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updated: 5/18/2012 5:18 AM

How inspectors examine your home

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Q. I don't understand how a home inspector who is not an electrician can evaluate an electrical system; who is not a plumber can evaluate a plumbing system; who is not an HVAC contractor can evaluate a furnace. Can you explain?

A. This is a great question, and there is an analogous question that answers it clearly.

How can a family doctor who is not a cardiologist diagnose your heart; who is not an orthopedist determine the condition of your joints; who is not a gastroenterologist evaluate your digestive system?

The answer in any of these cases is that family doctors and home inspectors know the basics of the systems they are inspecting, without being specialists. Here are some examples that relate to home inspection.

A home inspector may not have the electrical knowledge of a qualified electrician. However, if the inspector is competent, he can inspect a service panel for over-fusing, double-tapping, bundled ground wires, inadequate bonding of ground wires, combined ground and neutral wires in subpanels, bonding of neutral buses in subpanels, evidence of overheated wires, aluminum wire issues, corrosion, physical damage, and more.

Visible wiring can be checked for unprotected wires, damaged or detached conduits, exposed splices, terminated wire ends, damaged insulation, open junction boxes, inadequate weatherproofing, and more. Outlets are routinely tested for open grounds, reverse polarity, lack of ground fault protection, defective ground fault devices, lack of arc fault protection, hazardous locations, physical damage, and more. When defects are found, home inspectors recommend further evaluation or repairs, just as a family doctor recommends a cardiologist when heart-related symptoms are observed.

A home inspector may not have the plumbing knowledge of a qualified plumber. However, a competent inspector checks waste and water supply piping for corrosion, physical damage, leaking, approved materials, correct sizing, standard connections, supply-waste cross connections, lack of dielectric fittings, and compliance with numerous other plumbing standards. Fixtures such as sinks, toilets, tubs and showers are operated and tested for proper installation and function, corrosion, physical damage, leaking and more. Water heaters are checked for age and condition, as well as compliance with numerous standards, including water supply fittings, gas or electrical connections, combustion air supply, exhaust venting, proper placement in the building, earthquake strapping where required, and more. When defects are found, home inspectors recommend further evaluation or repairs, just as a medical practitioner would recommend an orthopedist when a patient has joint pain.

A home inspector may not know as much about heating and air conditioning systems as an HVAC contractor, but a competent inspector routinely checks furnaces and A/C systems for fire clearances, fuel connections, exhaust venting, combustion air supply, location of fixtures, air flow at registers, condition of ducts and insulation, corrosion, physical damage, and more. When defects are found, home inspectors recommend further evaluation or repairs, just as a family doctor would recommend a gastroenterologist for a patient with an abdominal disorder.

Home inspectors are the first line of defense for homebuyers. They are the generalists who provide preliminary examinations. Their job is to find the symptoms that indicate when a specialist is needed.

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

Distributed by Action Coast Publishing

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