Should home inspectors be certified in building code?
Q: As a new home inspector, I would like to become certified in the building code, the same as city and county building inspectors. I've begun studying for the code test but want to know if this really applies to my new profession.
A: In a strict sense, home inspectors do not perform building code inspections. In fact, home inspection contracts and the home inspection industry, as a whole, strictly disclaim any involvement with code-related inspecting. The reason for this hands-off approach to the building code is that the thousands of codified building requirements expose home inspectors to nearly limitless liability. These codes are so voluminous and exhaustive that no one can be thoroughly versed in all of their complicated aspects. In the growing shadow of liability posed by tort attorneys, home inspectors recoil from this massive exposure to potential litigation.
On the other hand, code violations provide the basis for countless property defects routinely disclosed by home inspectors. While inspectors disclaim the code, they routinely report defects based upon code. For example, the majority of electrical defects commonly listed in home inspection reports involve code infractions. Therefore, home inspectors will list these as defects, without specifically mentioning the code. But regardless of verbiage, the more code knowledge home inspectors possess, the more thorough and precise their findings are likely to be.
To become code certified, you must pass a test that is administered by the International Code Council or other organizations that publish the codes. Building code classes are offered at many community colleges, and code training seminars are routinely scheduled by the ICC and others.
The knowledge attained through code certification provides a professional edge in the performance of your inspections and in the marketing of your services. It is not a mandatory credential for home inspectors but is definitely a way of attaining a higher degree of proficiency in this highly competitive profession.
Q: I've been a home inspector for several years and occasionally encounter homes that are built with wooden foundations rather than concrete. What should I disclose to buyers when homes have this kind of construction?
A: Wooden foundations are sometimes found in areas with particularly expansive soil, where seasonal ground movement might cause damage to concrete. More often, however, homes with wood framing built directly on the soil were constructed prior to the 20th century, before concrete was in common use.
The use of old-growth redwood made such construction possible because the naturally high tannin content gave the material nearly permanent resistance to dry rot and termite infestation. With restrictions on the further harvesting of old redwood forests, such wood is no longer available, and chemically treated lumber lacks this high degree of permanence.
When inspecting homes with wooden foundations, further evaluation by a licensed pest control operator should be recommended to avoid problems associated with moisture exposure and earth-to-wood contact. Additionally, old wood foundations typically lack adequate bracing. Therefore, it may be necessary to recommended upgrades for increased stability and to advise further evaluation by a structural engineer.
• 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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