So What Are the Top 10 Items Not Covered in a Home Inspection?
Buying a home is a colossal undertaking, particularly for those who not yet done it before (first time home buyers). It can be overwhelming, so try to take it all in stride. Hopefully you are here to plan in advance, to be well prepared to take it on. In either event, you (seemingly) are here knowing the importance of a Home Inspection toward the purchase process (and that Red Flag Home Inspection is the best around!).
Most of you are aware that most systems and components have a place in the Standards of Practice. The list of inspection items, and components the inspector must know how to inspect, is mind numbing. This inspection, however, does NOT cover every single item or component within the residence. This article is to help you understand the components that you need to know/understand are NOT included in a typical home inspection (and some of which that may be available upon request/payment).
- Termite or “WDO” Inspection
- Inner Wall Cavities
- Prediction of Longevity of Components
- Cosmetics or Décor
- Every Single Component in the Home
- HVAC Units
- Items or Defects Concealed
- Sewer/Septic System
- Building Code Violations
- Crawlspace Inspection
Termite or “WDO” Inspection
A “WDO” inspection is an acronym for wood destroying organisms. I’m sure many of you immediately think of termites, which are definitely a wood destroying organism, but there are several others in the category that equally can wreak havoc on your home. These little critters cause an estimated $5 billion dollars worth of damage in the United States each year. This is NOT an inspection to take lightly. Sure, many Home Inspectors perform this test using loopholes in the licensure requirements. Not Red Flag though. This is more about having the right person for the right job, and the right person here is a Licensed Pest Control company. They have the proper training and development to know what to look for, where to look and what needs to be done to fix whatever is found. This service, as you guessed, is not included in a typical home inspection so make sure you line up some contacts to perform this critical inspection.
Inner Wall Cavities
In case you are not aware, Home Inspectors are governed by Standards of Practice. These standards stipulate what they must inspect, but several key items are left off of this list (inclusive of these items cited in this article). One such item is the inner wall cavities. So many things can be going wrong within a wall cavity, and we will never know until we see an outward sign of failure that can be noticed. This can be a pin-hole leak in a plumbing line, or a short in an electrical wire. The fact remains, until there is a failure that produces a noticeable outward sign, your inspector is powerless to notice it. Let’s say your home was not inspected at the New Construction phase, and a staple was put into the center of an electrical wire. That may go unnoticed for decades. As the Romex rubber jacket degrades, maybe the current jumps to the staple and zaps the wood stud. While I’m sure you would like to turn to your Home Inspector for explanation, this type of failure cannot be seen without destructive testing (which is not done in a typical home inspection). If you are getting a New Construction inspection, however, we survey the site to find all of these defects we can. We use thermal imaging and moisture mapping to look for the outward signs of failure, but please understand that full X-ray vision is not possible (yet).
Prediction of Longevity of Components
As Home Inspectors, we are routinely asked “How long until this roof fails?” or “Do we really need to paint these walls, or can it wait a year?”. The answer to these questions is always, “It depends”. Home Inspectors wield powerful skills to evaluate an insane number of systems and identify defects. It’s true, not all hero’s wear capes. We cannot (yet) however, predict the future. If we did, we probably would be doing other things for a living.
The ultraviolet rays (UV rays) shorten the lifespan of numerous building components. This is why routine maintenance and oversight is needed. It is also why we must replace the materials periodically, to keep our building’s envelope intact. As a guide, you can find the life expectancy ranges for various materials in our blog called How Long Do Building Materials Last?! In this article, we discuss the timeframes for common building materials all around the home (and include a list specially developed for Florida). We all know Florida always requires special treatment, particularly when it comes to embarrassment in the news.
So please use this guide as a resource, and don’t ask us to tell you if the windows will make it through Hurricane Season. The answer, I will tell you right now, will be “It depends, on if we get a Hurricane”.
Cosmetics or Décor
According to the Standards of Practice, Home Inspectors are not required to inspect the paint, wallpaper, or other finish treatments. If cosmetics are cited in a report, typically it would be because it may have been obscured from view for our client, OR we use it to illustrate some type of failure that is occurring. For instance, a darkened discoloration, or waviness of a wood component, may be pointed out to inform our client of water exposure.
Of course, this rule does not apply for your Red Flag New Construction inspection (which includes any cosmetic blemish or irregularity that we observe). In the end, that inspection aims to ensure you are getting the dream home you are paying a lot of money to get.
So you are on your own if you want to try and get a credit at closing to replace the pink wall/floor tile and pink toilet in the pink bathroom (sorry).
Every Single Component in the Home
In referring back to the Standards of Practice, it seems like the document covers everything under the sun. It’s true that it does cover a ton, but it does not quite cover everything. Obviously we are highlighting some of the higher points here in this list, but it is not a reasonable expectation that everything is inspected and every defect identified. Items like windows, doors, electrical outlets are given a “representative number” of items inspected. This means that we are not inspecting every single one, but we are inspecting a few of each at minimum.
Our New Construction customers, however, can expect every window, door and electrical outlet to have been tested.
We certainly will be inspecting the in place Heating, Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) systems of your chosen property. Your inspector will check the “delta” across the handler, which measures the comparison from the return to the supply (quantifying the amount of energy gained/lost crossing the handler). This should typically be between 14 and 20 degrees. If less, it means the system needs to be serviced or replaced (and should certainly be evaluated by a HVAC professional to determine which). If more than this degree of drop, it may actually mean a very soiled coil or restriction in the ducts. This slows down the airflow, which is terrible for energy efficiency. The slower airflow means the air is in contact with the cold coils for a longer period of time. Sounds like a good thing, right? It’s really not. This can make the internal components of the air-handler or ducts into a condensation surface. This can lead to mold development within the system.
If your “delta” is out of whack, do yourself a favor and call in a HVAC professional to assess. They can look at the age/condition of the system, the sizing, and the installation. They can tell you if there is caked up grime on the coils, or other outward signs of deferred maintenance.
Items or Defects Concealed
A Home Inspector is bound to call out any defect that he has 1) observed and 2) deemed to be a “material defect”. This means that items not observed, or not observable, are excluded from their Standard of Practice. It’s true, we can only report upon what we are able to observe (or measure, or detect, or figure out). So it should not be expected that once the walls are removed during a renovation, that isolated water stains or other items may not be uncovered. Most Home Inspectors, however, use technology to narrow this gap between observability and detection of defects. The use of thermal imaging is a mandatory process in every Red Flag Home Inspection completed. Read our blog to find out why, the technology is amazing and you learn so much by applying it. I cannot risk a client not selecting that service, so I include it automatically. This allows us to “see” signs of impending doom before they have fully developed. So while we cannot “see” the wall cavity, we may be able to pick up on the subtle pre-failure/catastrophe hints that identify trouble is on the way.
Your inspector will certainly note the exposed plumbing, and inform you of the material/condition of that seen. As you know, however, most of the plumbing lines are below ground or within walls. As such, these are not included in the typical Standards of Practice. Consider adding a sewer scope to your inspection services, for an additional fee. If you have reason to believe the pipes are cast iron, orangeburg, or terra cotta, consider getting a plumber to do the evaluation. In the end, a failure beneath your house may mean jacking up the concrete (and damaging floor finishes) to do the repair. If you haven’t seen the construction zone that this creates in your house, I assure you it’s not pretty. Cracks can develop in the pipes, tree roots can infiltrate and cause blockages, the pipes may not be sloped adequately to drain the solids, or pitched too much to where the solids are left behind (I know it sounds odd, but it happens; trust me). Moreover, the pipes could be collapsed and ruptured altogether. Using a camera service during your inspection may save you a huge headache down the road.
For the septic system, these systems commonly utilize a reinforced concrete container that is below grade and obscured from view. Further, they tend to have effluent and waste filling them near the top. As such, they are not quite available for observation. To do this inspection right, the professionals need to be brought in to pump the take and inspect once it’s all cleaned out. Obviously, this comes with some added expense, but it could save you considerably if you find a cracked tank that may have been driven over, or a drain-field that is not properly discharging water from the system. They can also insert a small diameter camera into the drain field lines to ensure solids/sludge/debris have not clogged the drain field lines. To gauge if you need to call in a PRO, consider asking the seller:
- When the tank was last pumped?
- Any issues flushing the toilets? Backing up?
- Do they use Flushable Wipes? (Hine: look around during your walk-thru for these; VERY bad for most septic systems).
- If they know the location(s) of the tanks and drain field.
- If they know the size of the tank (a 1,200 gallon tank is typical for a standard/larger house)
Building Code Violations
You hired a Home Inspector, not a Building Inspector. Building inspectors tend to complete numerous very quick inspections, focusing solely on the Building Code and it’s application to the phase of construction at hand. A Home Inspector, however, has to scrutinize a huge list of building components, and assess the good/bad from within it. So why doesn’t a Home Inspector evaluate if items are up to code? Fair question! The Building Codes are only applicable to the one in-force at the time of it’s construction. A 1956 house would not be weighed against the 2021 Building Code (which is the one that the Building Inspector knows). It takes a lot of effort to research, find and apply the codes of the past. In the end, you may not learn a lot about the component for having done it (so the Standards of Practice do not include it). Now, it is a sound practice to apply portions of the code (and the areas that fall short of the code) to illustrate defects. The modern Building Code demonstrates the modern day best practice (or minimum standard) for a building. If it does not meet today’s minimum standard, it shows that there should be an expectation of failure over time. It is good to advise the client of up-coming (potential) for failure, but not required per the standards of practice. If you have reason to believe there is unpermitted work, or code violations, consider bringing in a consulting General Contractor to provide a write-up to mitigate the defects or defective construction observed.
The underbelly of your home is a place where nobody wants to go into. These places are hot and filled with little critters, some of which are not quite as scared of us as we are of it. In this area, however, a tremendous amount of information is gathered. Sellers may paint the house, and replace flooring, and erase decades worth of neglect. But the wood framing of the crawlspace tells the tale on what has been happening in that house over the years. This is an area where the Building Codes are cited pretty heavily, because defects are common place and these modern-day best practices clearly illustrate the defects occurring. It’s on this list, however, because it is not included in the typical home inspection. Sure we need to look in there from the perimeter, but accessing it is not required. This can be done by most inspectors, however, for an additional fee. In my professional opinion, this is one of the most pivotal and impactful insights you can get for a house sitting atop a crawlspace, so you would be crazy not to pay the small service fee to have it inspected.
So that sums up the high-level items left out of a typical home inspection. Obviously, there are more that are not included, but these represent the items that are most impactful and typically most significant to home buyers. Some of these can be added by your inspector for a fee, and others require additional experts to evaluate. Do yourself a favor and review the Standards of Practice. Know what items are and are not included in their evaluation, and discuss including items that need you need inspected (knowing you may need to pay an additional fee). Covering all of the bases during this inspection term will ensure that you can relax knowing that your dream home will stay a dream, and not turn into a nightmare.