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

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: When I purchased my home, it was the middle of the summer and very hot, so my home inspector did not test the forced air furnace. Months later, when the cold weather arrived, I found the heater to be inoperative, and the contractor I called said the system is unsafe. The repair costs are more than I can afford. Should I go after the inspector for negligence, the sellers for nondisclosure, or both? Chris

Dear Chris: The home inspector may or may not have been negligent, depending on what was stated in the inspection report. Furnace inspections are among the most important aspects of a home inspection because of the potential for hazardous conditions and the high costs of repair or replacement of equipment. Home inspectors should operate and inspect them, regardless of the weather. Unfortunately, some thermostats are unable to activate a heating system when the air temperature is above 90 degrees. But this does not mean that the furnace inspection should simply be dismissed.

If a home inspector, for any reason, is unable to operate a furnace, the inspection report should recommend reinspection prior to close of escrow or evaluation by a licensed heating contractor. If your inspector did neither, then he was negligent and could be liable for the cost of repairs. You should contact him in this regard.

Of equal concern is the question of disclosure by the sellers. If the heating system was inoperable before the property was sold and the sellers were aware of that fact, they should have disclosed this to all concerned parties. Failure to provide such disclosure could render them liable. On the other hand, it is possible that they had no knowledge of the problem. For example, if the home had been used as a rental or had been vacant for a prolonged period, the sellers may not have known that the furnace was inoperative. In any event, the sellers, along with the home inspector, should be notified that this problem has come to light.