Ask the Inspector: Home Inspection Questions

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The inspector answers home inspection questions

Archive: Home Inspection Questions    |    Home Maintence & Repair Questions


The following are a collection of home inspection related questions.


Dear Hans: My parents bought a house about a year ago and had a home inspector check it out. The inspection report said the furnace had no problems. But recently, a heating contractor did a routine inspection and said the furnace blower is cracked. He told us this could let carbon monoxide into the house and that the furnace needs to be replaced. My parents have carbon monoxide detectors in their home, and the detectors have never gone off. Our suspicions were raised when the furnace man refused to show us the crack. So we're having another contractor take a look. If the blower is cracked, can it be repaired? Shouldn't the company that found the crack be willing to show it to us? Shouldn't the home inspector have reported the crack? And do we have recourse? -- Kari

Dear Kari: A cracked blower does not affect carbon monoxide levels in a home. The heating contractor must have meant a cracked heat exchanger. In most cases, a furnace with a cracked heat exchanger must be replaced. The only exceptions are heaters for which replacement parts are available, and with older furnaces this is unlikely. It's hard to imagine a heating company discovering a significant problem and then refusing to show it to you. Your decision to get a second opinion was a good one, especially given the high cost of a new furnace. Whether the home inspector should have reported the crack (assuming there is a crack) is uncertain. Inspectors can only report conditions that are visible and accessible. In many cases, cracks in heat exchangers cannot be seen without dismantling the furnace.

As for recourse, that would be an issue only if the crack existed a year ago, when the house was purchased. Unfortunately, there is no way to know if the fixture was cracked then. It is possible that the problem developed during the past year.

Dear Hans: We're planning to sell our home. It's in pretty good condition, but some of the floors are squeaky and there are cracks in the patio slab. We would like to get as much as possible when we sell and are worried about how these defects will affect the appraisal value. If we repair the floors and patio, do you think we can get more for the house? -- Jim

Dear Jim: Squeaky floors and cracked patio slabs have little or no impact on the market value of a home. If the floors can be repaired for a nominal cost, you can correct them if you wish. But keep in mind that many buyers do major remodeling and new landscaping after taking possession of a home. In that case, minor repairs before the sale would have no appreciable benefit. If all other aspects of the property are presentable, you would do well simply to disclose the squeaks and cracks. Most buyers are willing to accept defects that are openly disclosed, especially minor ones such as these.

Dear Hans: The people who are buying our home ordered a radon test. Test readings in the basement were high and the company that did the testing quoted $975 to fix the problem. We're concerned that the company that provided the test is also proposing to do the repairs. Isn't this a conflict of interest? -- Diana

Dear Diana: Such conflicts occur in a number of service businesses, including termite extermination, septic-system maintenance and roof repair. When inspections and repairs are performed by the same company, it’s likely to raise suspicions. But this is a problem only when the business is run by unethical people. If the company is honest, then the conflict should not be a problem.

If you want to confirm the radon findings, you can order radon test canisters from an environmental testing lab and perform your own test. One thing to note: The price the company has quoted for the work is reasonable.

Dear Hans: I am looking for the definition of a bedroom. I bought a house that was listed as a four-bedroom home. Two bedrooms are in the basement, with no closets and are very small. I’m not sure if these rooms are large enough to qualify as bedrooms. Can you please clarify the definition of a bedroom? -- Victoria M., Essex Jct., VT 

Dear Victoria: Here are the basic requirements for a bedroom, according to the International Residential Code (IRC): 

1) A bedroom must be at least 70 square feet in area, with no dimension less than 7 feet.

2) The ceiling should be at least 7 feet high above the finished floor.

3) There must be an operable window for light, ventilation, and fire escape. For fire escape, the window must be at least 5.7 square feet in area. The opening must have a minimum height of 24 inches, a minimum width of 20 inches, and a maximum sill height of 44 inches unless a ladder is provided and permanently attached to the wall.

4) Contrary to popular belief, no closet is required in a bedroom. In newer homes, en suite bedroom closets often are located off the bathroom or dressing room area. State and local building codes supercede the IRC so it is best to contact the town where the home is located.

Dear Hans:  As the seller, should I be present in my home during the home inspection? Thank you ,and I look forward to your insight.  ---David N., Weathersfield, VT

Dear David: There are many pro and con arguments about having the homeowner present during the inspection.

Pros: When the homeowner is present, any questions that may arise during the inspection can usually be easily answered. It is important, however, for the homeowner to keep in mind that the inspector has not been retained to point out all of the good aspects of the home.

Cons: The potential buyer is sometimes intimidated by the homeowner and does not feel comfortable asking all of the questions that he or she may have. The homeowner may also feel uncomfortable during the inspection because it is very thorough. They should not feel offended when the inspector pints out a defect or potential defect.

Ultimately it is the seller’s decision as to whether to be present or not. The potential buyer’s opinion should be considered as well to keep things as stress free as possible.

Dear Hans: We recently had a home inspected and no major issues were found. Our lender informed us the home did not pass the FHA appraisal. How is it possible that the inspection passed and the appraisal failed? Shouldn’t the inspection and the appraisal have been the same? --- Lynn-Ann R., St. Albans, VT

Dear Lynn-Ann: That is a great question and the simple answer is no. A home inspection is an evaluation as to the condition of the property. An appraisal is an evaluation as to worth or value of the property.

An FHA appraisal is a little different from a conventional appraisal in that the home must meet the Minimum Property Standards. Most home inspectors are not versed in the FHA Minimum Property Standards as they are not required to be.

The Minimum Property Standards are the same as a home inspection in regards that both evaluate for safety issues and the structural soundness of the home. They are different in that the FHA appraiser is evaluating for things like encroachment issues and the feasibility of attaching a home utilizing a well to municipal water if available, just to name a few. These are things that are not within the scope of a normal home inspection.

There are options if the home does not pass the FHA appraisal. There are programs like the FHA 203k Streamline or 203K full which allow the buyer to borrow the money to repair the home and have it added to the mortgage amount. You should contact you lender for more information.

Dear Hans: Our Buyer Broker scheduled the home inspection for this week, but we’re not sure what to do with the report once we get it. Is the inspection just for our information, or can we use it to negotiate with the sellers? If we don’t like the finding are we obligated to buy the house? --- Cindy M., Middlebury, VT

Dear Cindy: First of all, I hope you had a say in who your inspector would be. Agents can be a source for referrals, but it is up to you to do your due diligence in finding or accepting an inspector.

A home inspection gives you a few different options as a buyer, but with some limitations. In the majority of home sales, the deal is contingent upon the buyers’ acceptance of the home inspection report. This means that you, as buyer, have a specified number of days to accept or decline the property. After reviewing the inspection report, you have four basic choices:

1) Ask the sellers to make a few repairs;
2) Ask the sellers to make many repairs;
3) Ask the sellers to reduce the sales price;
4) Decline to purchase the property.
If you request repairs or a price adjustment, based upon the
home inspection report, the sellers also have choices. They can:
1) Agree to all of your requests;
2) Agree to some of your requests;
3) Agree to none of your requests;
4) Tell you to take it as-is or the deal's off

The sellers’ only obligation is to address defects that are named in the purchase contract or as required by state and local laws. If the contract specifies an “as is” sale, the sellers may refuse to make repairs of any kind or to adjust the price in any way. Lawful exceptions in Vermont include that the seller provide the correct smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in specified locations.

As long as you are in the contingency period of your transaction, the choice to buy the property or to walk away from the deal is entirely yours. This is your discovery period, the time to learn what you are buying and to decide whether to proceed with the purchase or to renegotiate the terms of the sale.

Dear Hans, This may sound like a silly question, but what exactly is a home inspection? --Taylor S., Mendon, VT

Dear Taylor: Thank you for the question and it’s not a silly one at all. You would be surprised the number of people that don’t really understand what a home inspection really is.

A home inspection is, an evaluation of the visible and accessible systems and components of a home (plumbing, heating and cooling, electrical, structure, roof, etc.). It is intended to give you (buyer, seller, or homeowner) a better understanding of the home's general condition. Most often it’s a buyer who requests an inspection of the home he or she is serious about purchasing, although we have noticed a change in that trend. More and more sellers are having their homes inspected before listing the property to see if there are hidden problems that they are unaware of, and also by homeowners simply wanting to care for their homes, and keep the investment value as high as possible. A home inspection delivers data and can uncover serious and/or expensive to repair defects that the seller/owner may not be aware of. It is not an appraisal of the property's value; nor does it address the cost of repairs. It does not guarantee that the home complies with local building codes or protects a client in the event an item inspected fails in the future. (Note: We offer a warranty to cover many items should this happen). A home inspection should not be considered a "technically exhaustive" evaluation, but rather an evaluation of the property on the day it is inspected, taking into consideration normal wear and tear for the home's age and location. A home inspection can also include, for extra fees, Radon gas testing, water testing, energy audits, mold testing.

The important results to pay attention to in a home inspection are:

1. Major defects, such as large cracks in the foundation; structure out of level or plumb; decks not installed or supported properly, etc. These items can be very expensive to fix.

2. Things that could lead to major defects - a roof flashing leak that could get bigger, damaged downspouts that could cause backup and water intrusion, or a support beam that was not tied in to the structure properly.

3. Safety hazards, such as an exposed electrical wiring, lack of GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters) in kitchens and bathrooms, lack of safety railing on decks more than 30 inches off the ground, etc.

Your inspector will advise you about what to do about these problems. They may recommend evaluation - by licensed or certified professionals who are specialists in the defect areas.

Dear Hans: We're preparing to put our home on the market. Friends have suggested having a pre-list inspection. Can you explain what that is? - Jonathan & Karen M., Shelburne, VT

Dear Johnathan & Karen: If you are ready to sell your home and want to make sure the sale process goes smoothly, a pre-listing home inspection will provide you with a written report as to the pre-sale condition of the property. It could uncover any concerns that might compromise a sale.

Typically, home inspections are paid for by the buyer and performed before the closing and sale of the home. By being proactive and having the inspection done prior to marketing your home, you can shorten the process by removing obstacles before they interfere with a potential sale.

Why Get a Pre-Listing Home Inspection?

Pre-listing inspections are gaining in popularity and benefit everyone involved. Here are some of the benefits:

1. Sellers have time to decide what areas to work on to improve the home’s appeal.

2. Sellers choose whom to perform the inspection and can provide details about equipment maintenance, as well as explain current conditions.

3. Sellers gain time to make repairs and compare bids on work to be done. They can then truly provide full disclosure to their potential buyers. Sellers will have fewer issues to negotiate at the last minute.

4. Buyers’ benefits include receiving a third-party review of the home’s condition before making an offer, which can assist in securing financing.

5. Use your pre-list Home Inspection Report as a marketing tool; leave it out during the open house. This shows potential buyers that the home has been inspected, what was found, and what you fixed. The inspection can remove the buyer’s doubt regarding initial concerns and reduce the stress that often comes with purchasing a home. Buyers may even choose to waive having their own inspection done. Pre-listing home inspections may eventually become more common, but the importance of having a home inspection, as part of the home sales process, cannot be stressed enough. It protects all parties involved by providing invaluable information so that educated decisions can be made. It is also important to make sure your home inspector is licensed. (Vermont now requires all home inspectors be licensed).

Dear Hans, We are buying a home that has a well. The present owner had taken a water test and gave us the results but we don’t know what they mean. We were hoping you could help us out. The test they took was for Total Coliform Bacteria and E.coli. The results say there are 0 Colonies per 100ml for E.coli and 4 Colonies per 100ml for Bacteria. We were told the well could be disinfected and that would fix the problem. Is that true and if so, how do you disinfect a well? ---Thanks, David H.

Dear David,  The test they had done was a Potability test to determine if the water was safe to drink. Both the Total Coliform Bacteria and E.coli should both have 0 Colonies. The Total Coliform Bacteria has elevated levels (4 Colonies per 100 ml) and should not be ingested without first boiling the water.

As far as fixing the water, yes, the well can be disinfected in most cases. Below are the instructions:

Take the cap off the well and add one gallon of household laundry bleach for every 525 gallons of water. This means one gallon of bleach for every 350 feet of 6 inch diameter drilled well or 10 feet of 3-foot diameter well. When pouring bleach into the well, pour it so it hits the sides of the well casing. If possible run a garden hose from an outside spigot or attach hose to the holding tank and run the other end back to the well (you can skip the hose but you run the risk of loading the septic tank with bleach which is not ideal).

Run the water until you smell or taste the bleach. This may take a while. I’ve seen this take over an hour before the bleach started to recirculate. Once you are sure you smell or taste bleach shut the hose off and put the cap back on the well. Run EVERY fixture including the appliances to ensure the treated water reaches all points. Allow the chlorinated water to sit in the pipes for at least 12 hours (24 is better).

Hook up the hose again and drain the water as far from the house as you can. Try to keep it off the lawn and septic field (it will kill the grass). Let run until you no longer smell or taste the bleach (this may take an hour). When you’re sure the system is clear of bleach turn the hose off. Turn all the fixtures and appliances on to drain the water out of the interior water lines. Clearing the interior lines should only take about 15 minutes. It is important that your clear ALL interior faucets, tubs including the shower head, dishwashers and washing machines. If water comes out of it, turn it on. That should take care of minor to moderate contamination in the well. Some wells may need to be disinfected more than once and some wells have such a high bacteria count that disinfection won't work.

Hans Cramer (President of Cramer Home Inspection Group) has been inspecting homes throughout New York and Vermont since 1996. With over 30 years of experience in the construction, consulting, and inspection industry he welcomes your questions, which can be submitted by email to: