What is a Home Inspection?

Home Inspection Home as a puzzle

Over 80% of home purchases made today have a home inspection condition as part of the purchase agreement. However, one of the most common questions asked when people book a home inspection is, 'What is a Home Inspection’?


A home inspection for clients should cover three main areas:

  • It is a written document taking a snapshot in time of the inspected home including building materials, installed safety features, and general condition.
  • Home inspectors are looking for defects in the home arising from poor building practices or lack of maintenance including buidling systems at the end of their expected life.
  • Home inspection clients should be educated on the quality of building materials, special maintenance concerns, and location of emergency turn-offs for utilities.


All homes will cost money to maintain and all home systems have a normal life cycle. A home inspection report will help home owners budget for upcoming costs or possibly avoid expensive major emergency repairs.


Safety Issues

Even brand new homes can have major safety defects. These include missing handrails, window wells children can fall in, electrical safety hazards, or even plumbing errors that can lead to sewer gasses entering the home. Garage doors have some of the most commonly sighted safety violations which are major life safety issues for children.


Safety deficiencies are very serious and replacement, improvement, or repairs are always needed to protect home occupants. In many cases, these repairs are quite simple but could save someone serious harm or death.


Home Structure

Structural deficiencies are the biggest concern for home buyers but major structural issues are not that common in home inspections. Typically, houses that have never been altered since original construction will not have structural issues unless they were designed or built wrong by the builder. Homes that have undergone renovations are where most structural deficiencies are found, particularly if amateurs did the renovation work. On the exterior, decks and patios are common places to find structure problems as these features are often built by amateurs without proper municipal building permits. 


A limitation for inspecting structure is that very little of it is usually visible as our homes are finished with drywall and paint obscuring visibility. Like a Doctor looking for a cold, a home inspector is often looking at symptoms of the problem, as the problem itself is not directly visible. 


Home Systems

We don't tend to give a lot of thought to our homes major systems when they are working correctly but a home inspector is looking for clues in the systems for current or upcoming issues. Water running (or sitting) in plumbing causes erosion and leaks, electrical circuits have amateurs making changes, heating and ventilation systems have component wear, windows and doors become sticky, and roof coverings get broken down by wind, sun, and rain. A home inspection will review these systems and assess them for major near term expenses and educate clients on the type of systems they have and what to expect with ownership of these systems as they age in the future.


Maintenance

Houses need regular maintenance to fight off water penetration, rot, insects, and to keep the home looking great. Different materials require different maintenance and a home inspection will identify the types of materials and determine if any major maintenance is overdue. Common issues identified by home inspectors are paint needed on exterior wood trim and siding, deteriorated caulking at windows and doors, dryer vents that are broken, and damage or clogging of gutters and downspouts. A home inspection will help clients prioritize maintenance that needs to be done before it becomes expensive repairs.


Limitations of a Home Inspection

Home inspections are a non-invasive, visual observation of the home. Unfortunately for home inspectors, home's systems are often covered by drywall and paint and it is not possible to observe hidden areas. Home inspectors are also physically limited and time limited in the ability to move every ceiling tile, crawl in every inch of the attic, or check every brick if it is correctly attached. Home inspectors use a system called ‘sample testing’ to create a report on the home being inspected. Inspectors will test some of every system at random locations around the home and extrapolate the results to the rest of the home. For example, home inspectors will check at sample of at least one power outlet in each room.


Occupant belongings can also limit home inspectors visibility to the home. Closets, garages, and storage rooms in particular are often very full of occupant belongings. Even one picture hanging on a wall can block the view of a defect to an inspector which is why occupant belongings provide a limitation to inspection. 


Occasionally home sellers will deliberately hide deficiencies with large objects or cover-up repairs. While this is not common, it is obviously a limitation to the ability of home inspectors to help their clients.


Inspector as a Generalist

Home Inspectors are like a family doctor. They are able to diagnose a wide range of symptoms but specialized treatment, cures, costs, and advanced diagnosis require a specialist in each field of medicine. Home Inspectors will recommend further analysis by electricians, plumbers, heating specialists, and many other building specialists when the symptoms of a problem go beyond normal maintenance. Frequent visits from a home inspector will help catch defects before they require emergency repairs. 


Communication

Human nature is that we only remember 20% of what we hear for the first 48 hours and only retain 10% of what we heard after 48 hours. It is very important for Home Inspectors that they are able to clearly communicate to help clients get the most of the inspection. Home inspectors need to be able to articulate their home inspection findings both verbally and in the written report for the benefit of their clients.


Amateur Home Inspectors

Home inspections are a professional practice that should only be done by accredited professionals. Home inspectors are trained to recognize building systems in a wide range of industries, provide a written report articulating findings, and carry errors and omissions insurance for their accuracy.

There are two types of amateur home inspectors clients need to avoid:

  •  ‘Home inspectors’ who just print a business card and have no professional training, insurance, or oversight
  •  Friends and family who have been in construction for many years. While these individual are likely specialists in their field, the home inspection industry requires appropriate knowledge in all construction fields and the ability to articulate the findings for the client


Final Thoughts

A professional home inspection is more than just an ‘expert’ looking at a home and giving a thumbs up or down. A professional home inspector will review the entire home, provide good advise, communicate results verbally and in writing, and is backed up by a professional association and insurance. Always look for a professional home inspector so you know your home is safe and solid.


By James Bell - Owner/Operator of Solid State Inspections Inc.