The Sound Inspection


  • A home inspection is a visual analysis of a home and its surroundings. It is designed to determine the quality of construction and maintenance. The home inspection report is a qualitative description of the major systems of the home and a guide to required repairs and upgrades.

    The complete home inspection covers 4 categories or items:

    1. Items related to the integrity of the structure and the safety of it's inhabitants, e.g. the foundation, framing and electrical systems.
    2. The systems of the home which require periodic maintenance, e.g. roofing, siding, plumbing, tub enclosures, the heating system and the storm drainage system.
    3. Cosmetics and interior surfaces, e.g. the condition of the flooring material, counter tops, interior paint, etc.
    4. Items of specific concern to the purchaser of the inspection, e.g. the need for health related features (wheelchair ramps), hobby related items (an additional 220 volt circuit for a special tool), etc.

  • A home inspector is the "general practitioner" of the home inspection field. Some home inspectors are also specialists in specific areas such as energy efficiency, structural engineering, architecture, or environmental assessment. Specialty inspectors advertise their area of interest and usually restrict their work to that specialty.

    Several states require home inspectors to be licensed. In the State of Washington, home inspectors must be licensed Pest Inspectors in order to be able to inspect for wood destroying organisms and conditions conducive for the growth of such organisms.

    There are numerous schools and inspection organizations throughout the country, and thousands of inspectors. Because the quality and purpose of the organizations vary, so do the qualifications and skills of inspectors. Many home inspection associations have been spending too much time and money marketing to the trade and the real-estate industry and not enough effort in training their members.

    The inspector you choose must have the technical expertise needed to analyze the home, plus the communication skills to convey the results.

  • The right inspector for you must possess good credentials, a good reputation and the right skills (see "What are the Qualifications of an Inspector?"). The inspector must also be able to communicate with you and provide you with the various services you need. The inspector must work for you: he/she must be independent and not beholding to realtors, contractors or other parties involved in the transaction.

    Start with referrals from friends and colleagues. Talk to the inspector on the phone: Ask about the services offered; inquire about the inspector's qualifications; talk about the specialization(s) required in the inspection of the home in question; and, understand the cost of the services.

  • Most inspections are performed during the purchase process of a home, after a purchase and sale agreement has been signed. Your purchase agreement should state that the purchase is "subject to an inspection satisfactory to the buyer". An inspection contingency is usually for 5 to 10 days; the longer the duration, the better...especially if laboratory test results or specialty inspections are required. Information from the inspection is then used by the prospective buyer to decide how, or if, to proceed with the purchase process.

    You may want to make a tentative appointment for the inspection even before you have agreed with the seller to the terms of the (preliminary) offer. If possible, you should arrange to accompany the inspector during the inspection and discuss the inspector's findings afterwards.

    Home inspections are also very useful before and during a major home improvement or remodeling projects. This type of an inspection is used to help determine the scope of work and the specifications for that work. An inspector can help you decide issues such as: "Do I really need a new roof?" "Will the electrical service require an upgrade when I remodel the kitchen?" And, an inspector can assist you in managing the construction contract, verifying the quality of the workmanship and assuring contract compliance.

    The inspector's job is to provide an unbiased assessment, and to provide the inspection client with the information needed to make informed decisions. As such the inspector must be a neutral party and comply with a code of ethics such as that of lawyer.

    See also Topics: Electrical Systems, Topics: A Building and Remodeling Checklist, Topics: The Sound Roof

  • Nothing takes the place of careful evaluation and inspection, but there are some good preliminary indicators of the quality of a home. Here are some tips from a pro.

    • PURCHASING A HOME IS HARD WORK, take your time to learn as much as possible about the home, the lot, the neighborhood, the mortgage, insurance...Don't allow yourself to make a rushed decision.
    • NEWER IS GENERALLY BETTER THAN OLDER. This is not a statement about style of construction, but about the quality of most of the material, equipment and workmanship in newer versus older homes.
    • STANDARD CONSTRUCTION IS USUALLY SUPERIOR TO UNUSUAL WORK. Most homes are built according to some very well known standard practices. Such homes will last for hundreds of years if they receive good maintenance. A disproportionately large number of non-standard features tend to have major problems and much higher maintenance costs.

    It has been my experience that the contractor built home that has not been modefied by the weekend warier tends to be a better choice than the one that has seen such modifications.

    • HOUSES BUILT IN WETLANDS tend to have major problems: pests, wood rot, floods, mold and even premature roofing failure (no kidding). Such problems are usually very difficult and very expensive to solve. One of the only ways to prevent such problems is by building the structure on a high foundation or on stilts. Wetlands are for frogs and birds, not for houses!
    • LOCAL CONDITIONS REQUIRE SPECIAL ATTENTION! If you are looking in an area that is subject to HURRICANES, TORNADOS, TSUNAMIS, or FLOODS then you will need to find out about the special requirements for such homes. If your home is subject to salt spray from the sea, find our about requirements for stainless steel fasteners...

    Ask questions, lots of questions and get the information from a variety of experts.

    • ANNUAL HOME MAINTENANCE COSTS amount to about to 2% of the value of the structure. This includes such items as the amortization of a new roof or furnace over 20-40 years, a new dishwasher every 15 years, and annual furnace service.
    • CONDOMINIUMS are often bought by people who don't want to worry about maintenance. As a result, some condominium complexes have a hard time finding volunteers to be on the homeowners' association board. And some complexes suffer from poor quality maintenance practices. Consider the whole complex, the other owners and their building and grounds maintenance practices.
    • SPECULATIVE REMODELS (homes which were recently 'fixed up' prior to being placed on the market) tend to have more problems in the less 'visible' areas, e.g. the plumbing, electrical and heating systems.
    • RECENTLY RENTED HOMES tend to be in poorer condition than homes occupied by their owners.
    • My experience has been that MANUFACTURED AND MODULAR HOMES are often built to very poor standards. They tend not to last for very long, and in my opinion are a poor investment.
    • HOUSES WITH ROOF OVERHANGS require less maintenance in wet climates and stay cooler in hot climates. Such homes have fewer problems with sidings, require less frequent painting, and have fewer leaks.
    • COPPER SUPPLY LINES are the best, galvanized lines will not last as long, and I still have trouble trusting any of the plastic supply lines but see them in all types of new homes.
      • failing shower and tub walls
      • defective heating and cooling systems
      • roofing problems
      • unsafe electrical modifications
      • deck problems
    • THE MOST TELLING SIGN OF GOOD QUALITY NEW CONSTRUCTION IS: a clean and well organized construction site
    • REPAIRS NEGOTIATED DURING THE PURCHASE PROCESS are of better quality if the work is controlled and paid for by the buyer. In other words, it is better to get a discount in the price of the home then to have the seller do the work. Reason, the buyer has a longer term interest in the structure.

  • FAQ

    Q: Do new homes require inspection? A: Yes. Most new homes are built to very good standards; however, about 5% have some significant defects. For example, some of the new homes built under the new Washington State Energy Code have non-functioning mechanical ventilation systems. These are new systems and not all builders have learned how to install them.

    Q: Should condominiums be inspected? A: Condominiums require an inspection of the individual unit and of the condition of the building complex. The owner of a unit in a condominium complex is responsible for a share of the maintenance of the entire complex. While the home inspector is unlikely to have access to the entire complex, an inspection of the accessible areas will provide some important information about the condition of the building(s). This information along with the information provided by the homeowners' association should then be used by the buyer during the process of deciding whether to purchase the unit.

    Q: Who should be at an inspection? A: As an experienced inspector, I am a strong advocate of performing inspections with the inspection clients present during the entire process. Other parties such as small children, friends, parents may wish to see the house at another time, but will often interfere with the inspection process.

    Q: May I record, or video tape, the inspection? A: Most inspectors allow for the recording of the inspection. Inspections performed to ASHI standards must be followed up with a written report.

    Q: Do inspectors guarantee their work? A: No. The inspection is not, and can not be a guarantee, warranty or insurance policy. The inspection is limited due to its visual and non destructive nature. Most inspectors will explain the scope and limitations of an inspection prior to the inspection. Many, including Sound Home Inspections, Inc., will request that a written pre-inspection agreement be read and signed prior to the start of an inspections.

    It is understood and agreed that the COMPANY is not and insurer and that the inspection and report are not intended or to be construed as a guarantee or warranty or the adequacy, performance or condition of any structure, item or system at the property address. The CUSTOMER hereby releases and exempts the COMPANY and its agents and employees of and from all liability and responsibility for the cost of repairing any unreported defects of deficiency and for any consequential damage, property damage or personal injury on any nature.

    In the even that the COMPANY and/or its agents or employees are found liable due to breach of contract, breach of warranty, negligence, negligent misrepresentation, negligent hiring or any other theory of liability, then the liability of the COMPANY and its agents and employees shall be limited to a sum equal to the amount of the fee paid by the CUSTOMER for the inspection report."

    Most inspection companies (including SHI) are also covered by an errors and omissions insurance policy. And most of the companies which write this type of insurance require a liability limitation clause of this type.

    Q: What do inspections cost? A: The price of a home inspection varies by company, the experience of the inspector, size or age of home and location. Currently, most inspections cost between $250 to $800+.

  • George Guttmann was a home inspector and construction consultant 1978 through 2012. He is the publisher and primary author of The Sound Home Resource Center (SHRC), one of the most popular and authoritative home improvement and construction sites on the Internet.

    Your specific questions regarding this and other construction related topics can be answered by way of the email and telephones consulting services. For questions regarding re-print licensing or advertising on the SHRC please write to:

    See also Topics: Tub and Shower Walls, Topics: Heating Your Home, Topics: The Sound Roof, Topics: Basement and Crawl Space Moisture, Sound Home Inspections, Inc., Q&A: #4 Buying a Home, Q&A #30: Planning, Q&A #27: Estimating, Q&A: #13 Home Inspections