I do not think it means much.
I could pick almost anything for analogy purposes, but to keep it simple I will use testing water to a sink.
To turn on the bathroom sink faucet and state it is “functional” tells me little, and I am an inspector. I should have more of an idea than the average consumer, so to them it is going to mean even less or might not match their idea of functional at all.
What is the inspector trying to accomplish?
Well we are supposed to test sinks and tubs and determine their condition and anything else that might be going on with them. Some inspectors will turn the faucet on and if water comes out, they will write down that it is “functional.”
So why not just say “water came out?”
That is not as impressive sounding as “functional,” even if it is closer to the truth. Even I will sometimes merely state that “water flowed”–without further elaboration.
Here is a different approach: “The stopper was closed, and it took 20 seconds for the sink to fill to the overflow with both hot and cold water running. It then took 25 seconds to drain.”
This is much more accurate a description of “function” and it does not use the word “functional.” This verbiage also attests to the drain stopper being functional, as well as both hot and cold water coming out. You are even giving some guidance as to “functional flow” by stating the amount of time it took to fill the sink. You get even more guidance by including the time it took to drain the sink.
But this all takes time, and that is the real reason most inspectors are not interested.
In a sense each descriptive component of the narrative becomes a “placeholder” for anything that might be wrong with the sink, its components, and its operation. For example, you might add to, “it then took 25 seconds to drain, and a glug-glug-glug sound was heard consistent with poor venting. I recommend further evaluation by a licensed plumber to determine the cause of this noise and to make any repairs deemed necessary.”
Functioning as intended.
“Functioning as intended” is similar, or perhaps worse, as we have not communicated what was “intended.” What is intended is for water to come out and at sufficient amounts, no? As we have just discussed, we do not keep it that simple and resort to “functional.”
What was intended can be different based on whether the house is new or old as our expectations of acceptability might be raised or lowered. Stating anything is “functional” cannot allow for any of these differences, and we may suffer the wrath of someone that has a different idea of what functional means.
Back to our sink faucet.
If the faucet aerator is badly plugged but “water comes out,” is it enough to state the faucet is “functional?” Or would it be more helpful to state something like, “while water came out of the faucet, flow was reduced because of a plugged aerator (include picture of plugged aerator). I recommend the aerator be cleaned by a qualified party to allow for better flow.” You could further add that, “this clogging is consistent with galvanized piping and further clogging should be anticipated until the piping is replaced, as was previously discussed in this report.”
Again, notice how the word “functional” is nowhere in sight?
Words like functional, satisfactory, and operated as intended, have little real meaning, and do nothing to create a report of substance.
As inspectors, if we simply write about what we see,
write about what we do,
and then write down the effects of what we do,
we can avoid the use of the word functional entirely.
By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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