Home inspector disputes the house detective
Q: As a veteran home inspector, I take exception to a recommendation in one of your columns. You advised that home inspectors urge their clients to do a permit check at the local building department when there are apparent additions or alterations to the property. Why are you making a recommendation that exceeds the standard of practice for home inspectors?
If all the work is done in a professional manner, and if no evidence of faulty workmanship is apparent, what's the rationale? By the same logic, an inspector should advise a client to check for permits on the original structure. Don't you think this advice should be amended?
A: The recommendation to check for building permits is made for the following three reasons:
1) Our job as home inspectors is to make sure buyers who hire us know what they are buying before they buy it.
2) There are some homes out there that were built without permits or were never signed off when construction was completed. Such cases may be rare, but they definitely exist. Advising buyers to check with the building department removes one more uncertainty for them and one more level of liability for you, the home inspector.
3) A permit check helps to clarify the age of the building in cases where remodeling may have obscured evidence of actual vintage.
As a veteran inspector, you know liability is a major business consideration. By simply recommending a permit check, you protect yourself from potential accountability, while providing additional consumer protection for your homebuying clients. Many home inspectors are already doing this in their reports. My advice is that you join us.
Q: I've heard that some homes have automatic safety valves that turn off the gas during an earthquake. Surprisingly, no home in my neighborhood has one. Do these valves work as they should, or do they cause problems?
A: An earthquake shut-off valve, as you suggest, can have positive and negative effects. On the upside, they are designed to close when significant ground movement occurs, thereby terminating the flow of gas in the main supply line to the building. The essential benefit, of course, is to eliminate the possibility of a fire or explosion if a gas line is damaged during a quake.
The primary drawback involves restoration of the gas service after the valve is turned off. Unfortunately, these safety valves can only be turned on by gas company technicians, and those experts are often unavailable in the aftermath of a major earthquake, having to address major emergency situations before they can attend to residential service work.
In some instances, homeowners have had to wait weeks to have their gas service restored. This can mean no heat, no cooking, no hot water and, therefore, primitive existence.
In a major quake, an automatic gas shut-off can save lives and property, but it can also pose significant inconvenience. In short, all silver linings have clouds. You'll just have to weigh the pros and cons.
• 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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