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posted: 5/4/2012 5:41 AM

Home inspector: Solar panels, radiant floors need additional evaluation

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Q. I want to buy a 4-year-old house with solar panels and radiant floor heat. The home inspectors I've called say they don't evaluate "nonstandard" things like solar panels and radiant heat. What can I do since it appears the inspection industry hasn't kept up with the building industry?

A. This is not a matter of keeping up with the building industry. Home inspections are visual inspections, done without the use of sophisticated test equipment. Solar panels and radiant floor heaters are systems that cannot be evaluated by visual inspection only. A comprehensive inspection requires the professional expertise of specialty contractors. The solar panels should be inspected by a licensed solar contractor; the heating system by a licensed HVAC contractor. As a buyer, that will be the best way to protect your interests.

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Q. Two years ago, we bought a home with a backyard pool. Then, a few months ago, the county posted a violation notice on our front door for an expired pool permit. The previous homeowner, who was also the contractor for the pool, pulled the pool permit, completed the construction, but never called for an inspection. It cost us $2,000 for the late penalties, some corrective work, and the final inspections. The seller never disclosed that the pool was not signed off. Do we have recourse to recover our costs?

A. If the seller was a licensed contractor and did not disclose that a permit was not signed off, he is in violation of two laws -- the state disclosure law for sellers and the laws that regulate contractors.

You should not have to pay fines to the county because you were not responsible for the violation. The seller should be notified by certified mail immediately. If he does not respond, you should file a complaint with the state agency that licenses contractors. You can also file an action in small claims court. But before you take any legal action, get some advice from an attorney.

Q. I was planning to purchase a 50-year-old home that has several additions and has been remodeled more than once. The records at the building department show no permits since the house was originally built, so I canceled my purchase offer. The owners dropped 10 percent off the selling price, hoping that I would resume the purchase. Instead of a price reduction, I would like the sellers to get an as-built permit and have the building improvements signed off. What do you recommend?

A. Your strategy is a good one. Having the home inspected and approved by the building department is a better idea than a 10 percent discount. If the sellers are that anxious to sell the property, who knows what manner of defects await discovery. The 10 percent discount may or may not be sufficient to offset potential repair needs.

Let the sellers have the property inspected and approved by the building department. And when they're done with that inspection, be sure to follow up by hiring a qualified home inspector of your own.

• Email questions to Barry Stone through his website, housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

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