Q. When I bought my house, the home inspection report contained no roofing problems. When the first storm came, some of the shingles blew off. I contacted the inspector. He brought some replacement shingles and nailed them in place. But more shingles blew off later, so I called a roofing contractor. He said the shingles are cracked, worn, and need to be replaced. The inspector says he only inspected the roof from the ground because of winter weather, and he insists that this is a common practice among home inspectors. Regardless of the weather, shouldn't he have taken a closer look at the roof?
A. If the roof was wet on the day of the inspection, this may have prevented the inspector from walking on it, but it should not have prevented him from setting his ladder against the eaves to get a closer look at the shingles. Inspecting a roof from the ground only, simply because of winter weather, is an excuse for laziness. When undisclosed problems are discovered later, this excuse can become an alibi for professional negligence.
Barring unusual circumstances, such as snow on the roof, the inspector should have taken a closer look. If he was unable to do so, the report should have stated that the roof inspection was incomplete and inconclusive, and further evaluation should have been recommended.
The standards of practice for roofing inspections are set forth by professional associations such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI). Most home inspectors are members of one or more of these organizations and must comply with their standards. ASHI, for example, requires member inspectors to inspect roofing components that are readily accessible. A ladder would certainly enhance accessibility. NAHI is more specific in its roof inspection standards, stating that inspectors should inspect roof surfaces from arms-length distance or with binoculars from the ground.
Given these standards, your inspector should either have discovered that the shingles were defective or should have recommended further review prior to your purchase of the property.
Q. We have noticed a white powdery substance on the walls of our basement. We've swept and vacuumed it, but it always comes back after the rainy season. A few years after moving in, our son developed asthma, and we've wondered if this could be an allergic reaction to the white powder in the basement. Can you give us any information that would help?
A. What you describe sounds like a substance called efflorescence, a formation of mineral salts often seen on concrete and masonry surfaces where moisture seepage occurs. Efflorescence is primarily a cosmetic nuisance that is not known to have adverse health effects on the occupants of a building.
To determine whether any other environmental conditions in your home could be affecting your son's health, you should consult a certified industrial hygienist. They are generally listed in the yellow pages as industrial hygiene consultants.
Preventing the continued formation of efflorescence in your basement may not be possible without significantly altering the ground drainage conditions on your property.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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