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

Who Should Pay For Home Inspector’s Damage

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I am a Realtor and am having a problem with damage done during a home inspection. The property is one of my listings, so I represent the seller. The inspector was testing the Jacuzzi tub in the master bathroom and forgot to turn it off. The water level was too low because of a leak, and this caused the pump motor to burn out. The seller said the Jacuzzi was working before the inspection, but now it is inoperative, and the motor needs to be replaced. The buyer and inspector were the only ones home during the inspection. Who is responsible for the cost of repair?  Elizabeth

Dear Elizabeth: There are two answers to this question. The real estate purchase contract probably holds the buyer responsible for any damage that occurs during inspections authorized by the buyer. This, however, does not relieve the home inspector from liability on the basis of professional ethics. The buyer, therefore, is liable to the seller, but the home inspector is liable to the buyer.

In the course of a career, most home inspectors will have caused and paid for some kind of property damage. One inspector told me that he tipped over and broke a flower pot that turned out to be an expensive piece of ceramic. Another inspector said that he was filling the bathtub to test the whirlpool pump. At that moment, the buyer asked, “Could you please take a look at something in the garage?” By the time the inspector remembered the bathtub test, two rooms had been flooded. A third home inspector admitted that he forgot to turn off the oven before leaving the property. When the buyers returned from vacation five days later, the house was a virtual sauna, the decorative candles on the fireplace mantle had melted, and the gas bill for that month was as large as a car payment.

In each case, the inspector accepted professional responsibility and paid for the damages. The first inspector paid for the flower pot. The second hired a casualty repair company to dry the carpets and replace the damaged drywall. The third inspector paid for the gas bill and replacement of damaged personal property.

Everyone makes mistakes, and one quality of a true professional is to accept the consequences when mistakes happen, which brings us back to the burned out Jacuzzi motor at your listing.

When a home inspector tests a Jacuzzi, he should watch the system while it is operating to check for leaks and other functional or safety-related problems. When he is through with that part of the inspection, the pump should be turned off, and the tub should be drained. If the pump in this case was left on long enough to burn out, the home inspector probably walked away, not realizing that it had been left on. If that is the case, then he is liable for momentary negligence and should pay for the repair. That is what a professional inspector with a sense of integrity would do. To do otherwise would damage his reputation and cost him future referrals from the buyer’s agent and from other agents who learn of the incident.

Seller Suspects Home Inspector Collusion

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:The people who are buying our home just had a home inspection. After the inspection, I heard the inspector tell the buyer’s agent that he would change the report to what the buyer wanted.  Since the report will be used to negotiate the terms of the sale, we are very concerned about what appears to be some sort of collusion. The inspector seems to be “playing ball” with the agent and the buyer, rather than simply reporting what he sees. Isn’t he supposed to be impartial in his findings?  Dori  

Dear Dori: The conversation you overheard between the inspector and the buyer’s agent has a suspicious ring, but it may or may not be as bad as it seems, depending on the details. For example, if the buyer wanted the inspector to inflate the severity of defects in his report, or if the inspector was being persuaded to report nonexistent defects, that would definitely involve unethical and fraudulent practices, calling for some form of legal recourse. On the other hand, buyers sometimes notice defects that are missed by their inspector, such as water stains in a closet or a cracked window. In such cases, it would be reasonable for a buyer to want those defects added to the inspector’s report.

Another example might be a safety violation where the inspector noted the defect but did not specify that safety was involved. In those cases, a buyer might request that the inspector use the word “safety” in the inspection report. Then it would be reasonable to “change the report to what the buyer wanted.”

Home inspectors should definitely be impartial in their findings. They should disclose what is true and observable. In your case, it would be reasonable to express your concerns to the agents and brokers in the transaction, as well as to the inspector, and to insist on an explanation of the conversation that you overheard.

What’s Wrong With Plastic Dryer Vents?

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:My handyman did some repair work under the house, and he said that I have the wrong kind of exhaust duct for my clothes dryer. It’s made of white plastic and looks like a long accordion. The dryer has been venting perfectly for over ten years, so I can’t see any reason to spend money replacing it. In your opinion, what is wrong with this kind of dryer duct?  Ben

Dear Ben:  Corrugated plastic ducts are often used to vent the exhaust from clothes dryers, but there are three things wrong with this type of dryer duct:

1)  Exhaust from a clothes dryer can be very hot, especially if you have a gas dryer. Repeated heat exposure to paper-thin plastic can be a significant fire hazard. If a fire were to begin under your house, it could spread very quickly throughout the home. Therefore, a dryer vent duct should be made of non-combustible material.

2)  Plastic dryer ducts become brittle after years of use. Eventually, they crack and fall apart. Then, all of the clothes dryer exhaust vents into the crawlspace, and since no one is likely to notice the damaged duct, this could go on for years, with lint build-up occurring daily and moisture condensation occurring whenever the weather is cold. Dryer lint is highly combustible, which again, raises the issue of a fire hazard. Moisture condensation under the house can cause fungus infection on wood members and can promote the growth of mold.

3)  Corrugated dryer exhaust ducts, whether they are plastic or metal, tend to collect lint. As lint accumulates, the inside dimension of the duct becomes smaller, and this creates resistance to airflow, causing the clothes dryer to overheat. Once again, we have a fire hazard due to a substandard vent duct.

The solution is to install a 4-inch diameter, smooth, sheet metal exhaust duct that terminates on the outside of the building. The fittings should be secured with tape rather than screws because screws on the inside of a dryer duct can collect lint. The maximum permissible length of the duct is 14 feet with a maximum of two 90-degree turns. For each additional turn, two feet should be subtracted from the overall length. If greater length is needed to reach the outside of the building, a booster blower should be added to the duct.