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

Insurance Company Shortchanges Howeowners

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: Last winter, we had a house fire. The burn damage inside was relatively small, but the smoke damage was extreme.  It was so bad that we had to move out for several months, and the drywall, insulation, and floor coverings had to be removed from every room. While the house was unoccupied, the winter was unusually harsh, with ice on the inside and outside of the building. During this time, most of the windowpanes cracked, and the window frames no longer slide normally. The insurance company does not consider this to be part of the fire damage and are unwilling to pay for new windows. How can we convince them that the windows would not have broken if there hadn’t been a fire?  Rebecca

Dear Rebecca: The insurance company is avoiding payment for window damage on the basis of a slim technicality. They claim that the fire did not directly damage the windows. That may be true, but the window damage is an outcome of the overall situation.

While the house was stripped and unoccupied, the heating system was apparently not in use. Exposure to extreme cold and moisture altered the shape of the window frames and sash. The glass cracked due to stresses at the edges of the panes, and the frames became warped so that they no longer function properly.

When a home is occupied, the winter cold on the exterior of the building is offset by heat on the interior. The internal warmth prevents damage to the window glass and frames. While your home was unoccupied, the heat was turned off, as evidenced by ice on the interior. If a heat source had been maintained in the building, the window damage might have been avoided. Therefore, the window damage was an indirect consequence of the fire and should be covered by the insurance company. In fact, the insurance company should have known from experience that winter exposure to an abandoned building can cause further damage.

Builder Won’t Correct Drainage Problem

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: The contractor who built my home won’t fix damages caused by flooding in our basement. We bought the house about a year ago, and the warranty covers one year of workmanship. We don’t trust the builder and want to hire a contractor to fix the problem and then have the builder pay for all of the repairs. We are preparing the case for court. What do you advise?  Marcos

Dear Marcos: If flooding occurs in the basement of a new home, this means the builder did not adequately provide for ground water drainage and waterproofing of the foundation walls. These are significant construction defects, and the builder is responsible for corrective work, which is likely to be very costly. In preparing your case, you’ll need professional evaluations for evidence. First, you need a report from a geotechnical engineer. In this case, that would be the fancy name for a drainage specialist.

Next, you should have the entire home evaluated by the most qualified and experienced home inspector you can find. A good inspector will find more construction defects than you are currently aware of, and the added list of defects will strengthen your case against the builder.

The entire matter should be handled by an attorney who specializes in construction defect law. And finally, you should file a complaint with the state agency that licenses contractors.

Home Inspector Dismisses Water Damage & Mold

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: : We recently purchased a home and hired a home inspector to find all the defects. During the inspection, I noticed that the wallpaper in the master bedroom was discolored and was peeling at the edges. When I asked the inspector about this, he dismissed it as insignificant, but I continued to feel uncomfortable about it. Last week, I peeked behind a peeled edge of the wallpaper and found green mold. If I’d known about this, I’d have asked the sellers to have it removed. Shouldn’t this have been disclosed by our home inspector?  Jeri

Dear Jeri: When you asked the home inspector about the loose and discolored wallpaper, he should not have dismissed the issue. His answer should have been something on the order of, “I don’t know for sure if there is a problem, but the condition of the wallpaper indicates that there could be a moisture related issue below the surface. Therefore I recommend that the wallpaper be removed prior to close of escrow to determine whether there is a problem in that area.” That kind of disclosure would have led to discovery of the mold and would have saved you the cost of mold remediation and wall repairs.

You should contact the home inspector about your new findings and ask that he take a second look at the wall. A common response from many home inspectors in this kind of situation is to claim that the mold was concealed from view and that mold is not within the scope of a home inspection. Both defenses are true and valid. However, competent home inspectors never dismiss evidence of possible moisture damage. That was your home inspector’s primary error.