Home inspector floods closet

Q: Our home underwent a detailed home inspection, as requested by the buyers. As a result, we incurred major water damage when the shower pan was tested. The inspector plugged the shower drain, filled the pan nearly 5 inches deep, and let the water stand for 3½ hours. When I got home, the closet was flooded, and we had no previous history of shower leakage. Is this the way home inspectors normally test showers?

A: Shower pan tests are typically performed by pest control operators (aka termite inspectors), not by home inspectors. These tests are considered to be outside the scope of a home inspection and are specifically excluded from the standards of practice of professional associations representing the home inspection industry.

The water tightness of a shower pan is typically checked by filling the base of the shower to within 1 inch of the overflow rim. The height of the shower dam, therefore, determines the appropriate water depth, and 5 inches would not be unusual for some showers. However, testing a shower pan for 3½ hours is needless and excessive. The typical duration for such tests is 20 to 30 minutes. If a longer test was deemed necessary, the area around and beneath the pan should have been checked at periodic intervals during the inspection to determine whether leakage was occurring and to discontinue the test when leakage became apparent. Allowing many hours to pass while significant leakage was taking place was definitely a negligent approach.

Home inspectors who include shower pan tests provide a valuable service to their clients, as long as the tests are performed in a responsible manner. Inspectors assume considerable liability for resultant damage when tests are conducted in careless ways, such as occurred in your home. Accordingly, the home inspector who tested your shower should pay for damage repairs.

Q: I have a question about the firewall in my garage. My home is about 25 years old and the attached garage is separated from the house with a brick wall and a steel entry door. However, the brick wall does not extend to the roofline, leaving the garage wide open to the house attic. My home inspector never mentioned this when I bought the house, and apparently this was also overlooked by the city inspector when the house was built. I am concerned about this incomplete firewall and would like to know if it is a fire-safety violation.

A: An attached garage must be separated from the dwelling by a one-hour firewall, and this includes separation from the attic space that is above the dwelling. This requirement has been part of the building code since 1927 and therefore is applicable to your home. The lack of a complete firewall should have been disclosed by your home inspector and should also have been cited by the municipal inspector when the home was built.

To correct the problem, wall framing should be installed where the garage adjoins the attic, with fire-rated drywall on the garage side of that framing.

• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

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