We are not inspecting houses of horrors.

Home inspectors have a lot of fun sharing house horror pictures that show how poorly things get installed in homes and “fixed” in homes, but I am concerned with an over emphasis on defect recognition in inspection training.  It can leave inspectors unable to truly communicate what is actually going on and therefore inhibit recommendations that may be necessary.  Ultimately it leads us further down the road to mediocrity.

The question is: Can students be better trained by showing them thousands of examples of defects or by teaching them how things are installed correctly, and why things should be installed a particular way? Or perhaps a combination of all three?

A home inspector could see thousands of wrong installations of something and someone will always come up with some installation of that component they have never seen before. If the inspector is trained on the proper installation of components in the home, the defects make themselves visible.

No cornucopia of defects can show a person the correct way to do it.

Proof of what I say (for those of us that follow the home inspector forums), is, every day someone posts “Is this wrong?” type pictures. Now if they knew how the item should be installed, knew the codes or MFG instructions about how the item should be installed, knew a bit of the science of how things work, there never would have been a question in the first place.

Inspectors must also have a good grasp of the “history” of requirements as well. Codes change, manufacturer’s instructions change, and new products come on line all the time. Are we seriously going to wait until defects with these products get added to the mountain?

I think setting up demonstrations of some conditions can be useful, but attempts at “building-the-mountain” of possible defects just supports the myth that learning every defect is somehow more important than learning the hows and whys. Add to that the shear impossibility of doing such a thing. 

Entertaining inspectors is not the same as teaching inspectors.

Where Snake Oil comes from

The home inspector does not even have to find all the issues, as long as he or she adequately communicates the house condition to the the client.

There is one thing that teaching the “hows” and “whys” cannot really deal with and that is “product defects.” For this we must rely on experience and ongoing involvement with our peers–by not living under logs where we do not get wind of information about such issues. While we hide under our log, our peers are most certainly sitting together on the log figuring out how to deal with these issues. Knowledge is power.

If all we did is study the codes and manufacturer installation instructions we would not be awake to older LP Siding, Polybutylene piping, and a host of recalls. So these are things we must embrace as well.

Fortunately they are a very small hill however compared to the mountain of other information we must embrace.

Because home inspectors are under the illusion they can learn all the possible defects, they will never come to an understanding of how the component was supposed to be installed in the first place.

It is interesting to me that learning a mountain of defects is a larger hurtle than learning the hows and whys and yet we continue to choose the bigger mountain. I think it is the sheer pleasure derived from looking at wacko installations that encourages this.

Some of the blame for why inspectors are taught to learn this way, goes to the home inspection training programs around the country. A lot of these programs are geared too much to teaching what inspectors will find wrong in the field. There is not so much attention paid to the science of houses, or the proper installation of components, whether it is how it relates to manufacturers requirements or the code requirements of component installation.

This leads to the erroneous notion that the best inspectors are ones that come from the trades–this does not have to be the case and often is not the case.  While they may have a better working knowledge of their particular “component” of the house it still does not mean they are going to have a clue about many of the others.

However, the more an inspector can embrace an understanding of “How Things Work,” and “Manufacturer’s Installation Instructions, and the “Building Codes, very little actual teaching of defects is necessary—the defects simply speak out loud and clear for themselves.

We have all heard the statement “We are not code inspectors,” which reinforces this approach. If you want to routinely have egg on your face, ignore the codes and manufacturer’s requirements. Oh, and also, crawl back under that log.

Did you guys hear there is something fishy in the water?

No repertoire of horrors can ever teach a person how something should be installed or constructed.
They are fun—not much more.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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