Going above and beyond

As home inspectors we hear over and over that if we go outside the standards of practice we open ourselves up to more liability. 

Let’s put liability aside for a moment (or at least come at it from a different angle) and discuss another good reason for going beyond the standards of practice.  To the degree that we provide a level of detail beyond the sop’s we can have a pool of information to better support what we did or did not do during the inspection. 

This can be accomplished not only by providing more detailed information in the report itself but also by having a large number of pictures that support both the written report and also provide a resource that one can go back to if questions arise.  With excessive pictures (350 to 450 for the “average” home) the inspector can essentially repeat the inspection from their computer.

greatbeyondWe all hate those calls that begin with: “A couple of months ago you inspected my home……..” 

Ninety-nine percent of the time the rest of the sentence goes something like, “…..and now we would like you to inspect another one for us.” 

We keep our fingers crossed about the sentence not continuing with, “…..and you missed XY & Z and we want to know what you are going to do about it.”

I can argue that the number of calls like this goes way down as the level of detail in the report goes up. 

I witness this in the discussions I have with other inspectors that strictly adhere to the sop’s and who routinely surrender the cost of the inspection back to their clients, or pay even larger amounts in claims for things actually missed or that they had no way of “proving” that they did not miss. 

I have even known inspectors that just consider some amount of reverse flow of money a “normal” cost of doing business.  I think it is important to keep this reverse flow of money to a minimum.  I have always been able to support either in the written report or in photos what the “truth” of the matter was.  Given that in 13+ years I have only had two such incidents, I jump to the conclusion that I am doing something right.  In the first of these incidents there were four items that were claimed to have been missed and all were sufficiently covered in the report–and in redundant fashion–and were even in the summary.  Sometimes it is helpful to read the report.

In this case, the client simply did not sufficiently read the report, but instead relied too heavily on what was discussed during the inspection.  While tons of stuff will be discussed during the inspection, it is fairly typical for issues that are not deal breakers to either not be fully discussed or possibly not be discussed at all during the inspection and only fully revealed in the context of the completed report.

In this one instance I should have perhaps made it clearer that the report was paramount to the most complete understanding of the house’s condition.  In any court of law, it is the written report that will largely be relied upon to either support or refute either party’s claims.  I for one would rather know in my heart that in fact the consumer was actually taken care of, even if at first they were not aware of it, than to fall back on a SOP that allowed me to not say anything about something, or did not specify a higher level of detail. With this detailed approach, all parties of the process, agents, buyers and inspectors, are best protected.

In the second incident, the glare of the sun prevented me, or allowed me, to miss the gutter was hanging off the fascia at one end, and I had the washed out picture to show for it.  Unfortunately, the cover picture of the report itself showed the hanging gutter quite clearly.  That cost me $75.00 for client to hire a handyman to reattach the gutter, but was not enough to clean the egg off my face.

While some Home Inspectors will choose to use the SOP as an “out,” I would much rather rely on my report–and of course the minimum Standards of Practice are easily covered by the report anyway. 

Just like the Building Codes are the worst house we are allowed to build, so to the Standards of Practice define the worst inspection we are allowed to do.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Testing for Asbestos

While I always have to chuckle to myself whenever anyone buying a 1967 house wants to know if the house has asbestos in it, or whether I do testing for asbestos, I always do my best to take their questions seriously.  I realize that in all walks of life people don’t know what they do not know, and what good does it do to poke fun at them?

The fact that any house from 1967 is going to have asbestos in it, seems to not be common knowledge.

I know for a fact that there is endless stuff I do not know.  It is “normal.”  I think we can all appreciate what a pain in the butt it is dealing with someone that knows it all.

At a recent inspection of a 1967 house, the inevitable question came up when we went into the laundry and saw the floor covered with 1967 vintage vinyl tiles.  Now typically, I don’t have any problem telling my client that the tiles from this time period are “considered to contain asbestos,” but that only testing can tell you for sure.

This is a useless exercise as near as I can tell, but from a liability standpoint it is what home inspectors will say.

In this case however I was able to categorically state:  “yes—the tiles contain asbestos,” as there was a box of the same tiles, unused and stored, in the closet in the laundry room.

asbestos tiles

No testing necessary.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Myths of fire-rated walls and doors between house & garage.

A common mistake that home inspectors make when inspecting single family residences is related to opinions stated about the requirements for separation between the home and the attached garage. 

Their comments often leave them “out on a limb” when repairs are called for and a builder or repair person informs them there are no “fire-rated” requirements.

I should clarify, this article is based on 2015 IRC and may not be consistent in every regard with the codes amended or otherwise in your area.

I routinely hear erroneous statements about compromised “fire-rated surfaces” between the house and the garage.  Also common are statements declaring surfaces between the house and the garage are not “1 hr fire-rated,” or that the “1 hr fire-rated surfaces” are in some way compromised.

The wall between the house and the garage–believe it or not–is NOT a fire-rated assembly and is referred to in the code as the “Dwelling-Garage Separation.”

Meeting the “separation” requirements is really quite simple and minimal compared to what would be necessary in an actual “fire-rated assembly”  (As would be required between multiple dwelling units like condos, townhouses and duplexes etc.)

Typically, ½” drywall (or equivalent) is all that is necessary to meet the separation requirement. 

If there is living space above the garage, the ceiling would have to be 5/8” type “X” drywall (or equivalent).  Again, this is not a “fire-rated assembly,” but merely what is required to meet the proper “separation” requirements.

These wall and surface finishes have to have a flame-spread index not greater than 200, however wood frames and trim around doors and windows are excluded from this requirement.

Duct-work inside the garage, or duct-work that runs through these fire-resistant surfaces must be constructed of  minimum No. 26 gauge sheet steel or other approved material and shall not have openings into the garage. So this means no return air registers or heat supply registers inside the garage.

Openings around other types of penetrations in the walls and ceilings (ductwork, pipes, wires, etc) must be filled with an approved material to resist the free passage of flame and products of combustion.  There is nothing in the code, for single family residential construction, that prohibits plastic piping through these fire-resistant surfaces.  This is another common incorrect call-out by home inspectors.  The openings around them merely have to be properly sealed.

Pull-down stairs in a garage ceiling would be required to meet the requirements of 1/2 drywall or equivalent, or have a 20 minute fire-rating.

The door or doors placed in this “separation” are also frequently misunderstood and incorrectly reported on.

For the door between the house and the garage, all that is necessary is to install a door that meets the “separation requirements” of the code.  Of course this door can never lead to a bedroom.

There is nothing that says it has to be a “fire-rated door,” as frequently reported by home inspectors. 

While this may seem confusing, if one looks at the code it becomes clearer.  It also reveals the source of some of the confusion.

To meet separation requirements, the door must be one of three types of doors:  a solid wood door not less than 1-3/8 inches thick, a solid or honeycomb core steel doors not less than 1-3/8 inches thick, or a 20-minute fire-rated door, with a self-closing device.  Another thing to note, is that a 1-3/4″ thick solid wood raised panel door would likely not comply because the minimum thickness at the recesses would likely be less than 1-3/8.”

As a side note, that little comma after “door” in: “door, with a self-closing device,” is consistent with its pertaining to all three choices–not just the 20-minute type door.  If it applied to only that type of door the comma should not be there.

The first two types are fairly self explanatory but the inclusion of the third type has lead to a great deal of confusion because a door that is a “20-minute fire-rated door” leads one to think that the door in general, and thus the walls and ceiling, have to somehow be “fire-rated.”

Also having a “fire-rating” (as all materials in the home do) does not make any of this a “fire-rated assembly.”  It just means the fire-resistant surfaces are specified to be constructed of materials known to have known fire-resistant characteristics.

For a door to achieve a 20-minute fire-rating it has to go through testing procedures by Underwriters Laboratories and then it receives its “UL listing” as a fire-rated assembly. 

All three types of doors will require weather-stripping/seals on all four edges of the door to prevent the passage of gases that may be drawn into the home, as well as meet energy efficiency standards.

Hopefully this post will help clear up some of the confusion.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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