Reader demands honest clarity
Q: Do you research the issues you write about before answering people's questions, or do you simply shoot from the hip? Here's why I ask. In a recent column, you spoke about a home inspector's liability for not reporting safety violations involving a water heater flue pipe. In the article, you failed to mention that home inspectors are not required to cite building codes or even to know what a flue pipe is. You should have explained that home inspections are for informational purposes only. Inspectors cannot certify anything. They can only state opinions. Buyers should hire licensed experts to verify the true extent of defects, rather than relying on generalist home inspectors. How about some honest clarity?
A: A measure of "clarity" is definitely in order. First off, our respective views of home inspection are entirely divergent. We may, in fact, share some points of agreement -- if not in demeanor, at least in substance.
Home inspectors, as you point out, are not required to cite building codes, and it is not their job to "certify" aspects of a building or its component systems. However, that is where the agreement ends, and the clarification begins.
The purpose of a home inspection is to report visible defects. Such disclosures, as you noted, are statements of opinion, but these opinions should not be assumed to be subjective viewpoints. When reported by a truly qualified home inspector, opinions are professional findings that are substantive and verifiable, supported by observable evidence. If reported conditions warrant further evaluation and repairs by a licensed expert, the inspector's job is to advance that recommendation.
When the defects reported by a home inspector involve building code violations, they are disclosed as conditions that warrant further evaluation and/or repair, but without specific reference to the code. For example, common safety violations involving a water heater flue pipe include loose or detached connections, substandard piping, contact with combustible materials, venting near an operable window, insufficient height above the roof, and more. Each of these issues represents a violation of the plumbing or mechanical code, but home inspectors report them as "defects," without specifically citing the code.
As a final note, home inspectors do in fact "know what a flue pipe is." Without such elementary knowledge, the practice of home inspection would not be possible.
Q: My fireplace provides aesthetic warmth but not much actual heat. I'd like to install a wood-burning insert and would like to know if this can be done safely in a mobile home?
A: Fireplace inserts, whether in mobile homes or conventional dwellings, must be compatible with the built-in fireplaces into which they will be inserted. To verify compatibility, the manufacturers' specifications for both fixtures should be consulted. But beware: The manufacturers of some fireplace inserts list their fixtures as being compatible with all existing fireplaces. Fireplace manufacturers, on the other hand, often disclaim such compatibility.
Exceeding the design specifications of a fireplace can overheat the chimney, which poses a fire hazard. To ensure a compatible marriage of fireplace and insert, and to maximize fire safety, have your fireplace professionally inspected by a certified chimney sweep.
• 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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