform Mechanical Code requires that the work platform be 30 inches wide. The 24-inch requirement pertains to the flooring that should extend from the attic access to the furnace. Common sense, in any event, would tend to favor a home inspector over a carpenter in matters of construction standards. As someone who has been both a carpenter and a home inspector, I can attest to this difference. Again, the conflict of opinions should have been settled by consulting the local building authority.

To assume that a home inspector is wrong, without verifying this assumption, allows faulty conditions to remain as is. This could lead to renewed disputes or other consequential damages at a later date.