The home inspector has no clothes

Q: Last year, we purchased a 1947 home. Since then, we've noticed a lot of new cracks in the plaster walls and some unevenness of the floors. Before buying the house, we had a home inspection, but our inspector did not check the foundation crawl space. He said he'd forgotten to bring his overalls and would have to forego that part of the inspection. Am I being overly paranoid or is there a potential foundation settlement problem that our inspector failed to see?

A: Inspection of the crawl space is an indispensable aspect of a thorough home inspection. Your inspector's omission of this procedure, on the slim excuse of having forgotten his overalls, begs for an appropriately outrageous analogy. He might have omitted the roof inspection because he'd forgotten to bring his ladder. He could have disclaimed poorly lighted areas because his flashlight batteries were dead. Lack of a screwdriver might have prevented inspection of the electric service panel. He could have declined to provide a written inspection report because he'd forgotten to bring a pen, or he could simply have explained that he wouldn't be inspecting the house at all because he'd forgotten to get out of bed that morning.

There are a few acceptable excuses for not inspecting a crawl space, such as rattlesnakes, skunks or flooding below the building, but neglecting to bring one's overalls to the inspection does not qualify.

Failure to inspect a subarea is professionally negligent because there are so many vital components to evaluate under a house. The most obvious, of course, is the foundation itself - to check for cracks or other signs of settlement, deterioration or instability. Inspection of the subarea also includes a review of the wood framing and subfloor for faulty construction, moisture damage and inadequate ventilation. A competent inspector also looks for signs of faulty ground drainage and evaluates the electrical wiring, water lines, gas lines, drain lines, air ducts and more. A home inspection that does not include a complete crawl of the subarea is an incomplete inspection at best.

Now that you've observed cracks in the building, the foundation is suspect, and the lack of a subarea inspection poses a list of potentially undisclosed problems. Your inspector should be notified of these concerns and given the opportunity to inspect the subarea at this time. However, given his questionable conduct to date, a second inspection by a more qualified inspection is advised.

Q: We're about to buy a house that has a ventless gas fireplace. We're concerned about health and safety hazards with the unit, in spite of assurances that the exhaust is completely safe. What do you advise?

A: Ventless gas fireplaces are legal in most states, and those who manufacturer and distribute them swear by their unfailing safety and the impossibility of venting carbon monoxide into a home. Given this assurance, one must then conclude that these fireplaces are the only technological inventions in the course of human history that are incapable of malfunction. Who would like to stake their life on that assumption?

• Email Barry Stone, certified home inspector, at

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