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posted: 9/20/2013 12:26 AM

Roof conditions often prevent close inspection

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Q. When I bought my home, the inspector said there were no roof defects. But shortly after the close, it rained and I had two leaks. So I called a roofing contractor, and he found tar patches in both places where the leaking had occurred.

The home inspection report states that the roof was inspected from across the street with binoculars. If this is all you can expect from a home inspector, why bother hiring one?

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A. Most roof inspections are done while walking on the roof surface. But sometimes a roof is not accessible to the inspector. Conditions that can prevent access are wet and icy weather, fragile roofing, steepness and height. When a home inspector is unable to access a roof, a common alternative is to use binoculars on the ground. In such cases, the inspection report should state that the roof inspection was limited and that further evaluation by a licensed roofing contractor may be needed.

When access is prevented for reasons other than height, a home inspector can get close-up views of the roofing by placing his ladder against the edge of the roof. Many roofs can be viewed in total my moving a ladder around the building.

In your situation, there are four pertinent questions:

• Did the inspection report advise you of the incomplete nature of the roof inspection?

• Was the roof patching visible from the ground, by means of binoculars?

• Could the roof have been inspected from the top of a ladder?

• Were there any water stains in the attic or on the ceilings where the leakage had previously occurred, and if so, were these stains pointed out in the report, with recommendations for further evaluation of the roof?

The answers to these questions will help to determine whether your home inspector was professionally negligent.

Q. In a recent column, you recommended that water heater thermostats be turned to the "vacation" setting during long periods of absence, rather than being turned off completely. I have a second home that is unoccupied most of the year and the electric water heater seems to have no visible thermostat. The only way to change the settings is to remove the cover plate on the heating element, and this doesn't appear to be easy. Instead, I've been turning off the circuit breaker when the house is not in use. What do you suggest?

A. The problem with turning off the water heater completely is that expansion and contraction of metal fittings occur when the fixture becomes cold and is then reheated, and this can cause leaks. There is also the risk of freeze damage if the fixture is turned off during a very cold winter.

When a water heater is turned to the vacation setting, it remains slightly warm until regular use is resumed. With a gas water heater, turning down the thermostat is easy. With an electric unit, the cover panels on the heating elements must be removed, as you mentioned. But this is not as difficult as you might think. A local plumber or handyman can show you how it is done.

• 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.

Action Coast Publishing

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