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

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.

Gas Water Heater Unsafe in Bathroom

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: When we bought our house, the home inspector found no problems with the water heater. On moving day, the gas man had a different story. Instead of lighting the pilot, he capped off the gas and said it is illegal to have a gas water heater in a bathroom. He advised moving it to another location or replacing it with an electric water heater. The seller says he installed the water heater himself and that the previous water heater was in the same location. Is the seller required to move or replace the water heater since he is the one who installed it, or is this our problem?  Lauren

Dear Lauren: Your home inspector should have reported this problem. It is common knowledge among experienced inspectors that gas-fueled water heaters are prohibited in bathrooms. You should notify your inspector of the situation and request a reinspection. The seller, on the other hand, may be liable for installing a water heater without a permit, but most homeowners are unaware that permits are required for water heater replacement.

The purpose of a permit for water heater installations is to insure compliance with pertinent plumbing and safety codes, including the prohibition against placement in a bathroom. If the seller did not obtain a permit, he is in no position to defend the quality of the installation. This does not mean that he is contractually obligated, as a seller, to correct the problem, but you have a reasonable basis for demanding that he do so.

Water heaters are prohibited in bathrooms for two reasons: 1) Faulty exhaust venting can contaminate the air, causing asphyxiation; 2) Inadequate combustion air supply can reduce the oxygen level in the room. Either of these would be very dangerous for someone relaxing in a tub of hot water.

The code requirement is clear. Its intent is to save lives. The gas man was right. The water heater should be moved or replaced with an electric one.

Buyer Steps Into Cracked Bathtub

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: The home I just bought has a cracked bathtub. The sellers tried to fix the crack, but the patch cracked the first time I stepped into the tub. Do the sellers have to repair the tub, or is it up to me to have it fixed? Belle

Dear Belle: If the sellers did not disclose that the tub is damaged, or if they disclosed that repairs were completed, then they should repair the tub in a manner that will render it usable. However, forcing the issue after the sale is often more trouble than attending to the repairs yourself. You can notify the sellers of the problem to see what they are willing to do, but you may or may not get a favorable response.

If the sellers are willing to repair the tub, you should have them pay a professional to do the work, rather than allowing them to do it themselves. If they are not willing to pay for repairs, you can pursue the matter in small claims court or simply write off the issue as a learning experience.

Patching a cracked fiberglass tub is not always easy because the tub is flexible and bends when someone steps into it. This is why the patch itself can become cracked. To affect a permanent repair, mortar should be packed into the space beneath the tub to provide solid support. To access that area, you’ll need to cut one or two holes in the wall. Mortar packing will make the bottom of the tub rigid, preventing further cracking after it is patched.

As for repairing the crack: Try to find someone who does professional fiberglass repair work. You might contact a person who does boat repairs and ask about having a bathtub patched.

Dear Barry: Our forced air heating system heats every room in our home, except the master bedroom. For some reason, that room stays cold, in spite of the warm air register above the window. We’ve installed insulated drapes and plastic storm windows, but the room remains frigid. What can we do about this? Victor

Dear Victor: The first thing to check is the air output at the master bedroom air register. Set a ladder under it and feel the airflow with your hand. Then compare this with the heat output at other registers in your home. If the airflow is minimal, you should have it evaluated by a licensed heating contractor. The problem could be a faulty duct in the attic — either disconnected, crushed, or poorly configured. If the airflow seems normal at the bedroom register, you might need a second air register in that room.

You should also have the room checked for insulation. First, take a look in the attic, then the subfloor (if your home is on a raised foundation), and finally, try to verify insulation in the exterior walls. One way to spot-check for wall insulation is to remove some of the electrical outlet covers and try to look past the edges of the outlet boxes to verify insulation in the wall cavities.

Finally, check for air leakage at the windows, wall outlets, and switches. Sealing areas where cold air intrusion occurs can minimize heat loss in the room.

Undisclosed Shower Problem

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I hired a home inspector before buying my house. He was supposed to find the defects. After moving in, I discovered that the shower in the basement has no drain connection. During the inspection, the inspector turned the shower on briefly, but he didn’t find any problem with it. Now it appears that the shower is a manufactured stall that was set in place on the basement floor, connected to the water lines, but not to the sewer drain system. Instead, it is located near a clogged floor drain. The first time I used the shower, the water ran onto the basement floor and began to rise. I’ve called the former owner, but he denies any knowledge of the problem. The plumber’s estimate to repair this mess is about $3000. Do I have recourse against the former owner or the home inspector? Sharon

Dear Sharon: Before we consider recourse, let’s review this lack of disclosure. The seller claims he was unaware that the shower drains onto the basement floor. To accept this, we must believe that the shower was never used or even cleaned during the time that he owned the property.

Equally surprising is the home inspector’s failure to identify the drain problem during a professional inspection. To gain some perspective on this lack of discovery, we should review the normal procedures for a shower inspection. Although not all inspectors employ the same sequence of techniques, a thorough shower inspection would be somewhat as follows:

The inspector begins by verifying that hot water is plumbed to the left side of the faucet. The shower, therefore, must run long enough for hot water to reach the showerhead. All the while, water is flowing down the drain. When the hot water has arrived, the inspector adjusts the shower to a normal mixture of hot and cold. With warm water flowing from the head, the toilet is flushed and the sink faucet is turned on to check for variations in flow and temperature at the shower. Had your home inspector conducted this type of inspection, water would have been visible and rising on the basement floor. If he did not see water on the floor, then the extent of his evaluation must have been very limited.

As for recourse, here are some suggestions: Invite the home inspector to reinspect your shower, and ask him to explain why the lack of a drain connection was not discovered during his initial inspection. Notify the seller again, but this time in writing and by certified mail. Inform him that his lack of disclosure is unacceptable and that full payment for drain repair is expected. If neither is willing to address the problem, you can file a complaint in small claims court. If you choose that path, spend an hour with an attorney for advice on your presentation in court.

To strengthen your case, have your home reinspected by a home inspector who has many years of experience and a reputation for thoroughness. Call several real estate offices in the area and ask who is the most nit-picky of all the local home inspectors. A reinspection may reveal additional defects not found by the first home inspector.

Expired warranty

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We purchased a new home, and just before the 10 yr warranty was up, a leak developed in the upstairs bathtub drain. The homebuilder came out, opened up the ceiling below the tub, repaired the leaking pipe, patched the ceiling, and all was well for about two years. Now the leaking has returned and, once again, there is a wet stain on the ceiling. Since the 10-year warranty has now expired, are we on our own with this problem, or is the builder still responsible? Brian

Dear Brian: At this point, the builder may be willing to make the repair as a matter of good will, but he may no longer be obligated to do so unless it can be shown that the repair he did two years ago was done incorrectly or that the new leak is the result of an original construction defect. To answer these questions, an observation hole should be cut into the ceiling to see exactly where the leak is occurring. The plumbing repair itself may not be expensive, but that will need to be determined by a licensed plumber. Regardless of who pays for the repair work, an openable access hatch should be installed below the bathtub plumbing so that future repairs in that location will not involve ceiling repairs as well.