Q. When I bought my home, my home inspector said nothing about the exterior siding. Months later, a contractor pointed out that the siding boards have swelled, buckled and disintegrated in many places. He said the material was a faulty Masonite product that was widely known to be defective, and that should have been disclosed by our inspector. The cost estimate for new siding is nearly $20,000. When I contacted the inspector, I received a letter saying that it was "beyond the scope of a home inspection to identify siding products by manufacturer." That strikes me as an evasive answer that sidesteps professional negligence. I am considering now legal action to recover some of the cost to fix my house. What is your opinion about this?
A. Home inspectors are not required to identify by name the specific manufacturers of building materials. However, competent inspectors should be aware of materials that are known to have inherent manufacturing defects. Masonite siding is one such material, and competent home inspectors are aware of this. But that is not the main issue.
A home inspector's primary job is to identify observable defects. If the siding on your home was visibly damaged or deteriorated at the time of the inspection, it was the responsibility of your inspector to discover and report those defects, whether or not he was aware of a product recall. Failure to report significant visible defects is professional negligence on the part of a home inspector.
A letter from an attorney may help to convince your home inspector to address this issue as a true professional. You should also find out if he carries insurance for errors and omissions.
Q. We bought our home about six months ago, and our home inspector found only a few minor problems. But last month, a contractor friend was here for dinner, and he said the water heater in the basement was not properly installed. The flue pipe connections were separated because they were not fastened with any adhesive. We called a plumber, and he installed a new water heater for about $1,000. Is there anything we can do to recoup some of this cost from our home inspector?
A. This story has a few twists that make it difficult to rule against the home inspector. Here are the issues:
• A improperly connected flue pipe does not call for replacement of a water heater. Why not just repair the flue?
• Flue pipe connections should be fastened with screws, not with an "adhesive." Flue pipes become very hot, and this eventually compromises the adhesion of glue or tape.
• When the problem was discovered by your contractor friend, your home inspector should have been notified and given the opportunity to see what he missed. Unless there are detailed photos of the problem, he can argue that the water heater did not need replacement, that the flue merely needed repair.
With all these loose ends clouding the issue, it does not appear that you have a very strong claim against the home inspector.
• 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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