What Do Home Inspectors Look For?
A home inspector is your best friend during the home buying process. Even if you find a fantastic deal on a house, and it’s in your ideal neighborhood, and you’re ready to close the deal immediately, you should hire a home inspector. Here’s the reason, a home is the biggest purchase most people will ever make and because home inspectors are professionals. We are able to catch common issues that may escape the attention of even the most detail-oriented home buyer. We do this for a living. Our job is to be thorough and comprehensive, and issue a report that only states the facts about the condition of your investment. In fact, there are more than 1,600 elements taken into consideration in a comprehensive home inspection report. Though many of these are quite minor and may be nothing to worry about, there may also be more serious issues that only a professional home inspector can assess. Without a comprehensive home inspection, you could end up paying thousands of dollars in repairs, or buying a house that is unsafe.
A certified home inspection should cover the foundation, lot, roof, exterior, attic, interior, basement, electrical, plumbing, appliances, and the heating/cooling systems. We look for mold, water damage, foundation issues, even asbestos and lead. In this article, we’ll discuss what other things home inspectors look for, and the most common issues found during the home inspection process. We have also included a helpful infographic that shows you what all is covered during a home inspection.
Roof condition and quality
The condition and quality of the roof is a major aspect of the home inspection process. The home inspector will take a look at the roofing materials to ensure that the roof has been properly installed and maintained, and to estimate the remaining lifespan of that particular roof.
They will check the gutters and the flashing of the roof systems, as well as other major structural elements of the roof.
The attic and topmost floors will also be inspected for signs of water damage and moisture. If there are any symptoms of a leaky or improperly-installed roof your inspector WILL find them.
They will also inspect your roof for signs of animal nests and ensure that there are no nearby trees or branches that pose a threat to the integrity of the roof.
As roof repairs and installations can cost thousands of dollars, this is a critical step in the home inspection process.
Proper ventilation and insulation
Home maintenance is a serious cost of home ownership – but the cost of utilities can also be a serious consideration when you are thinking about buying a home. As a rule, older homes are not ventilated or insulated as well as newer homes, which means you’ll be paying quite a bit more for heating and cooling.
Air leaks in attics, around windows and doors, vents, crawlspaces as well as any other system that reaches through the ceiling to the exterior of your home can cost you a lot of money in the long run. It is estimated by the ENERGY STAR program that you can save up to 12% or more in heating/cooling costs by adding more insulation and sealing these leaks.
Your home inspector will give you an overall assessment of the home’s energy-efficiency and ventilation/insulation to help you understand what improvements can be made.
Related: Guide to Home Insulation
The exterior condition of the home is another important aspect of the assessment process. Your inspector will check for things such as:
- Broken seals or damage around windows
- Settling of decking and patios
- Walkway and driveway quality and condition
- Quality of landscaping and grounds maintenance
- Cracking or damage to siding
- Deterioration of paintwork
- Garage door condition and operation
Every element of the exterior is examined to provide you with the best possible understanding of the condition of the home’s exterior.
Improper grading or drainage
If the home you are interested in is not graded properly, and water cannot drain away from the foundation or the crawlspace, this is a huge red flag for a home inspector. As water collects, it can seep into the foundation and into the basement of the home, if there is a basement.
This is an especially serious problem when the ground freezes during the winter. As the water surrounding the foundation freezes, cracks and structural damage to the foundation itself can occur. This is definitely something you don’t want and will cost thousands to repair. So proper grading and drainage is essential to home care and keeping the integrity of a homes foundation.
In some cases, the foundation may still be intact – but regrading of the home must be done in order to ensure that no damage occurs in the future.
Signs of basement flooding or dampness
Damp basements are inconvenient, and can cause mold growth and mildew. Many homes that are built in an area with a high water table often experience periodic flooding. If the basement is not finished, and a proper sump pump system is used to drain this water away, this is not a deal-breaker.
However, homes that have undergone serious flooding may have many other structural faults in the basement, such as damaged wiring and permanent damage to gypsum-based drywall. As a rule, significant water damage or dampness in a basement should be avoided at all costs.
Mold and mildew
Mold and mildew are often looked for by home inspectors. It is usually something easy to see and easy to detect during the home inspection process but for peace of mind it is usually worth the additional fee for a full-scale mold test.
Home inspectors will look for signs of mold and mildew when they are in areas of the home that are typically damp – such as basements, bathrooms, utility rooms, in some cases even garages.
Mold and mildew can be extremely costly to remove, so if your home inspector does think that mold is present, it’s best to get some mold testing done – and use this as leverage to negotiate a better price for the home you’re interested in buying.
Related: Mold Inspection FAQs
Properly functioning HVAC systems
Ventilation and insulation are only part of the puzzle when it comes to reducing your power usage and utility bills. Your home inspector will also conduct a basic inspection of the HVAC system in the home, including:
- The Thermostat
- Ventilation Duct work
- Gas lines (if applicable)
- Air Filtration System
- Central Air Conditioner
- Vents and Registers in each room
Your inspector will take a look at each of these systems and assess their quality and integrity. They may also inform you if there are issues with the air conditioning system or the furnace – and depending on their findings it may need to be replaced. Most furnaces last 10-20 years, and air conditioning systems have a similar lifespan, and can be quite costly to replace, so this is another factor to consider when you are thinking about purchasing a home.
Chimneys can be very problematic, particularly in older homes that commonly have more than one chimney. Unless they are properly maintained, chimneys can become damp and infested with mold, and may destroy the interior of the chimney itself. In addition, chimneys that leak can cause water damage and other structural problems.
It can cost quite a bit of money to fix a faulty chimney, but doing so is usually necessary to get your home insured and avoid future water damage or roof damage.
Faulty plumbing or pipes
Faulty plumbing is another issue that can be extremely costly, if it’s not identified before you buy the home. Replacing old pipes is very expensive, and if a pipe fails or breaks without you knowing it, it can cause significant and severe water damage to your home, which may be extremely costly to fix. Cha Ching.
Your home inspector will take a look at the basic functioning of the plumbing system, by testing all water-based appliances such as water heaters, toilets, sinks, tubs, dishwashers and washing machines. They will also examine the pipes to see if they are in good condition, or if they’re made of an outdated material like polybutylene and need to be replaced.
Fear not though because if an issue is found, it will be brought to your attention – it may be minor, and simply require the replacement of a toilet or another fixture – or it could be more severe, requiring a more expensive course of action, such as replacing old piping. Either way your inspector will present you with the facts.
Outdated electrical wiring
Outdated electrical wiring is one of the biggest things that home inspectors look for. If you were buying a house that was built before the 1950s, for example, the home could still be using the original “knob and tube” wiring – this is a system that is unsafe for use with most modern appliances, and presents a serious fire risk.
There could be other issues, too – DIY wiring in the attic or crawlspace, or other areas. Or electrical repairs that were improperly done. If there is a youtube video about it someone has probably tried it themselves and that is not always recommended, so we definitely check!
Home inspectors will look for all of these wiring issues and they are extremely thorough, because faulty wiring can prevent your home from being insured properly. For example, many home insurance companies refuse to underwrite a home that has “knob and tube” wiring because it’s a fire risk.
Electrical issues can also be quite expensive to repair. It essentially the homes nervous system so should you find that the wiring has serious faults and deficiencies it is best to negotiate a lower price with the homeowner.
Window, door, and opening trim
While it may seem like a small thing, examining the trim and function of the windows, doors, and other openings in a home is a good way to assess the overall quality of the home and to ensure that it is free of drafts and other insulation issues which may raise your power bills.
Examining these areas also provides the home inspector with a better idea of the craftsmanship of the home. If the doors and windows are crooked or warped, this may be a sign that the house is settling excessively or was built using sub-par materials.
Functioning and adequate appliances
Beyond the HVAC system and other major appliances, the home inspector will check all of the other large appliances in the home for safety and quality. These items include the oven and range, refrigerator and freezer, washing machine and dryer (if present), as well as other such systems.
They will also test and check for smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure that the home abides by all local, municipal, and state regulations for smoke and fire detection, and fire safety.
General maintenance and upkeep
During the entire home inspection process, the home inspector will be looking at the integrity of the homes major systems. Most of these are expensive to replace – but they will also be looking at the general state of the home. This is to help give you an adequate assessment of its general condition and how well it has been maintained.
While many smaller home maintenance projects, such as repainting, replacing toilets and bathtubs, replacing baseboard, and other minor repairs are quite inexpensive, the costs can mount up over time. If the owner has deferred maintenance on many parts of the home, and it’s not in the best condition, you may have to spend quite a bit of money restoring it over the next few years, as the property continues to deteriorate.
It boils down to this – if the owner did not take proper care of the home, and is not doing so now, someone is going to have to take care of it later. And if you buy the home, that’s going to be you.
Know What Home Inspectors Look For – And Don’t Go Without Professional Help!
Buying a home is a huge investment! Would you buy a used car without letting a mechanic take a look at it? In the same vein, you should never shop for a house without hiring a professional home inspector.
Your home inspector will give you an honest, objective assessment of the quality of the home you’re interested in, alert you to potential issues that may be costly in the long run, and give you a report that can help you renegotiate the terms of your sale – or even back out entirely. Knowing what your buying and walking into a deal eyes wide open only benefits you in the long run.
Give PacWest a call, send us a message, or schedule an inspection online, and make sure you’re making a good investment for your future.