When you make an offer on a property, it is strongly recommended that you hire a professional home inspector to ensure that the house and its systems are in good condition or working properly.The modern home inspection is usually incredibly detailed and a good one is well worth the expense. This may be the one time you pay someone to look over everything. The following description is meant as an outline, a brief primer on what to expect. The structural and systems inspections are pivotal parts in most Purchase and Sale agreements. Additional tests can include radon, lead paint, mold and water quality where there are literally over a dozen choices. The following gives you the highlights of the structural and systems.
So What Do They Inspect?
Every inspector has their own methodology but the following are typical. These are highlights and not, by any means, a complete list of items that will be inspected.
Overall Structural Integrity
The inspector likely will first look at the outside of the home for the overall condition. They look for any evidence of rot, sagging, leaks, venting, supports and signs of deterioration or lack of proper maintenance. They might poke along the sill, the lower support of the home. They will look at drainage, vegetation too close to the siding, windows, doors, electrical outlets and outside faucets. Inspectors might use binoculars or climb a ladder to carefully look over the roof, attic venting and flashing. They have checklists and review over a hundred items they are hired to check. After inspecting the outside the inspector will move indoors.
Well & Septic
If the home has a well and septic system, the inspector may do a kind of stress test by running the water for quite a while. They are checking for a good supply and that the septic system can handle that volume of water without there being gray water coming to the surface over the leaching area. It is often suggested you get a more thorough septic inspection. This involves paying someone to dig up the septic tank and distribution box and putting a camera through them to inspect the lines and the condition of the leaching field. We are seeing this kind of inspection much more often than even five years ago.
Besides the systems that support the plumbing, feed lines, pressurized storage tanks, hot water heaters, drain lines and vents are a high priority during home inspections. Inspectors are looking for evidence of leaks, clogs and corrosion. As mentioned, it’s not unusual for them to turn on fixtures including showers and tubs and let them run for quite a while. Likewise they flush all of the toilets, run the dishwasher and washing machine when present and included in the sale. They look for low or high water pressure. They inspect the hot water heater for setting and temp. If it’s propane, they’ll look for proper venting. They also want to see working temp/pressure valves.
There are a wide number of water tests that may be performed. If the property is on a private well, the lender will require a bacteria test for financing but you consider testing for arsenic, lead, radon, alpha, nitrate, nitrites or others. See the disclosure <link to Disc of Info on Testing Water>. The Purchase and Sale agreement will contain this disclosure informing you of the various pollutants that can be found in water from a well or spring. When testing for lead in the water, the Seller will be asked to not use the water before the inspection. This ‘first draw’ is to test for lead in the plumbing. This water that’s been sitting in the pipes overnight may contain lead, either from old plumbing or solder used to join the copper feed pipes.
Damp or Wet Basement
The basement or crawl space is another part of the building to be inspected. An inspector will most definitely examine the underlying footing and foundation of the home. They will check the walls for a powdery white mineral deposit a few inches off the floor, and will look to see if things you store right on your basement floor have suffered any moisture-related damage. Mildew odors are also a red flag for home inspectors. They will look for cracks or movement in the foundation as well as evidence of repairs. They’ll note any seepage through the walls. They’ll test sumps for operation. In older homes or those with poor drainage, standing water on the floor will always be noted in a report as well as vapor barriers over crawl spaces.
Inspections include looking at insulation and ventilation, not just in the attic but in areas behind knee walls. They look for evidence of mold and mildew. Improper ventilation, insulation and vapor barriers can cause water and moisture to accumulate in the attic. Insulation may be blocking soffit vents. Ridge or gable vents may be insufficient. Moisture and improper ventilation can cause health problems and cause premature wear of the roof, structure and building materials. While in the attic, the inspector will also look for evidence of leaks or daylight through flashing, etc.
The major problem associated with roofing problems is leakage and excessive wear which can occur for a variety of reasons. Physical deterioration of asphalt shingles, mechanical damage from a windstorm or ice build-up as a result of poor drainage are all common causes of roofing issues. Leaky gutters and downspouts can also damage siding and exterior walls. They also can hold ice and get ripped off by the weight, which is why many homes in Vermont don’t have them.
Rotting wood, an issue particularly prevalent in older homes, can occur in many places such as door or window frames, trim, siding, decks and fences. Damp basements over time cause floor members to rot. Building inspectors will oftentimes probe the wood to check its integrity. They can be particularly skeptical of woodwork that has been freshly painted.
Brickwork and block construction can show signs of water damage, minor ground and foundation settling and a host of other time-related changes. Look at the chimney on the outside for missing or shifting bricks or cracked blocks. Inspectors use mirrors from inside the fireplace or clean-out to inspect the condition of the flue. They’ll make note of missing dampers and are usually more concerned about substandard conditions of chimneys when a wood stove is involved.
Wiring and Electrical Systems
Most inspectors go over the electrical system extremely thoroughly. Inadequate wiring can occur in many forms. They will check for reversed polarity in outlets, overloaded circuits, GFCI near water or outside, the type of wires used and if they are adequate to handle the loads, the circuit breaker box and its capacity. The home should have a minimum of 100 amps service, and this should be clearly marked. All wiring should be copper or aluminum and be grounded. Older homes with knob and tube, even in outbuildings, will be noted and deemed inferior. Appliances will be checked for larger amp circuit breakers. Uncapped junction boxes or outlet covers will be noted. Anything the inspector deems unsafe or not up to code will be highlighted.
Heating and Cooling Systems
A home inspector will scrutinize heating and cooling systems for efficiency and performance. They will note the possibility of pipe or duct wrap containing asbestos. The age, appearance and general condition of the furnace will be noted and when the annual cleaning was last conducted. In a forced hot air system, the inspector will probably place the heat exchanger under particular scrutiny examining for cracks and damage that could be a potential source of carbon monoxide in your home. If the heat exchanger is damaged it must be replaced as it cannot be repaired. In hot water or steam systems they will check piping, insulation and radiators for any signs of leaks.
Cooling systems are also inspected. If the home has central air conditioning, they will examine the compressor location and its size, installation, freedom from debris or vegetation, noisiness, dehumidification and cooling ability.
Security & Safety
A home inspector will examine the home for proper locks on windows and patio doors and dead bolts on the doors. If there is a security system, they will note its type and who and when it was serviced last.
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors need to be near or in every bedroom and on every level. Their method for detection needs to be photoelectric, rather than the old ionization style. A home constructed after 1994 needs to have the smoke detectors hardwired with battery backup. At closing that you will receive a statement from the Seller that the detectors are in compliance with the regulations and when they were purchased, installed or manufactured.
Again, this discussion is by no means complete. It is meant as a guide but you can see the kind of scrutiny that goes into a typical inspection. It’s not unusual for an inspection to take 3-5 hours, depending on the size of the home and outbuildings. You should be present for the inspection if at all possible and after reading this, you can probably see why. Not only does the inspection find faults with the home, it likely will discuss ongoing maintenance.
When an issue arises from the inspection, your agent can help get estimates for repair. It’s not unusual for there to be some renegotiation if something major arises during the inspection or is mentioned in the follow up report. Agents can assist in these situations.
Your future home could be the most important investment you ever make and inspecting it thoroughly before purchasing, is a wise move.