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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What is a little missing insulation between friends?

Sometimes it is the little things that get you.

However, these little things can end up costing you a lot of money over time.

At a recent inspection I had a house where the insulation details were not well thought out.  Without going into a discussion about the “type” of insulation, lets just discuss in the simplest of terms how the system was working—or not working as the case might be. 

The following sketch shows how the walls are insulated up to the ceiling and then the roof plane itself is insulated.  What got missed was the wall between the roof and the ceiling.  This space above the ceiling is essentially “conditioned” space and the short wall between has to be insulated to have continuous insulation around the conditioned space.

This next picture shows what that un-insulated area looks like with thermal imaging from the exterior.  However this is a space between the second floor and the main floor ceiling.

Going back to the original drawing, here is an exterior view of that un-insulated space—as seen by thermal imaging.  The un-insulated areas appear warmer (the white-yellow areas)

The same areas of the above picture as seen from the inside of the attic space with the un-insulated areas appearing “cooler” (the black areas).

These areas will need to be well-insulated to prevent wasting of energy that increases both heating and cooling loads of the home. 

The fiberglass insulation should be encapsulated, and for more information about that:  All Fiberglass Insulation Must be Encapsulated.

 By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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What the heck is an AFCI?

It seems like just yesterday that AFCI (Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter) type circuit breakers became required on 120 volt outlets in bedrooms.  It was the year 2002, and there was incredible gnashing of teeth over them.

afcibreakerThere were many who thought they were useless, a waste of money and a burden to the consumer.

There were also complaints of nuisance tripping, after all, what is one to think if every time you plugged in your vacuum and turned it on the breaker tripped.  Certainly there were some bugs to work out and pretty soon it became clear that if the vacuum was tripping there was in fact an issue with the vacuum and not the breaker–the breaker was just doing its job.  Of course some motors were not designed to not emit the kinds of signals that indicated an arcing condition to the brain of the AFCI and adjustments to both the brain and the motors had to be done.

Another issue with the AFCI’s was that it took a couple of years to get even electricians on board as to what an “outlet” was.  Some electricians and even jurisdictional inspectors interpreted the code requirement that all “bedroom outlets” be AFCI protected to mean “receptacle outlets.”  That however, was not what was intended.  An “outlet” can be defined as any place electricity is accessed.  Like lights, smoke alarms, the fans in hydronic heaters or gas fireplaces etc.  Anything that utilizes 120 volts and is located in the bedroom is supposed to be AFCI protected.

I still routinely find some of these 2002 houses with only the receptacles on the AFCI circuit.  By the next code cycle this was clarified and we started to see “all” bedroom outlets on the AFCI circuits.

There was always some question about the efficacy of these early AFCI breakers because they did not provide protection of the wiring for both parallel arcs and series arcs.  A justifiable complaint in my opinion since series type arcs are perhaps one of the most likely causes of electrical fires (like what would occur at a loose connection) and they required relatively high levels of fault current to activate the devices.  But they did pave the way for the “combination type” AFCI that could detect both series arcs (loose connections) and parallel arcs (line to neutral–short circuits).

In 2008 (with a start date of June, 2009) the combination type became required instead of the branch feeder type and they became required in more locations in the home than in just the bedrooms.

Some States, like Washington State, in their infinite wisdom (never underestimate wacky), decided to maintain the requirement for them to only be in bedrooms and amended the NEC to that effect.  This amendment was ignored by the larger cities, like Seattle, Bellevue and Renton where the full requirement of the 2008 National Electrical Code is enforced.  In brand new construction in Seattle, it is now common to run into service panels with many of these AFCI breakers–instead of just the bedroom circuits.  Now, as of 2014, AFCI’s will be found protecting the outlets in kitchens, laundry rooms, family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms, parlors, libraries, dens, bedrooms, sunrooms, recreation rooms, closets, hallways, or similar rooms or areas.

All of this represents some problems for the home inspector—we have to be conscious of the jurisdiction we are inspecting in.  Of course inspectors have always had to take the jurisdiction they are inspecting in into account.

How does the inspector share this information with their client?

Obviously it will vary depending on the house.  A pre-2002 house is pretty simple, we can ignore the issue (not a good idea in my opinion) or we can inform our clients that the overall fire safety of the home can be improved by the installation of AFCI breakers.  This of course is going to be greatly affected by the existing condition of the wiring in the home.  For example some panels won’t have room for them and of course if the house has an old fuse panel it becomes even more complicated.  Certainly in the context of a service change they should be added and the older the wiring is, the more benefit that can be derived by their presence.

For houses built between 2002 and 2009, the inspector might want to consider recommending upgrading the older style “Branch/Feeder” type AFCI’s to the safer  “Combination Type” AFCI’s.

Obviously the client would not be “required” to upgrade, but I still consider it a good recommendation–and then let the client decide.  I also like this approach because there were some recalled breakers during this time period that will automatically be eliminated if they are upgraded.

For a much more enlightened and thorough treatise on AFCI breakers please visit Douglas Hansen’s, AFCI’s Come of Age.

 

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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