Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What to look for in a Home Inspector

In my experience, I have found that most home inspectors are honest people trying to provide a high quality service for their clients. We are all required to be licensed and insured, take continuing education courses yearly, and all inspectors in Texas are required to use the same standard inspection report format. So what sets inspectors apart?


Let me start by saying that
price should not be much of a factor in your decision. If you consider a 2400 square foot house as the standard, then you will find that the average inspection is around $300. Some companies are a little less, some are a little more, but you should never sacrifice service for savings when you are making such a big investment in your home. Two things to consider about price:
  1. In my experience, any inspector who is charging under $199 is either not inspecting the house thoroughly, or is not confident in his ability. Inspectors who are considerably below the market-value price are likely to be delivering a below average inspection as well.
  2. I have always preferred companies that publish their prices publicly. If you are doing internet research, you may have found home inspection price lists are a little hard to come by. There are a variety of different reasons, but this is generally because many companies want to retain the ability to adjust price according to neighborhood (you may be quoted a higher price if you live in a high-end area).

The Report

Even though the outline is standard, Inspection Reports vary greatly in quality and detail.
  1. The main recommendation here is to compare sample reports. Inspectors should post a Sample Report on their website; I strongly encourage you to compare these reports. It is a very strong indicator of the level of service that you can expect, and this is the end product that you are paying for.
  2. The inspection report should be thorough, but easily understood, and it should have color pictures.

Customer Service

Ask any inspector that you are considering these two questions:
  1. 'How long will the inspection take?' We do get a little faster with experience, but inspections should take close to 1 hour for every 1000 square feet. If your new home is 3000 square feet, there is no way that a quality inspection can be performed in an hour.
  2. 'Can I accompany you during the inspection?' The answer to this question should always be YES. You might not want to actually be there for all three hours, but the inspector should be at least willing to have you there. Personally, I love it when clients attend the inspection. It gives me an opportunity to explain everything in person and to explain all the reasons that we are mentioning items in our report. Also, it gives me a better opportunity to find out the things that really matter to the client and address those issues even more thoroughly. I take great pride in the service that we offer, and I absolutely want my clients to see that service first-hand.


Some inspectors (especially the most experienced ones) will say that experience is everything, and there is certainly a lot of truth to that
. Most inspection companies are individually owned and operated. In my opinion, the important questions are these:
  1. 'How many inspections have you performed?' Inspectors see something new every day, but 200 paid inspections is considered experienced enough to be an FHA Inspector or to train an Apprentice Inspector, so this should be a fairly solid inspector.
  2. 'How did you become an inspector?'. Former builders, re-modelers, tradesmen, and engineers have additional experience that can certainly come in handy.
At Infinity Home Inspections, our business model features Customer Service as the primary objective. We are willing to give whatever time is necessary at the inspection and we produce a report that I believe is second to none. Like I said before, I believe most inspectors are honest, knowledgeable professionals. If you use the information above and focus on the issues that matter most to you personally, you will probably end up with a quality inspector.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Why Should I Have a Home Inspection?

Let me start this off by saying that I am not at all interested in writing a 'Scare Article'. I do not want to scare you into having a Home Inspection; instead I am hoping to point out some of the main strengths or advantages that an experienced, professional Home Inspector brings to the table. I bought my home 7 years ago, before I was a Home Inspector. My house was a foreclosure, and, in Texas, foreclosures are bought 'as is' so I did not see any reason to have it inspected, but the truth is an inspection would have allowed me to negotiate a much lower price on the sale. I could list literally thousands of reasons to have a professional home inspection, but I am going to keep this real simple and tell you the three most obvious reasons I can think of.

A Home Inspector Knows How to Evaluate Your Foundation

You are probably aware tha
t we have expansive clay soil in the DFW area (at least you are now). The truth is that a large percentage of homes in the area will experience some degree of settlement and develop some interior and exterior cracks. With time, a Home Inspector comes to realize that these cracks, along with many other visual factors, tell a story of how the foundation is performing. After a full inspection is performed, your inspector will give you his professional opinion and let you know if he or she thinks your home is settling in a typical manner or if there is a more serious failure in the performance of the system. He will tell you all the things he sees and how those signs fit together to provide a strong indication of the strength or weakness of your new home's foundation. It is important to understand that Home Inspectors are not Structural Engineers, but we do have the knowledge and experience to let you know if you need to call an engineer.

A Home Inspector Will Remove Your Electrical Panel and More
I can't tell you how many times I've removed an electrical panel to discover serious deficiencies or legitimate safety hazards inside. Electricians are generally a pretty professional bunch, but it is not always an electrician who l
ast worked on the system. Home owners and handymen often feel they are qualified when they simple aren't. Because pictures are worth a thousand words, let me show you a few pictures so I can save a few thousand words. All of these issues were seen in the last 6 months.

This house was in Mansfield, TX. It was less than 5 years old and it was a beautiful home. While on the roof and in the attic, I discovered a leak that was traveling down into the garage wall. When I removed the electrical panel, this is what I saw. Everything green in this picture is copper. Now I know what you're thinking, 'Copper isn't green!' and you're right! The roofing leak was allowing water into the wall near the panel and it had caused the copper to oxidize. This is certainly not the safest thing I've seen this year, and if no inspector had been hired, the homeowner would have never known that it was there. Based on the findings at inspection, these buyers were aware of the issue and the probable cause. They knew they needed to call an electrician and at least determine the price of repairing the issue so that they could be sure the home was still within their price range, given the necessary repairs.

When I removed this panel I found, among other things, this burned neutral wire. You can also see a little bit of oxidation at the end of the wire, but imagine what was going on with the wire that caused it to burn so severely! It was only a matter of time before it started a fire. There were other serious issues in this panel, including another burned wire that was exposed and actually sparked during the inspection. Again, this was a beautiful home that was in very good condition otherwise. Without a professional inspection, these fire-safety issues would not have been identified.
In addition to removing the panel cover and co
nfirming that all items are compatible and appropriately sized, an inspector will test every single plug in the home along with every light and fan.

A Home Inspector Will be on Your Roof and in Your Attic
I know this one seems a little simple, but are you planning on visiting these two exotic locations yourself before buying the
house? I know I didn't, but take a look at some of the things we've found during the last few months.
Any home buyer would probably know that this roof is in bad shape, but only if you took a ladder and climbed up for yourself. Aside from the obvious, this roof had three layers of shingles and was certainly not insurable. These shingles were literally baked. The attic was not properly ventilated and this condition was likely to re-occur unless the ventilation issue was addressed. The potential buyer had been to the home four times and was unaware of this issue.
When an inspector enters the attic there are a lot of factors to consider in addition to the unbearable heat. We are looking at structure issues, roofing and decking issues, and ventilation issues, which are more important than most buyers realize. There are actually quite a few plumbing and electrical issues to inspect as well. I find exposed electrical connections all the time. I often see broken or incomplete plumbing ventilation. If the AC is in the attic, I will regularly see evidence of previous issues or units without safety pans below them. If your new home has gas, then much of the exhaust ventilation travels through the attic, and clearances are critical. I see disconnected exhaust ducts that are spilling toxic fumes into the attic fairly regularly.

Inspectors do not find every issue in the house. In fact, I always tell my clients that my goal is to find at least 90% of the issues, which will include 100% of the major visible issues. The fact is, I will spend over three hours thoroughly inspecting your new home, but you are eventually going to live there for 24 hours a day, and you will invariably discover additional issues. The bottom line is that Home Inspectors will be going to places in the home that you aren't going to look, and we are going to those places with a trained eye, a strong education, and a wealth of experience. Our job is to uncover the true condition of the home, and communicate that information to you in a way that you can understand. These days, anything we find in a home can be repaired. The question is do you want to find out what needs to be repaired before or after you buy the house?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

How Do You Inspect the Air Conditioning System?

I hear this question often, so I though it might be helpful to outline the process I usually follow to inspect the Air Conditioning System. Because I do not want to bore you, I will not mention every little step that actually takes place. I hope this provides you with a good overview of what the inspection entails.

Run the Unit for a Minimum 2 Hours

One of the very first things I do when I arrive at the inspection is locate all thermostats and turn on the cooling system. I usually let the AC run for the entire inspection, which is around 3 hours. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen issues pop up after the system has been on for over an hour! Sometimes the unit performs as intended for an hour and a half then suddenly starts dropping water into the safety pan or not cooling as efficiently.

Inspecting the Exterior Unit & Electrical

The next time I cross the AC system will be on the exterior walk around, where I will record all model numbers and serial numbers for inclusion in my report and make note of the size of the exterior units. Other important thing to take into consideration here are the condition of the refrigerant lines and the condition of the unit itself. I also record information about how much amperage the unit pulls under normal working conditions and the manufacturer’s recommendation for the breaker that should be in the main electrical panel. When I inspect the main electrical panel, I will verify that the breaker and branch wires are sized according to manufacturer’s recommendations.

Inspecting the Interior Unit & System Performance

The next time I see the AC system is whenever I cross the interior portion of the unit. This can be in many different locations, but it is most typically in a hall closet or in the attic. There are many inspections points here that you probably don’t care too much about, so I’ll just hit the main points. If the evaporator coil is accessible, I will inspect it for damage or debris. I verify that combustion, exhaust, and drainage lines are correct. I record any signs of current issues as well as indications of previous issues. I measure the difference between the air going into the unit and the cooled air coming out of the unit. Some time near the end of the inspection, I use a laser thermometer to register the air temperature at every register in the house to be sure that every room is getting air at a satisfactory temperature.

Obvious visible deficiencies aside, I think that most home inspectors will tell you that the most important indicator of how your system is performing is temperature differential: what is the difference between the air going into the unit and the air coming out? After all, this is what the unit is here for. In my opinion, running the unit for an extended period of time is also crucial. I want to know how the unit will react to being on for 2 straight hours, because this is what I believe my customer wants to know. There are no guarantees, but if the unit is able to meet cooling requirements for over two hours then that unit is performing as it was intended to, at least on this day.