Understanding your home inspection report

 Submitted by Randy Yates, Technical Supervisor and Technical Training Administrator, NPI/GPI Corporate

Couple in house + inspection reportYou’ve had your home inspection and now you have the report in your hands. What to do with it? You’ll definitely want to check out the summary, but that shouldn’t be the only part you read. The importance of including the comment “The summary is not the entire report” is that in a real estate transaction, typically the Realtor only wants the summary page because it contains all items the inspector rated defective or requiring repair. But that shouldn’t be the only part you’re interested in.

The defects section is crucial in the sale of a house, as it will be used to either negotiate or renegotiate the sale of the property. Nevertheless, the entire report needs to be read. There could be items of interest that may not, in the inspector’s opinion, require repair or replacement but rather maintenance — such as cleaning gutters or touching up paint. For this reason, to get a clear view of the entire house, home buyers should read the entire inspection report, not just the summary section.

In addition, you should make sure to hold on to your home’s inspection report and keep it in a handy, accessible spot. It will serve as a reminder of do-it-yourself projects that you need to work on, as well as home maintenance projects you’ll want to do.

 

Yates PhotoWith more than 10 years of experience in his current position and over 30 years of experience in remodeling and contracting, Randy Yates provides technical training to new NPI/GPI inspectors and provides field support to all NPI/GPI inspectors.

NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home from roof to foundation. Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for your next home inspection.

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My Three Favorite ‘Photo Follies’

By Randy Yates, Training Consultant Administrator, NPI/GPI Corporate Office

Our home inspectors frequently send me pictures for my “you won’t believe this” file — known here at NPI and GPI as “photo follies” — so I thought I’d share three of my most favorite. To be honest, each is my favorite in its own right. These are pictures of things our inspectors have found during the course of their inspections of items, construction practices and installations. They are often amateurish, shoddy work or projects done by home owners who think they know how to build, fix or install things. Of the three I‘ve selected, some are self-explanatory and others you may have to think about.

This is what the home owner got with a brand-new roof installation.

This is what the home owner got with a brand-new roof installation.

 

I call this one, “The note says it all.”

I call this one, “The note says it all.”

 

Do you see the problem? If not, look at the roof shingles creeping up the siding. They’re not supposed to do that.

Do you see the problem? If not, look at the roof shingles creeping up the siding. They’re not supposed to do that.

 

Yates PhotoWith more than 10 years of experience in his current position and over 30 years of experience in remodeling and contracting, Randy Yates provides technical training to new NPI/GPI inspectors and provides field support to all NPI/GPI inspectors.

NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home from roof to foundation. Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for your next home inspection.

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The Overly Disclaimed Home Inspection Report

By Randy Yates, Training Consultant Administrator, NPI/GPI Corporate

Inspection Report_shutterstock_79995865Let’s say you are buying a house and you’re ready to have it inspected. You go with your Realtor’s recommendation for a home inspector, give him/her the necessary information about the house and set up your inspection. The inspector tells you to check your email for the preinspection agreement, which will need to be signed before the inspection can be done.

When you open the preinspection agreement, you find that is really long — more than five or six pages. Then, after the inspection, your inspector delivers a report that is 75 to 100 pages long. You notice that both the preinspection agreement and the report are full of disclaimers, such as, “In an occupied home with furnishings,” “Depending on usage, “Except under extreme conditions,” and “The inspector may not be able to guarantee discovery.” If this is the case, you may be the recipient of an overly disclaimed home inspection report.

Because home inspectors may be held responsible for damage or problems that are visibly present at the time of inspection but not included in the inspection report, some inspectors include an overabundance of disclaimers in their preinspection agreements and reports. While it is important that home buyers know the limitations of a home inspection, an overly disclaimed inspection report is needlessly long and tedious.

So, what do those disclaimers really mean?

  • In an occupied home with furnishings: The inspector likely had limited visibility of certain areas due to furniture, clutter, moving boxes, etc.
  • Depending on usage: The inspector is covering the bases by saying that using the component too much (or too little) could affect its life span.
  • Due to the weather: The inspector should note the weather at the beginning of the report, as rain and snow may impede his/her ability to inspect components like a roof or grading.
  • Except under extreme conditions: This is unclear, as “extreme” is often a matter of opinion.
  • The inspector may not be able to guarantee discovery: Again, this is usually stated in the preinspection agreement and maybe at the beginning of the report. It doesn’t need to appear more often than that.

How to Spot a Good Inspection Report
Each section of your home inspection report should state the facts about the property’s condition at the time of inspection. Any disclaimers, within reason, and limitations should be listed in the “scope of work” section of the preinspection agreement. There’s no need for an inspector to add a disclaimer to every statement or note in the report.

A competent inspector will clearly outline any limitations and exclusions specific to the inspection. For example, “The roof was not accessible for inspection due to snow,” or “The attic was not inspected due to home owner’s personal possessions blocking the access.” In situations such as these, the inspector should document the disclaimer statement with a photograph.

The main reason you’re having an inspection is to find out any problems with the house, right? So, in the inspection report, your inspector should state any problems, include a photograph of each problem, explain why something is or could be a concern, and describe the corrective course of action. Your inspector may also point out outstanding or superior features of the property. If the inspector sticks to this process, then there is really no need to include an excess of disclaimers, and certainly not in every statement throughout the report.

Your inspection report should be written in simple laymen’s terms, with comments that are clear and concise. You (and your real estate agent) are less likely to read an entire report that is overwritten. Regardless of the report’s length, do make sure to read the entire report, and if there’s terminology or anything you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to call your inspector and ask for clarification.

Yates PhotoWith more than 10 years of experience in his current position and over 30 years of experience in remodeling and contracting, Randy Yates provides technical training to new NPI/GPI inspectors and provides field support to all NPI/GPI inspectors. To find an inspector in your area, click one of the links below:

 

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Common Defects in Newly Built Homes

By Randy Yates, Training Consultant Administrator, NPI/GPI Corporate

Home under construction uid 1When it comes to new-home construction, there really is no limit as to what can go wrong or not be done correctly during building. Defects are common; in fact, it has been said that a home inspector can sometimes find more things wrong with a newly constructed home than an existing home. This is why it’s important to always have a home inspection when buying a house — even if the house is newly built.

You might wonder what kinds of defects a new house could possibly have. Here is a list of problems home inspectors at National Property Inspections and Global Property Inspections often find:

Structural Defects
Premature cracking and settlement in foundation walls can be caused when builders don’t allow the proper amount of curing time for concrete in poured and block foundation walls and slabs. In addition, improper framing techniques — which may not be apparent at first — can cause cracks to develop in drywall. These are typically hairline in nature.

HVAC Problems
Our inspectors occasionally discover that the vent pipe from a gas-fired furnace has not been connected and has come loose during the initial operation. This is a major safety hazard, as carbon monoxide may enter the residence. In one situation, the PVC pipes used to vent a gas-fired furnace were not properly glued together. In addition, our inspectors sometimes find thermostats that do not respond to normal functions. Another common problem is missing drip legs on condensate lines.

Electrical Errors
The list is long for typical electrical problems, and most would not be obvious to the average home buyer or owner. The problem with defects in your home’s electrical system is that most are a fire and/or safety hazard. Here are the most common electrical problems our inspectors find in new houses:

  • Missing switch plates or receptacle covers
  • Improperly wired outlets
  • Open grounds — ground wire is not connected properly
  • Reversed polarity
  • Open knock-outs in the main electrical panel
  • Improper wire sizes on breakers
  • Double-taps on breakers in main panels — when two wires connect to a single breaker
    Jumpers ahead of the main lugs (double-tapping) — when two wires connect to a single lug

Plumbing Blunders
Plumbing problems are something you certainly don’t want in a new house. Leaks can cause major damage and mold issues, while other defects are more of a nuisance. But shouldn’t your brand-new home be free of nuisances? Here are some of the most common plumbing issues:

  • Unglued or improperly glued PVC pipe connections frequently develop leaks — you may never know about the weak joint until standing water begins to seep through
  • Hot/cold reversed faucets and fixtures
  • Bathroom sink drain stoppers that were not connected
  • Improperly vented plumbing systems may be noisy and/or smelly
  • Drain pipes that were not connected (One of our inspectors really did find a drain pipe in a crawl space that was never connected)

Miscellaneous Mistakes
Believe it or not, our inspectors have found all of the following problems in newly constructed houses:

  • Incomplete door hardware on closet doors, cabinetry and entrance doors
  • Improper fire-rated assemblies for pull-down attic stairs
  • Missing handrails on stairs
  • Missing or insufficient insulation
  • Leaky windows
  • Siding defects
  • Improper grading, which could lead to water intrusion and foundation damage

What these defects tell us is that if you are moving into a newly built house, don’t skip the home inspection. Even the best builders in your area use subcontractors, so you can’t assume that everything in your house is top-quality just because you builder is. Plus, you have to allow for human error, which is how many of the problems mentioned here happen. So, even if you just had your house built, it’s worth the cost of a home inspection to ensure that everything was done correctly, and that your new home will be safe and worry-free.

To find an NPI home inspector in your area in the United States, please visit www.npiweb.com/FindAnInspector. To find a GPI inspector in your area in Canada, please visit www.gpiweb.ca/FindAnInspector.

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What’s Wrong With This Photo?

By Randy Yates, Training Consultant Administrator, NPI/GPI

Snapshots From the FieldLook closely at the photo on the left and see if you can figure out what is wrong in the picture. Is it the fireplace? No, it seems to have an adequate hearth. Is it the throw rug? Well, that probably won’t stay after the sale of the house.

Check out that big, beautiful window in the background. If you look closely, you’ll notice it goes all the way to the floor. But what could be wrong with that? Here’s what: With a window that big, the glass needs to be safety glass — something the average home buyer would never look for, but your home inspector would.

In the case of the window pictured, the original sliding glass patio door had been removed and replaced with single-pane glass that showed no indication that it was safety glass. Just think of the catastrophe if someone tripped and fell into this window or if a child was playing and crashed into it.

According to the International Residential Code (IRC), if a window meets the following four criteria, it must be made of safety glass:

  • The glass size must be larger than 9 square feet, or 3 ft. x 3 ft.
  • The sill height (bottom of the window) must be lower than 18 inches.
  • The upper edge (top of the window) must be greater than 36 inches above a walking surface.
  • The window must be within 36 inches horizontal of walking surface.

Although difficult to tell in this picture, the size of the window is 36 square feet. The sill height is zero, as the window goes to the floor. it was originally a patio door, so it is within 36 inches horizontal both inside and outside. In short, this window needs to be made of safety glass.

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Home Inspection Red Flags

By Randy Yates, Training Consultant Administrator, NPI/GPI

“Buyer beware” is the catchphrase that often may not be given as advice to a home buyer or even to a property inspector. Certain problems that could be revealed during a home inspection would make the faintest of heart run away from a deal, but when you major issues are discovered, any buyer may run away fast. Here are some examples of red flags that could be discovered during a home inspection:

Too Many Roof Layers
Some areas now allow only one layer of asphalt or fiberglass composition shingles. Other areas allow two, but it’s rare for more than two layers to be considered acceptable. So, if you find a house that has three layers and the third layer looks like it was just installed, you may ask, “Why do I have to tear off a brand new roof?” It’s all about the weight factor, and the third layer will tip the scale and add too much weight to the home’s structure.

Foundation Issues
If your home inspector discovers a foundation that has anchoring plates installed on the inside and notes that they “may require frequent torqueing with seasonal changes,” you should know that this is not part of normal maintenance.

Electrical Issues
You inspect a home built prior to 1950-ish. Knob-and-tube (KNT) wiring all over the place. Although the National Electrical Code (NEC) may still recognize it, few insurance companies will provide coverage for houses with KNT because of the potential fire hazards.

These are just a few of the potential pitfalls to be aware of when buying a house. The good news is that every problem can be fixed, so don’t walk away just because a house has some issues. Whether major issues like those mentioned here and others are deal killers depends on a couple of things:

  • Will the seller repair the problems?
  • If the seller won’t repair the problems, will they discount the price so you can have the issues repaired?
  • If the seller won’t repair and won’t discount the price, do you have the time and money to repair the problems yourself?

If the seller is unwilling to work with you and you don’t have the money to fix the problems, then your best option may be to walk away from the deal.

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How Homes Are Getting Smarter

By Randy Yates, Technical Supervisor and Technical Training Administrator, NPI/GPI

Modern House at Night_shutterstock_146068007The term “smart home” and home automation technology have been around for quite some time. Early-generation systems required hardwiring to make the systems function within homes. Back in those days, it seemed as though only the super-rich could afford to have a smart home. Costs of installing those systems ran into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to install. I’m not saying that a smart system installation can’t cost that much these days, depending on the size and whether it’s a fully computerized monitoring system like we see in the movies, but some smart home elements and technologies are much more affordable.

With the rise of wi-fi, cellphones, the Internet, and wireless devices and systems, we are seeing a dramatic rise in smart home systems and technology and a drastic reduction in costs for these systems. Early-generation security systems required hardwiring and actually were the beginning stages of what was then called home automation technology. Today, we see homes where wireless devices and wi-fi have practically eliminated the need for hardwiring, and that has reduced the costs dramatically.

Command centers are being replaced by applications on our smartphones that allow home owners to control just about anything — lights inside and outside the home, temperature, TV and stereo systems, opening and closing blinds and curtains, locking doors, and a security system that can be set up and monitored by the police and fire departments. You can even find smart appliances, which can be connected to the Internet and to each other, and sales of these appliances are expected to explode over the next five years.

In the long run, smart home technology can save energy, which can result in reduced energy consumption and save money in the long run. It also reduces your carbon footprint.

If you’re ready to jump on the smart home bandwagon, do some research online to find systems and providers. For example, several telecom companies offer monthly smart home subscription services that can be affordable. You can also check out DIY smart home options, such as Staples Connect and Belkin WeMo.

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Home Inspection 101: Electrical Panel Inspection

By Randy Yates, Technical Supervisor and Technical Training Administrator, NPI/GPI Corporate

Wire BoxWhen you’re buying a house, you want to know it’s safe. One of the main safety concerns is a home’s electrical system. Old wiring, improper outlets and an outdated service panel are problems often found in houses. Although older houses are at more risk for these issues, even newer houses can have electrical problems. This is just one more reason a home inspection is a good idea before you buy your dream home. Your home inspector will check all visible aspects of a home’s electrical system.

Inspection of the electrical panel should be performed only by either a licensed electrician or a trained property inspector — don’t try to inspect the panel yourself. Removal of the outer panel cover, and even removal of the panel-cover screws, poses a potential risk for electrocution. Your home inspector will approach the panel and first use either the back of their hand or a static electrical tester to check whether the service panel is energized — meaning there’s potential risk of electrocution from improperly installed interior panel wiring or the wrong type of screws to hold the panel cover in place.

(Flat-tipped screws should be used to hold the panel cover in place, not pointed-tip screws. The reason for flat-tip screws is that they reduce the risk of potential penetration into the insulation or sheathing that protects the wires inside the panel, which may not have been appropriately placed or safely tucked into the panel.)

Once the inspector removes the panel cover, he or she begins a visual inspection of the interior of the panel box. The inspector checks for and determines the size of the service coming into the house — how much power is coming in from the utility. The following are some other items an inspector checks for:

  • Whether the panel has fuses or circuit breakers
  • Properly sized wires coordinate to appropriately sized breakers
  • Presence of double-taps — when more than one wire is connected to a breaker (unless the equipment is rated for such use)
  • Dark, rusty or smoky residue on the panel
  • Age and wear of the panel
  • Improperly wired subpanels
  • Wires run in a neat and orderly manner
  • Presence of open splices or nicks in wires
  • All connections are tight

A common finding is open knock-outs — holes or knock-outs that wires may have been passed through at one time but which are no longer in use. These holes should be closed or plugged so that in the event of an arc or spark in the panel, the occurrence can be contained within the panel.

If your home inspector finds problems with the electrical panel, he or she will recommend that the panel be evaluated and repaired by a professional electrician. Don’t skip this important step before you purchase a house; your safety depends on it.

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Ask the Home Inspector: Roof Inspections

By Randy Yates, Technical Supervisor and Technical Training Administrator, NPI/GPI Corporate

Roof_shutterstock_145024390Q. What does a roof inspection entail?

A. One of the largest areas of concern to a home buyer is the roof. After all, it covers and protects the home, and replacing it can be a big investment.

First and foremost in a roof inspection is the question of accessibility: Can the inspector physically walk the roof, or will they need to conduct the inspection from the ground with binoculars or by placing a ladder at the eave at various locations? Limitations to consider are the roof’s height and its pitch or steepness. Many home inspectors are not comfortable climbing up on a roof that is taller than two stories, and a 4 to 5/12 pitch (steepness) is about the comfort zone for most inspectors. Weather is also a consideration, as a home inspector should only walk on a roof in dry conditions. And finally, there are certain types of roof materials that an inspector cannot and must not walk on. Regardless, an inspector must disclose in the report how the roof was inspected.

Perform an Overall Roof Inspection
Another big question that comes up during a home inspection is, “How old is the roof?” Sellers are typically the best source, as home owners usually know how old their roof is. If the home owners are unavailable or don’t know the age of the roof, then a home inspector should give a ballpark estimate as to the roof’s age. In general, composite aggregate shingles have more definitions that provide visible indications as to age.

Design life expectancies for roofing materials are determined by the National Home Builders Association (NHBA) and can be used as a guideline for life expectancy. Each type of roof covering system can vary, with most lasting anywhere from 20 to 25 years all the way up to what some manufacturers call “lifetime.”

A home inspector will also report the roof’s overall condition: Are the shingles or materials cracked, curled, cupped or split? Are there any missing shingles? Are any/all penetrations sealed or properly flashed? Penetrations are anything from plumbing vent pipes, furnace and water heater flues, skylights or fireplace chimneys that actually penetrate thorough the roofing system. Any penetration can be a potential leak source for water intrusion. Your home inspector will visually inspect the flashings and penetrations for proper installation and signs of leakage.

Finally, the inspector will check whether the roof system was installed correctly according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Describe the Roof Material
Inspectors should report the type of material covering the home’s roof, which can be the following:

  • Asphalt/fiberglass three-tab or architectural
  • Stone aggregate composite shingles, which are most common
  • Man-made (synthetic) slate
  • Clay or concrete tile
  • Cedar shingle or shake, which in some states are no longer allowed to be installed, according to state laws and guidelines
  • Metal, which is becoming more popular for residential roofing systems, as well as commercial applications
  • Different types of rubber and PVC membrane systems for flat roof systems

Record the Number of Layers
How many layers are present? In certain jurisdictions, multiple layers of roofing material are only acceptable with asphalt/fiberglass three-tab or architectural, or with stone aggregate composite shingles. Usually, no more than two layers are allowed.

It is an industry-known fact that the life expectancy of this type of roofing system does not meet the normal expected life expectancy when it becomes a layered roof, thus National Property Inspections and Global Property Inspections always recommend that home inspectors check with the local authority having jurisdiction.

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Aluminum Wiring: Hazardous or Not?

By Randy Yates, Technical Supervisor and Technical Training Administrator, NPI/GPI Corporate

Aluminum WiringAs we in the home inspection industry know, the discovery aluminum wiring should be noted in a home inspection report. But as a home owner or buyer, you may wonder if there is cause for concern. Aluminum wiring was introduced as a result of a shortage of and escalating costs of copper in the late 1960s up to mid-1970s. It is estimated that aluminum wiring systems were installed in 1.5 million homes, and for these homes aluminum wiring systems are at the end of what is generally considered aluminum’s useful life, which is about 30 years.

In houses with aluminum wiring, some home owners discovered overheating was occurring, and this was attributed to the expansive and corrosive characteristics of aluminum wiring within the circuit connections. As a result, the National Electrical Code (NEC) declared aluminum wiring to be a potential fire hazard, and its use ceased.

The following are signs of premature failure of aluminum wiring observable to a home owner:

  • Unusually warm cover plates on switches and outlets
  • A burning plastic odor in the vicinity of a switch or outlet
  • Sparks, flame, smoke or arcing at switches or outlets
  • Flickering lights
  • Electrical features and appliances suddenly stop working and no circuit breakers have been tripped
  • Incandescent lights momentarily dim or brighten when a motor starts

If you have aluminum wiring in your home, you may wonder whether it is safe, legal or needs to be replaced. Here are some things to consider.

Is Aluminum Wiring Safe?
It can be, if the right components have been installed with the aluminum wiring and the system is in good condition.

Is It Legal?
The electrical codes don’t say that you can’t use aluminum wiring. In fact, it is recognized in the NEC. However, in some areas, insurance companies either won’t cover a house with aluminum wiring or will charge a higher premium to cover it.

Do I Need to Replace Aluminum Wiring in My House?
Maybe not entirely, but maybe in part. It really depends on whether the system is in good condition or you notice any of the signs listed above. However, to be certain the system is safe, you should have it inspected and evaluated by an electrician.

The NEC recognizes the use of aluminum wiring as long as all components used in installing the electrical system and components — switches, receptacles, fixtures and connectors — are rated for use in aluminum electrical wiring systems. Splice connectors also must be rated for use with aluminum wiring. Any component used must have an AL or AL/CU rating. (AL represents aluminum and CU represents copper.)

Only a thorough, invasive inspection — meaning removal of all electrical covers on junction boxes, all outlet and receptacle covers, and all receptacle and switches — can confirm that all components are rated for use in an aluminum wiring system, and this is outside the scope a home inspection.

The bottom line is that whenever a single-strand aluminum electrical system is discovered during the course of a home inspection, the inspector should recommend that the system be fully inspected by a qualified, licensed electrician.

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