Matching the home inspector with the home is our number tip and golden rule, but this assumes you’ve found a qualified inspector who is already going to be sure to cover the essential aspects of a home inspection. Even within these basics, there is plenty of potential for complications.
Roofing: The roof is the most underrated component of a home’s overall structural integrity. It’s easy to imagine a roof springing a leak, patching the leak, and calling it good. What’s just as common is a leak that runs down the side of the home into the basement and foundation and wrecking the structural integrity of the entire home.
More than just the home inspector’s knowledge, you have to think about the roof’s accessibility. At the very least, be sure to communicate to the home inspector if the roof provides limited access. Specialized equipment may be needed to visualize certain areas of the roof. What you want to avoid is a home inspector who says something like, “Well, I was able to get up there and see most of the roof, except on that southeast side, and from what I saw, the roof looks to be in good shape.” In cases in which the home has a specialized and/or especially difficult to access roof, a separate roof inspector may be needed to feel 100% confident about the home’s condition.
Foundation: The roof and the foundation are elements 1A and 1B for the exterior condition of the home. The age and design of the foundation can help determine if the foundation has finished settling and what, if any, ongoing vulnerabilities the foundation may face—from the surrounding soil as well as from the home structure itself. The importance of the foundation can be seen throughout the home. Even a slightly shifted foundation can cause windows and doors that no longer fit right in their jambs. In this way, the entire home inspection serves as an inspection of the foundation. If the foundation has seen repair work before, the home inspector will assess the condition of the repair work. An epoxy filler, for example, should be monitored periodically to see if the crack around the epoxy has grown. The home inspector should thus take a meticulous measurement of these types of foundation cracks.
HVAC: Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning is a fundamental component of any home, but these systems have a large amount of variety all on their own. It’s also been one of the areas of home construction that has experienced and continues to experience a lot of research and development of new technologies. Evaluating the condition of solar panels is different than geothermal systems is different than heat pumps is different than forced-air heating, not to mention the ductwork, steam pipes, radiant flooring that goes along with these systems.
Inspections on older homes tend to be more focused on air leaks and draftiness, whereas inspections on newer homes tend to focus on the installation and condition of HVAC systems, including assurances that the home has adequate ventilation. What, if any, home improvements might make sense strictly from the energy-efficiency/utility bill savings? What, if any, improvements might make the home more comfortable to live in?
Plumbing: Knowing whether the home has modern pipes and the general condition, design, and gradient of the home’s plumbing is crucial to plan for the home’s future maintenance and/or renovation costs. In some cases, the potential for major plumbing failures might intersect with vulnerabilities in the foundation that could raise a serious red flag. The same goes for water heating system. For some properties, it may also be necessary to get someone to run a camera line through the mainline out to the city sewer line. For other typically more rural properties, part of the inspection may include an evaluation of the water well or septic tank system.
Electrical: Here, the potential risk goes beyond mere property loss. Worn, torn, corroded, or outdated wiring can be a huge fire hazard. Inspection of the home’s electrical system—or other kinds of home energy systems—is standard, but it shouldn’t be taken for granted, either. Is there one outlet in the home that looks sketchy compared to the rest? How hard would it be to install an additional outlet in this room? How hard would it be to install a dimmer switch in the kitchen? Know what the deal is with these questions before the inspector leaves.
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