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6 things the home inspector is looking for

Home inspector looking under insulation
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When you’re on the hunt for a house, it’s easy to fall in love with the layout, colors and ambiance of your potential home. But before you stay too long on cloud nine, you’ll need the reality check of a home inspection.

A home inspection is when a housing structure is visually and physically evaluated, from the foundation to the roof. Buying a home is most likely the largest purchase you’ll ever make. The last thing you want to do is invest a ton of money into buying a home only to find out it needs extensive repairs. That’s why a home inspection is so important. So what exactly is the home inspector looking for during this evaluation?

A good home inspector can discuss the quality of construction and maintenance your (potential) home has been through. They’ll also share pointers for taking care of your new home. Many inspectors recommend that potential buyers attend the inspection. Here are X things a home inspector looks for.

1. 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 they’re on the lookout for include:

  • 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 that protect you from shock 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 handrails and guardrails correctly installed and in the right places?

2. 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 the windows.

They’ll also 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.

3. Major systems

The inspector will check out the home’s systems, from electrical and plumbing to heating and air conditioning. 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: The inspector will check to see that the plumbing provides enough water to the house and drains how it’s supposed to. 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 installed and grounded correctly. They’ll make sure there are enough outlets.

4. The roof

The inspector can tell if the roof was done properly by a professional or by an amateur.

They’ll check to see 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.

5. 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 the right way.

And while many of these appliances have safety features, a good inspector will make sure 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 not be over 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and some inspectors prefer to max out the temperature at 110 degrees.

6. Signs a specialist is needed

Some areas or conditions might need further examination, often by a pro with specialized equipment. Here are two standout areas:

  1. Fireplaces: The inspector wants to see that they vent well and that wood-burning fireplaces don’t have a condition that the National Fire Protection Association would call a hazard. Your inspector might recommend a fireplace inspector who will use a specialized camera to scope out the interior or the chimney and flue.
  2. Sewers: Septic problems can be one of the most expensive repairs in an older house, and it’s hidden beneath your yard. If you’re buying a 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, or a video inspection that goes through pipes, holes and other areas.

How to find a home inspector

Before you buy a home, make sure you get it inspected first. You can find an inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors or by asking your real estate agent or community members for recommendations. ASHI has a Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice that members abide by when conducting inspections, which may help you in finding out a qualified home inspector for your needs. You can also search the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors.

Even if you already own a home, an inspector can help you identify any problems that may arise to avoid costly repairs or dire situations. It can also help if you’re selling your home and want to make any appropriate updates before putting it on the market.

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Written by
Dori Zinn
Contributing writer
Dori Zinn has been a personal finance journalist for more than a decade. Aside from her work for Bankrate, her bylines have appeared on CNET, Yahoo Finance, MSN Money, Wirecutter, Quartz, Inc. and more. She loves helping people learn about money, specializing in topics like investing, real estate, borrowing money and financial literacy.