Most of the time, in report writing, it is advisable to be as clear and to the point as possible.
When reporting on issues discovered in the home, we want to describe what the issue is, what the consequences will be if nothing is done, and what repairs should be made and who should make the repairs. Most of the time this is not difficult for an inspector, and the more experienced the inspector is, the number of times this is not the case goes down.
Sometimes however, it simply is not possible to “know” with any degree of certainty what is “actually” going on, or what the “actual” consequences will be.
An all too common example of this is moisture around toilets.
How can the inspector determine this? Well obviously if the area is visible from a crawl space and the floor is all wet, the written narrative is pretty easy and straightforward. But let’s say it is a second floor bathroom with no access under the toilet. If the inspector checks around the toilet with a moisture meter, and they notice what appears to be moisture under the floor covering, can the inspector categorically state there is moisture under the floor covering? If there is in fact moisture under the floor covering can the inspector tell how much damage there is or is not?
They certainly should not conclude there is moisture under the floor without other forms of confirmation. Some types of floor coverings will allow moisture meters to indicate either “false positive” or “false negative” readings. A lack of temperature differential will even result in thermal imaging to be of little use–or at least to a high level of confidence.
If salts are present around the toilet, this could confuse the moisture meter. Houses with boys can often have this issue. Cleaning the floor can often eliminate this variable.
I routinely hear of home inspectors stating something like: “Moisture was noted around the toilet as indicated by moisture meter. I recommend repairs by a licensed plumber.” The plumber subsequently shows up and finds nothing wrong with the toilet seal when the toilet is removed and no indication of moisture under the toilet.
There are two big problems with the inspector’s statement. Just because the moisture meter says there is moisture does not mean there is moisture, and repairs may not be necessary.
So the inspector has a problem.
How do we communicate this finding to the client?
All we can do is comment something like this: “A moisture meter was used to check for moisture in the floor around the toilet and it indicated the possibility of moisture. The only way to know for sure is to remove the toilet and check. False positives are possible and common. I recommend further evaluation by a licensed plumber and if any leaking is found I recommend that proper repairs be made as deemed necessary. Damage discovered may also involve other parties that might need to make repairs to the structures under the toilet. Hidden damage is common, but often times there is no damage. This is especially true when the toilet is in fact leaking, but moisture is confined between layers of floor coverings.”
How is that for wishy-washy? However, this is what is necessary to communicate an issue that cannot be “positively” confirmed in the context of the home inspection. Stating that there “is” moisture is not adequate and stating there “is not” moisture is not adequate.
Sometimes the inspector MUST be wishy-washy.
Black and White has little place in the lives of home inspectors, and sometimes we must live in the greys and is part of establishing inspection expectations.
By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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