Barry Stone - Syndicated Professional Home Inspector / Author

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Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone
Updated: 5 years 9 weeks ago

Home Inspector Overlooked Furnace Problem

Wed, 05/29/2013 - 05:34

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.

Plumber Disagrees With Home Inspector

Thu, 04/18/2013 - 00:12

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:  I am a real estate broker and am trying to resolve a difference of opinion between my plumber and my favorite home inspector. The inspector routinely cites water heaters that are installed without a drain pan, especially when the water heater is on a raised platform in a garage. He says a pan will prevent water damage if there is a leak. The plumber says there is no code requirement for a pan. Who is right, the home inspector or the plumber?  Leila 

Dear Leila:  Your question raises two separate issues. The first involves the plumbing code – whether or not the code actually requires a drain pan under a water heater. The second issue is the wording in the home inspection report. Did the inspector say that a drain pan is required by code or merely that a pan is advised to prevent water damage?

First, let’s look at the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC). According to UPC Section #510.7: “When a water heater is located in an attic or a furred space where damage may result from a leaking water heater, a watertight pan of corrosion resistant materials shall be installed beneath the water heater with a minimum three-quarter inch diameter drain to an approved location.”

This requirement names two situations where a drain pan is required under a water heater. The first in when the fixture is installed in an attic. Why a person would install a heavy water heater in an attic is a challenge to common sense, but that is not relevant to this discussion. The second and more pertinent situation is when a water heater is installed in “a furred space where damage may result from a leaking water heater.”

A “furred space” is a wall, ceiling, or floor surface that has been extended with additional construction material. An example of a furred space is a raised platform in a garage, on which a water heater is installed. When a water heater leaks onto the wood and drywall of the platform, moisture damage is likely to occur. To prevent such damage, a drain pan with a ¾-inch drainpipe is required by code.

Most home inspectors do not specifically cite building codes in their reports. Instead, they disclose conditions that are defective, unsafe, or that pose potential problems. Regardless of whether your home inspector mentioned the plumbing code, the recommendation for a drain pan under the water heater was valid, and the plumber should be made aware of section #510.7 of the code.

Aside from code requirements, it is hard to understand why a plumber who is installing a water heater would choose not to include a ten-dollar pan under the fixture. Sooner or later, nearly every water heater ends up leaking. A drain pan, known in the trade as a “smitty pan,” is very cheap insurance when you consider the costs of repairing and replacing damaged building materials, not to mention the potential consequences of mold infection. Instead of debating what is or isn’t required by code, plumbers should recommend smitty pans to all of their water heater customers and should agree with home inspectors who recommend drain pans.

Should Buyers Attend Their Home Inspection?

Tue, 02/19/2013 - 00:45

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:  Our home inspection is scheduled for next week. This is the first time we’ve bought a home, and we’re not sure what to do and what not to do. Our agent says it’s not important for us to attend the inspection, that we should just wait for the report. But we’re uncomfortable with that advice. There are so many things we want to ask the inspector. What do you recommend?  Annamarie

Dear Annamarie: Your agent is not giving you good advice. The importance of attending your home inspection cannot be emphasized too strongly.

Too many homebuyers miss a great opportunity by being present at their home inspection.  Sometimes this is unavoidable, due to geographical distance.  But whenever possible, buyers are strongly urged to participate in the inspection process.  Being on site during the inspection, viewing specific conditions in person, consulting with the inspector, asking questions, and obtaining advice greatly magnify the benefits to you, the buyer.

A home inspection is a fact-finding mission in which the inspector is your hired advocate. You and the inspector should jointly engage in the discovery process.  Both of you are there for the same reason – to learn as much as possible about the condition of the property.

Prior to the inspection, most buyers make a purchase offer based upon a 15-minute walk-through or run-through.  At that point, they know very little about a very expensive commodity.  The home inspection provides buyers their only opportunity to slowly and methodically view and consider the object of their investment.  During the inspection, they have hours to voice questions and concerns as they evaluate their prospective purchase.  Buyers have even been known to discover defects the inspector might otherwise have missed.

Buyer attendance also enables the inspector to explain the meaning and importance of each condition noted in the inspection report.  When buyers are not present at the inspection, conditions noted in the report must be read and interpreted without explanation.  Lacking a verbal review of the findings, a buyer may over-react to minor disclosures, while failing to appreciate the importance of more serious ones.  The on-site review provided by your inspector may be the most informative aspect of the entire home inspection process.  When circumstances prevent buyers from attending the inspection, a telephone conference with the inspector is strongly advised.