The House Detective
by Barry Stone, Certified Building Inspector
Dear Barry: This is not a question as much as a comment. You occasionally discuss how home inspectors inspect gas-burning fixtures. In my opinion, home inspectors are not qualified to inspect gas appliances — period. Unless they hold the proper licenses to do actual work on those fixtures, they should not be inspecting water heaters, furnaces, or other gas appliances. You would better serve your readers by advising them to use licensed contractors for inspections of gas-fueled equipment. That way, the person doing the inspection will have the necessary knowledge and the proper license to make educated evaluations and reliable recommendations. Jay
Dear Jay: If gas-burning fixtures should only be inspected by licensed plumbers and heating contractors, we will have to dismiss nearly all of the municipal building inspectors who inspect furnaces and water heaters on behalf of city, county, and state building departments. Those building inspectors, the ones who give final approval for newly-built homes, are code certified, but very few are licensed plumbing or heating contractors.
Repair skills are not essential when searching for defects. A doctor need not be a surgeon to diagnose a disease. Likewise, a competent home inspector can identify mechanical problems, without the expertise to repair them.
A qualified home inspector who inspects furnaces, for example, should be able to recognize inadequate fire clearances for furnaces and flue pipes, improper gas line connections, irregularities in the color and pattern of a gas flame, rust damage in burner chambers, visible cracks in heater exchangers, inadequate combustion air supply, back-drafting of combustion exhaust, and much more. In some cases, home inspectors have identified defects that were overlooked by the contractors and the gas company technicians who serviced the equipment.
Home inspectors who take their profession seriously participate in ongoing education in all aspects of real estate inspection, including the evaluation of gas fixtures. The annual education conferences offered by national and state home inspection associations typically include seminars whose instructors are licensed heating contractors or experts from major gas companies.
Contractor licensing is appropriate for those who install and repair gas-burning fixtures, but it is not essential for those who inspect these systems for specific defects involving function and safety.