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

Home Inspector Didn’t Report Wood Rot

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:We purchased our home about six months ago, and the home inspector said nothing about wood rot. I recently discovered rotted eave boards when I was repainting the exterior. Shouldn’t this have been reported by our home inspector?  John

Dear John:  Wood rot is caused by fungus. In most states, inspection for wood destroying organisms such as fungus is not within the scope of a home inspection. Damage of this kind is typically covered by a licensed pest control operator, commonly known as a termite inspector. You should check your records to see if there was a pest report when you purchased the property. If so, call that company and ask them to re-inspect the eaves around your home.

Code Violations Not Found By Inspectors

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:We bought a brand new home about a year ago and hired a home inspector before closing. The inspector found no problems and said the house was perfect. Since then, we’ve learned that there are code violations in the plumbing and on the roof. How could the house be sold if it didn’t meet code? Is the building department responsible for approving the construction, or what? And if they missed the problems, why didn’t our home inspector find them? Is anyone responsible, or are we just out of luck?  Sharon

Dear Sharon:  That is a tall list of issues: the quality of new construction and the reliability of building and home inspections. So let’s start with the city inspection.

Without knowing which code violations are involved, little can be said here about what the municipal building inspector should have seen. In general, however, city and county building inspections are usually short in duration and not comprehensive in scope. For example, municipal inspectors typically do not walk on roofs or crawl through attics. Therefore, defects in those areas are likely to go unnoticed. The final inspection of a new home usually occurs before the electrical and gas services are turned on. Therefore, outlets are not tested for grounding and polarity, GFCI performance is not verified, and gas fixtures such as stoves, furnaces, and water heaters are not functionally evaluated.

As for liability, municipal inspectors have none, as specified in chapter one of the building code. In their defense, however, it should be noted that most local building departments are under-funded and under-staffed, so that most of their inspections are conducted with limited time for thoroughness. This brings us to the homebuyers’ next line of defense, the home inspector.

The home inspection industry claims that it does not perform code compliance inspections, but this is only true in a limited sense. The purpose of a home inspection is to disclose visible defects, in accordance with professional standards. Yet many of the defects that home inspectors disclose involve code violations. For example, a hollow core door in a garage firewall is a visible defect that home inspectors routinely report. Why is it a defect? Because it violates the building code. Therefore, visible defects that violate building codes are usually within the scope of a home inspection and should be reported. If not reported, the home inspector would be liable.

Furthermore, when a home inspector tells you a house has no defects, that should warn you that the inspection was not very thorough. A home with no defects is as fanciful and unlikely as a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Homes are made by humans. Humans are not perfect. Therefore, no homes are perfect. All homes, including brand new ones, have imperfections, to lesser or larger degrees.

In cases involving new homes, the buck stops at the doorstep of the builder. Regardless of what was found or overlooked by the inspectors, the builder must guaranty the quality of the construction. If code violations are found when the building is one year old, the builder is still responsible.

To obtain a comprehensive list of the inherent defects in your home, you need a more complete home inspection than the one you received a year ago. Therefore, find the most qualified and experienced home inspector in your area. Then you can present the list of findings to the person or company who constructed the home.

Home Inspector Overlooked Furnace Problem

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:Before we bought our home, we hired an ASHI certified home inspector. We were with him for most of the inspection, but he didn’t spend much time looking at the furnace, and now we have a major problem. The inspection report says the system is “normal,” whatever that means, and recommends “routine maintenance and cleaning.” When we moved in, we hired a heating contractor to clean and service the unit, as recommended by the inspector. The heating guy removed the cover panel and found large rust holes on the inside. The unit puts out carbon monoxide, so it has to be replaced. All our home inspector did was shine a flashlight into a small opening, without removing the cover panel. When we called him about this, he said, “I told you to have the heater cleaned before closing escrow.”  But the inspection report says nothing about before the close. Do you think our home inspector was negligent?  Randy

Dear Randy:  Inspecting a furnace without removing the cover panels is grossly negligent. It makes as much sense as a podiatrist examining your feet without first removing your shoes. If a home inspector or foot doctor is conducting a diagnosis, visual access is essential.

If your home inspector is certified by ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors, he must comply with ASHI Standards of Practice. According to these standards, “the inspector shall inspect the installed heating equipment.” And the definition of “inspect,” according to ASHI standards includes “opening readily openable access panels.” Therefore, failure to remove the access panels on your furnace was a violation of professional standards.

If the heating contractor was able to see rust damage merely by removing the access panels, then your home inspector should have discovered the damage and should now take responsibility for a substandard inspection. If he recommended cleaning and servicing the furnace prior to close, that recommendation should have been in the written report. Verbal recommendations that differ from the written report are legally invalid.

The next question for you home inspector is, “Do you have errors and omissions insurance?” If not, you might consider small claims court.

Dear Barry: We were about to buy an old home until we learned that it has asbestos shingle siding. We’ve read that this material is safe if it is not damaged, but we’re worried about future problems. What do you recommend?  Lane

Dear Lane: Asbestos shingle siding was commonly installed in the 1940’s and early 50’s. It consists of a material knows as transite, a mixture of cement and asbestos fibers. Transite is not regarded as a significant health hazard because it does not release asbestos fibers into the air unless it is ground into dust with power tools.

If you intend to remove or alter the transite shingles, handling, removal, and disposal should be assigned to a specially licensed professional, and this can be very costly. When you eventually resell the home, the presence of asbestos material must be disclosed, and this can adversely affect the interest of some buyers (just as you were deterred), regardless of the relative safety of the material.

Electrical Problem Found After Close of Escrow

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:  I sold my house five months ago. The buyers hired a home inspector, and I paid for the repairs that they requested. But now they’re complaining about electrical problems that were not reported by their inspector. They say some of the wires in the service panel are too small for the circuit breakers. I disclosed every defect I was aware of and cooperated with the findings of their home inspector. Am I now liable for problems that turned up months after the sale?  Beejay

Dear Beejay: The electrical problem in question is called “over-fusing.” It is a common defect that should have been found by the buyers’ home inspector, and that is whom they should be contacting. They shouldn’t fault you for not disclosing the problem because it is not something that would be recognized by the average homeowner, unless the owner was an electrician or building inspector.

Over-fused circuits can function for years without any adverse consequence. However, in the event of a circuit overload, they can cause a fire. Therefore repair is recommended. The solution is to have an electrician replace some of the circuit breakers.

As for making peace with the buyers, ask yourself if you would have paid to repair the problem if it had been found by the home inspector. If the answer is yes, you might consider paying for the repair just to maintain good relations. Or you could offer to split the cost.  Still, the buyers should call this to the attention of their home inspector.

 

Air Quality Question

Dear Barry:  We have been renting a home for about one year. During this time we’ve noticed something that worries us. If we leave a glass of water on the table for a few hours, it turns dark in color, and the moisture on the outside of the glass leaves a black ring on the table. Besides this, the return air grills for the heating and air conditioning system are covered with a black, oily soot. This can’t be good for our health, but we don’t know where to turn for help. What do you recommend? Ralph

Dear Ralph: These are serious symptoms that could pose a hazard to you and your family. The first thing that comes to mind is a combustion or venting problem with one or more of the gas-burning fixtures – the furnace, water heater, or the kitchen range. You should have all of your gas fixtures checked by the gas company. If this does not produce an answer, a licensed heating and plumbing contractor should be employed by your landlord. In any event, you should notify the landlord of these conditions as soon as possible.

If no problems are found when the gas fixtures are evaluated, an environmental inspector should be hired to determine what contaminants are in the air. If you use a fireplace or wood-burning stove, have it checked by a certified chimney sweep.

Home Inspector Ignored Plumbing Leak

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We hired a home inspector before buying our home, but he dismissed a defect that has now become a problem. In the room below the master bathroom, there were water stains on the wall around a drain cleanout. We asked the inspector about it, and he said it wasn’t a problem. At the time, the stains were dry because the house had been vacant for months. But he didn’t even run water in the shower or sink and didn’t even mention the stains in his report. After we moved in and began taking showers, the wall surface became wet. The inspector now says that it was not his responsibility to figure out if the leaking would continue in the future. Besides this, the seller says that she never had a leak while she lived in the home. This seems unreasonable and unfair. What can we do?  John

Dear John: If the seller denies having known about the leak, she may or may not be telling the truth. There is probably no way to prove or disprove her position, so that issue may be a stalemate. The problem with the home inspector, however, is another story and involves three main issues:

1)  It is understandable that an inspector might fail to notice a leak or evidence of a past leak, but to dismiss an issue that is specifically pointed out by a buyer is inexcusable. If your inspector didn’t want to test for leaks, he should have recommended in his report “further evaluation by a licensed plumber.”

2)  Testing showers, tubs, and sinks with running water is normal operating procedure for a home inspector. The idea that a home inspection would not include a routine test of the plumbing fixtures is untenable. An inspector who won’t turn on faucets or test for leaks should find another line of work.

3)  Now that the leak has been affirmed, the inspector needs to be accountable for his failure to provide disclosure. All inspectors miss some defects, regardless of their levels of competency. But an inspector who will dismiss this kind of situation, without assuming some degree of responsibility, is not a true professional.

Hopefully, the repair is not an expensive one. Have it evaluated by a licensed plumber. Hopefully, it is a minor repair issue that will not involve great expense.

It would also be wise to hire another home inspector for a second evaluation of the property. Additional defects will most likely be discovered.