One of the most common misconceptions about having a traditional home inspection is that the inspector will tell you absolutely everything about the interior and exterior of the property in question, from the new sprinkler system to the roof sheathing hiding under a layer of shingles, from the tool shed in the backyard to the electrical wiring running behind the drywall in the living room.
As a public service, we’ll be devoting the next few blogs to explaining what you can expect your roof-to-foundation inspection to include and what will not be reported on. Even with the limitations we’ll be discussing, a comprehensive home inspection, like those performed by the certified inspectors at A-Pro, is an essential step in the home selling/home buying process, so please don’t use “Ha! They don’t check everything!” as an excuse to skip the inspection. Why? Because countless homeowners who waive the home inspection contingency clause end up finding major issues after moving in—problems that could have been pointed out by a home inspector, saving the homebuyer money and sparing them many a sleepless night. Bottom line: Your inspector will do everything in their power to provide you with the most comprehensive home inspection possible. Period. So make a smart investment by hiring a qualified home inspector whether selling or buying. You’ll be glad you did.
Home inspections are visual/operational, non-intrusive procedures that cover the following systems as noted by the International Association of Home Inspectors (InterNACHI): roof; exterior; basement, foundation, crawlspace and structure; heating and cooling; plumbing; electrical; fireplace; attic, insulation and ventilation; doors, windows, and the interior.
First, let’s look at what we mean by “visual.” In essence, what can’t be observed at the time of the inspection can’t be directly reported on. This includes underground items (e.g., storage tanks, lawn irrigation systems) as well as spaces and components that cannot be accessed and observed.
Note above how we said “directly.” While a visual checkup of some parts of a home may not be possible, experienced inspectors use observations from other areas of the home to highlight hidden defects that may otherwise go undetected. For example, ceiling stains, active leaks, and abnormally high attic temperatures may offer clues that the roof’s non-observable sheathing may be compromised. The inside of a chimney may not be inspected, but creosote stains on the chimney’s exterior will be noted. Electrical wiring behind walls and under floors cannot be observed, but the inspector may find a wall hot spot that could indicate an electrical problem lurking on the other side. Further, the inspector will check every outlet, light switch, and lighting fixture for functionality; confirm the use of dangerous, outdated wiring where it may be visible (e.g., the basement); note a lack of required outlets per room and the possible overuse of extension cords; report on regular receptacles near water sources (e.g., kitchen and bathroom sinks) that should be replaced by ground fault circuit interrupters; and check the panel box for defects.
Similarly, the inspector will not be able to visually check plumbing hidden by walls and flooring, but the use of outdated pipes can be confirmed in other locations. In addition, your inspector will check for corrosion, active leaks, dangerous plumbing installations, and slow drains.
Most of a house’s framing members may be hidden. Even exposed girders in a crawlspace or roof framing members in an attic may not be accessible. However, the inspector may be able to uncover issues that likely point to structural defects—some that can be attributed to construction errors and others that are the result of foundation movement, which can be confirmed by corroborating evidence found during the rest of the inspection:
- Floors that are not level or have a hump
- Interior walls that are out of plumb, have cracks, or bow in or out
- Cracks in exterior walls
- Sagging roof
“Non-intrusive” means the inspector will not take extraordinary steps to view a component or system that cannot be observed (e.g., cutting holes in walls, removing floorboards or shingles). It’s the inspector’s responsibility to leave the home just as they found it.
“Operational” deals with the operation of components according to home inspection standards: HVAC equipment; sinks, toilets, tubs, and showers; and certain appliances. Inspectors are not required to operate any system that is shut down or evaluate phone lines, cable lines, remotes, and other low-voltage electrical systems.
Further, the home inspector may make a judgment that a component or system is unsafe to inspect up close. Examples include icy or sagging roofs, unstable decks or balconies, crawlspaces that have standing water and exposed wiring, wet electrical panel boxes, and questionable appliances that look unsafe to switch on. Even perfectly safe crawlspaces and attics may not get a complete inspection if they can’t be accessed. Your inspector will note in the report when conditions make it impossible for certain elements to be checked or when alternative inspection methods are used, such as roof inspections via drone or by viewing a portion of the roof from the eaves while standing on a ladder.
In our next blog post, we’ll be looking at some of the parts of a home that are not included in the inspection, as well as additional services provided by home inspectors beyond the traditional inspection.