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6 things home inspectors look for
What exactly is that home inspector looking for when he climbs up on the roof, descends into the basement or slides into the crawl space?
Along with diagnosing potential safety hazards and high-dollar repairs, there’s also a bit of archaeology involved. A good home inspector can discuss the quality of construction and maintenance your (potential) home has had.
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Bonus: An inspector will share pointers for taking care of your new home. (Which is why many inspectors strongly encourage potential buyers to attend the inspection.)
Here are six things a home inspector looks for.
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Basic safety checklist
Safety should always be primary to the home inspector, which is why many of the things on the home inspector’s checklist are safety items. Four things sure to be included:
Smoke detectors: Does the home have them? Are they installed correctly and in the right places (in or near sleeping areas but not too close to the stove)?
Ground fault interrupters: These are the special plugs you should find in areas where water and electricity are in proximity, such as bathrooms and kitchens.
Safety glass: Are the glass features installed near stairs or water (like tubs and showers), made of safety (or “tempered”) glass?
Stairs: Are the steps a uniform, safe height and angle? Do stairs have hand rails and guard rails properly installed and in the right places?
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The home’s ‘envelope’
No matter how old the home, your inspector will look at the basic “envelope” that shields it from weather and water. The inspector will walk the property to look at drainage.
The inspector will look for cracks in the foundation and examine the roof, rain gutters and flashings, as well as all the windows.
And the inspector will look at how the walls and roof intersect. The inspector doesn’t want to see lots of caulk because that usually means it’s not waterproofed. When done right, waterproofing is part of the home design — not something added after the fact.
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The inspector will check out the home’s systems, from electrical and plumbing to heating and air. Here are a few of the points an inspector will cover:
Heating and air: How well does the heating and cooling work? Do they provide heating and cooling evenly to every area? Is there good airflow in every room? If there’s an air return, is it properly located and sized to serve the house efficiently?
Plumbing: Likewise, the inspector will check to see that the plumbing is done correctly, provides enough water to the house and drains properly. This is where you find out if you have sufficient water flow and pressure.
Electrical: An inspector will make sure that your electrical system provides enough power for the house and that it’s properly installed, bonded and grounded. He’ll also make sure that there are enough outlets.
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The inspector can tell if the roof was done properly by a professional or by an amateur.
He’ll also make sure that any openings — like the chimney or skylights — are properly flashed and are free of moss growth and debris.
Your inspector will provide an estimate of how many good years expensive components, like the roof, have left.
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Venting, water heater temps
For safety, a house needs proper ventilation for natural gas appliances such as heaters, water heaters and clothes dryers.
Dangerous gases can build up in the house if those appliances aren’t installed, vented and configured properly.
And while many of these appliances have safety features, a good inspector will make sure that the safety equipment is properly enabled.
The inspector will make sure that clothes dryers are properly vented to catch lint and expel hot air, which helps prevent house fires.
The inspector will check the temperature of the water heater. It should be over 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and some inspectors prefer to max out the temperature at 110 degrees.
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Signs that you might need a specialist
Some areas or conditions might require further examination, often by a pro with specialized equipment. Here are two fairly common ones:
Fireplaces: The inspector wants to see that they vent adequately and that wood-burning fireplaces don’t have a condition that the National Fire Protection Association would call a hazard.
And that’s when your inspector might recommend a specialist: A fireplace inspector who will use a specialized camera to scope out the interior or the chimney and flue.
Sewers: Sewer problems are potentially one of the most expensive repairs in an older house, and it’s hidden beneath your yard.
If you’re buying an older home that has sewer service, you want to call in a specialist to have the whole system (from the main house to the street) videoscoped.