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

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We purchased a home about a year ago and had it inspected. But we think our home inspector missed a problem with the forced air furnace. When the weather turned cold, we began using the heating system, and within a week we noticed black soot around the house. We thought it might be coming from the fireplace, so we had the chimney swept and we cleaned up the house. But the black soot soon came back. We cleaned the house again, but the soot came back again. Do you think our home inspector should pay to have the furnace fixed? Scott

Dear Scott: Whether the home inspector is liable for the faulty furnace depends on whether there was visible evidence of a furnace problem on the day of the inspection. For example, if there was soot in the burner chambers, in the flue pipe, on the flue cap, or at the air registers, these would have been red flag symptoms for a competent home inspector. If the flame pattern or flame color at the burners was abnormal, if there was rusted hardware in the furnace, if any signs of deterioration or damage were apparent, those conditions should also have alerted your inspector. If such conditions were apparent, further evaluation by a licensed HVAC contractor should have been recommended in the inspection report.

Of greater importance than the question of liability, however, is the matter of safety for everyone in your home. If the furnace is emitting soot, it may also be venting carbon monoxide, and that would extremely dangerous. Therefore, the furnace should not be used until it has been thoroughly evaluated by a licensed HVAC contractor. At the same time, you should notify the home inspector of these concerns and ask that he reinspect the furnace. If you can coordinate that reinspection with the HVAC contractor’s evaluation, that would help to clarify questions of liability.

Dear Barry: Last year, we bought a home from a nationally known developer. They offered us several optional upgrades, including a covered patio with plumbing and electrical connections for an outdoor kitchen; all for $1,800. Now that we’re ready to install the grill, the building department says that a barbecue pit under an overhanging roof is not legal. We would never have purchased this option if we had know the cooking fixture could not be installed. Do we have recourse? Bill

Dear Bill: A professional builder should know better than to sell an option that is not permissible by code or by local building ordinances. But you’d better check the fine print in the contract, because it may give them an “out.” On the other hand, a small claims judge might take a different view of the matter and override what could be an unfair contractual provision. You might also file a complaint with the state attorney general’s office to see where you stand according to state law.