Evaluating Inspectors

Key Characteristics of a Great Inspector

64-1First, an inspector does not become great until they have experience. Experience comes from ‘hands on’ inspections. Classroom training is important, but until you have inspected at least 250 homes you would not have the judgement to distinguish a big problem from a small problem.

Second, successful home inspectors are professional. Your first contact with an inspector will come from either a website or a phone conversation. A quality home inspector will have both a professional, easy to navigate interactive website and an experienced personable support person able to answer your questions. Professional inspectors use the same consistent care from start to finish; they understand that at every touch point the customer will judge the quality of their service.

Third, the best inspectors have communication skills. A home inspection is an experience and making it pleasant is the key to a great inspection. Home buyers and sellers are anxious and excited; a cool, calm, matter of fact inspector is best suited to be fair and balanced with any problems that are discovered.

Don’t settle for anything less than the best.

Doug Hastings
MN Home Inspector, Minneapolis & St. Paul
ASHI Certified Inspector, ACI
Kaplan University, Home Inspection Lead Instructor

Should We Stay or Should We Go

Our dreams are our dreams.

Countless times I’ve seen family and friends looking for a better place to live. Whether it be a different house or a different location, the grass always seems to be greener somewhere else. As a home inspector too often I see aging parents being moved out by their kids because of the costs and difficulties in maintaining the home. Sometimes this move is to a retirement apartment. Recently, my neighbor of 25 years regrettably moved himself and his wife into a retirement home. They seem to be driving by or are out mingling in the neighborhood more now than when they actually lived next door. He tells me this ‘new’ place will never be their ‘home’ it’s merely a place to sleep and stay warm.

Home is where your memories are and it’s tough to leave them behind.

Most people feel attached to their homes and the town they are located in. It’s comfortable to know your neighbors and where to find the shops and other services so often used. Even though we complain about the weather, wherever we go, we will still complain about it. Home is where you heart and friends are. This is where you get your emotional support and comfort.

It costs too much to stay here.

Moving typically doesn’t save money. It costs a lot to sell your home and move your belongings. The new place will need new things and this adds to the cost of relocating. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to modify, freshen up or age proof your home. This may also require getting assistance with the maintenance. Regardless, it’s almost always less expensive to stay in the home where your heart is. Make an informed decision on the state of your home and the improvement options for the future. A good home inspector should be able to help identify and advise you on these safety and convenience improvements.

Doug Hastings
MN Home Inspector, Minneapolis & St. Paul
ASHI Certified Inspector, ACI
Kaplan University, Home Inspection Lead Instructor

Are All Smoke Detectors Alike?

Most people assume a smoke detector is a smoke detector…this is not true.

In the mid 1970’s less than 10% of homes had a smoke detector; now over 90% do. Nevertheless, this dramatic increase in smoke detectors has had little impact on the risk of death by fire. Why? Some studies have indicated that many smoke detectors are either inoperable or have been disabled. Nuisance alarm activations are a major reason why detectors are disabled. National Fire Protection Association, NFPA, studies have indicated ionization alarms account for over 95% of all nuisance alarms.

Another reason is the age of the smoke detector. All smoke detectors should be replaced every 10 years.

What are the statistics on ionization vs. photoelectric smoke detectors?

62-1The majority of residential fire fatalities are due to smoke inhalation. Ionization detectors respond an average of 15 to 50 minutes slower than photoelectric. Some studies indicate they completely fail to work 25% of the time. However, ionization detectors respond faster in fast flame fires. Studies show 30 to 90 minutes quicker than photoelectric. Certainly, either smoke detector is better than none at all. Of course, a functioning smoke detector is most important. But if time and reliability are vital to our chances of surviving a smoldering fire, a photoelectric smoke detector is the best type to install in your home.

Less than 10% of all smoke detectors in homes are photoelectric.

Doug Hastings
MN Home Inspector, Minneapolis & St. Paul
ASHI Certified Inspector, ACI
Kaplan University, Home Inspection Lead Instructor

Faulty Smoke Detectors

In a fire, the issue is time.

Minutes and many times seconds will make the difference between life and death. The combustible materials in our homes are different from the past and the technologies of smoke detectors have also changed. There are two types of smoke alarms, ionization and photoelectric. 90% of homes have ionization smoke detectors installed; about 5% are photoelectric and the rest have no alarm at all. The type of smoke alarm can be the difference between your family getting out of the house in time or not.

To better understand the importance of this; there are two types of residential fires, ‘fast flame and smoldering’. The vast majority of residential fire fatalities are due to smoke inhalation from a smoldering fire. And almost two-thirds of these fatalities occur at night while the occupants are sleeping. Photoelectric smoke detectors are by far the best for smoldering fires. Ionization detectors are very slow to respond to smoldering fires. Actually, Ionization detectors have proven to be significantly less reliable in both ‘fast flame and smoldering’ fires.

61-1What type of smoke detectors do you have in your home?

Daylight saving time is a great time to change the batteries in your smoke detectors. This year you should also examine the label on the back of your detectors. If the label says anything about radioactive material, Americium 241, or model number has an “I” then it is ionization. You should replace these detectors with photoelectric. More facts will be in next week’s blog.

All smoke detectors are not alike. Make sure you are protecting your family with the best fire alarm possible.

Doug Hastings
MN Home Inspector, Minneapolis & St. Paul
ASHI Certified Inspector, ACI
Kaplan University, Home Inspection Lead Instructor

Is Some Moisture OK?

Home inspectors are often asked to render opinions on other professionals work. Many times we are challenged by licensed professionals, such as engineers, architects, and contractors, who feel differently about a problem.

Who is right?

Remember professional inspectors offer an OPINION of the condition of a building. This should be an informed opinion based upon knowledge and experience; but it is OUR opinion and not someone else’s. Sought after home inspectors are often in disagreement with others and we need to be firm in our conclusions if we are to best serve our clients.

Recently, I inspected a 7 year old commercial building that was in bank foreclosure. My first and primary concern was moisture intrusion. I began my analysis on the exterior of this concrete block and brick structure. Soon, I found a number of details that concerned me:

  • The roof valley drainage was restricted by a decorative facade
  • No rubber gaskets were on the nails of the roof to wall metal flashing
  • Many brick wall locations requiring weep ropes had none or were mortared over
  • The window and door steel lintels were painted but had already rusted

When I went inside I observed:

  • Water stains on the concrete floors and plaster ceilings
  • Water stains on the window sill frames

Shortly after relating these concerns to my client, I received an engineering report on the building. Evidently, the building had already been in litigation and this had not been disclosed to my client. The engineering report confirmed many of my findings.

The engineering firm designed a very thorough and costly solution to this complex problem. It included all new window, door, and roof flashing, as well as adding brick weep ropes. I recommended that these detailed repairs be completed to resolve the issue and keep the water out of the building. However, the engineer also said that this problem could be managed by water sealing the exterior bricks. In the end, the bank determined that sealing the face of the bricks was sufficient to correct the problem and resell the building.

My client looked to me to advise them on this matter. Was I OK that this moisture problem had been resolved with a thin coat of brick water sealer?

How do you feel about it?

Email me at doug@citiesinspection.com with your opinion and I will reply with mine.

Doug Hastings
MN Home Inspector, Minneapolis & St. Paul
ASHI Certified Inspector, ACI
Kaplan University, Home Inspection Lead Instructor


How BAD Is It?

Determining the significance of a problem has always been challenging for home inspectors. For most inspectors, this can even become an insurmountable and unnerving task. The concern is if we misrepresent our findings either our liability will go through the roof or ours clients might not buy a home they really want. Neither of these is good. The quality of an inspector is directly proportionate to their ability to confidently tell a customer precisely how serious or how insignificant a problem is. Home inspectors can no longer get away with merely identifying the existence of a property defect; they must also state its severity and impact. So how does one acquire this wisdom and sureness?

The answer is quite simple; a home inspector must fully understand the primary purpose(s) of each component they are analyzing. The scope of each problem is based upon whether the component is performing its intended function or not. Let me give you 3 examples:

  1. A grounded outlet in a bath is safe; by adding a GFCI receptacle it would be safer. So the lack of a GFCI to a home inspector would be rather insignificant. Why…because the outlet is performing its intended purpose and is safe to use.
  2. The cedar siding on a home is properly installed and watertight; however, the paint is peeling. Because cedar is naturally decay resistant, the peeled paint is normal maintenance and low in significance to the inspector. The siding is performing is intended purpose which is to make the exterior walls water impervious.
  3. You’re inspecting a home with a front porch which has a severely sloped floor and the walls are pulling away from the main building. Very significant problem; why…because the existing foundation is not performing its intended function. A primary function of a foundation is to protect against earth movement and that clearly is not occurring.

So how BAD is it? Ask yourself, am I trying to tell my client the component…

  • Has potential for failure where a minor improvement is recommended (example #1)
  • Is in process of failure needing a repair (example #2)
  • Has failed requiring complete replacement (example #3)

The ability to communicate these findings in balance and with conviction will define you as either an average or a super inspector. So whether you are new to the real estate business or a seasoned agent is your current inspector capable of properly communicating to tell your clients?

Really, how bad is it?

Doug Hastings
MN Home Inspector, Minneapolis & St. Paul
ASHI Certified Inspector, ACI
Kaplan University, Home Inspection Lead Instructor

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Go With What You Know

Approximately 90% of all structural building failures are caused by moisture. With the exception of the homeowner, moisture is the #1 enemy of the house. Unfortunately, moisture damage typically occurs in concealed spaces. This makes it difficult for most home inspectors to identify.

Good inspectors know there are 3 major elements that impact the risk of moisture intrusion.

  1. The more complex the design of the home the higher the risk.
  2. Poor drainage of water on or around the house increases the danger.
  3. Missing or improper flashing details can be a disaster.

Based upon the analysis of these 3 principles, an experienced inspector will determine whether the probability of concealed moisture damage is low, medium, or high. Regardless of what other ‘experts’ may say, home inspectors are required to communicate these observations to our client and make the appropriate recommendation.

Let me give you an example. Within the last year I inspected an Italian Renaissance home with an elaborate and complicated building design. This building included numerous room projections from the main structure, a 3rd level tower, and a traditional stucco exterior finish.

A flat roof deck was incorporated within the main hip roof structure that included a large skylight and an internal drainage system.

Flat Roof Deck & Skylight
Internal Roof Drain

The perimeter of all windows, doors, band boards, and corners had ‘bump out’ projections without any flashing. Doors onto the flat roofs were level with the deck and had no room for threshold flashing. The stucco was extended below grade without any drip screed flashing. And the roof did not include kickout flashing.

Bump Outs With No Flashing
No Kickout Flashing

Seemed like a no brainer…complex house design, poor roof drainage, and missing flashing details made this high risk. However, the home had been previously moisture tested by a very reputable contractor. The infra-red imaging and meter probing results were all negative. The ‘expert’ concluded no to low probability of moisture intrusion.

Should a professional home inspector change their conclusion and recommendation? Absolutely not, go with what you know. In this example my clients relied upon the moisture testing, moved into the home and quickly discovered the exterior wall structure was rotted out, the house was unsafe to live in and would require over a half a million dollars to fix.

Always remember…STAY WITH WHAT YOU KNOW…an inspector is paid for their opinion not someone else’s.

Doug Hastings
MN Home Inspector, Minneapolis & St. Paul
ASHI Certified Inspector, ACI
Kaplan University, Home Inspection Lead Instructor

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