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

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: When we bought our home, the sellers said that everything was functional, which included the central heating and air conditioning system. On the day of our home inspection, the summer temperature was over 90 degrees outside, so the inspector tested the air conditioning but not the heat. Yet his inspection report said that the entire HVAC system was functional. Well, it turned out when winter came that the furnace would not work. The heating contractor we called found several problems, including a cracked heat exchanger. So now the furnace has to be replaced. Who is responsible to pay for this? George

Dear George: The sellers could be liable if the furnace was inoperative or had obvious defects while they owned the property. But that may not be provable. The sellers may in fact have been unaware of any furnace problems, even though it was defective at the time. The home inspector, however, is clearly liable for approving the condition of a furnace without testing it and without recommending further evaluation.

Operating and inspecting a furnace is standard procedure for home inspectors. If an inspector does not operate a heating system, because of hot weather or for any other reason, the report should clearly state that the system was not tested. The condition of the furnace should then be regarded as an unresolved issue, and the inspector should recommend further evaluation prior to close of escrow. A home inspector who discloses a system as functional when it has not even been operated is grossly negligent and should be held to account for that professional breach.

You should notify the sellers and the home inspector of this situation and insist that they take some responsibility for replacing your furnace.