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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : features : features April 15, 2014


8/16/2013 6:00:00 AM
Do home inspectors only want to cover their behinds?
Randy West


This week's question:

"I own several rental homes in the tri-city area, and also flip a few homes each year. I do most of the improvements and maintenance myself. I saw your recent column about deck failures. I have never used a home inspector, and your column was a perfect example of why. I have never had a deck "fall off" a building. After reading your column, people may be afraid to even step on their decks, and certainly would not have a few friends over for a cookout on the deck.

"Almost every time I sell a home, the home inspector comes up with some crazy improvements. If it's not decks falling off the home, it's shock hazards from no GFCI outlets or fire hazards from a water heater vent pipe touching drywall. And in 20 years of renting and flipping homes, I have never had a deck fall off, someone electrocuted at the kitchen sink or a house burn down.

"So here's my question. Do home inspectors call out all these things to cover their behinds, or to try to justify their mostly unneeded existence?"

Wow. Another avid fan of my columns, I see. Flipping, in case you don't have television, is buying a home, making some improvements, and then re-selling it a few weeks later for much more than you have invested in it. Also, I did change one word in the letter (regarding areas of the human anatomy). Before I answer his specific question, let's talk about decks for a minute.

The column he referred to was in the June 21 Courier. The column talked about deck failures, why they occur, and referenced some recent deck failures. The last paragraph recommended annual inspections of your deck.

That column appeared less than 2 months ago. An internet search will find a dozen deck collapses since then, just in the last six weeks. For example: On July 28, WGN reported on a deck collapse that sent 14 people to the hospital. On July 29, CTV Montreal reported on a deck collapse that injured 20 people, one seriously. And on July 30, the Shamokin (Pennsylvania) News reported a deck collapsed in Atlas, Pa. And in this one there was no party - there was one person sweeping off the deck when it collapsed.

The June column stated that most deck failures occur when the deck (ledger board) separates from the home. The three deck failures I mentioned above are from the ledger board separating from the home. So I stand by my June column. I was not trying to scare people into not enjoying their decks. But I was pointing out that deck maintenance and inspections are important, especially on decks more than 10 years old.

This is a free country. You can certainly disagree with me and say that deck collapses are not a concern. But I am waiting to see your evidence, other than a deck has not fallen off one of your own homes.

So now let me answer your question. Do home inspectors make recommendations to cover their behinds or to justify their existence? The answer is - absolutely positively both! But the reality is we want to provide a valuable service to our clients. And if we do that well, we will cover our behinds and justify our existence.

The three examples you gave of home inspectors making "unnecessary" recommendations are all common ones, especially in older homes. We already talked about decks. You also mentioned GFCI outlets. These are shock-preventing outlets. They are required at "wet" locations - garage, exterior, bathrooms and kitchens. Arizona home inspectors are required to report on GFCI protection, so we have no choice. I believe installing GFCI outlets/protection is a very important safety upgrade. GFCI outlets are inexpensive, so I would recommend installing them even if I weren't required to.

You also mentioned fire hazards from water heater vent pipes. Gas appliance (water heater, furnace, fireplace, etc.) vent pipes should have at least one-inch clearance to combustibles. This is a requirement of the appliance manufacturer and the vent pipe manufacturer. In fact, many vent pipes have this requirement on labels or stamped right into the metal.

Drywall has a paper backing, and is definitely a combustible material. So gas appliance vent pipes should be at least one inch away from the drywall (and wood framing and sheathing in attics). I frequently see vent pipes too close or even touching drywall or wood framing. And every time I do I recommend improving it, by trimming the combustible material or moving the vent pipe, whichever is easier. This is also an important and relatively inexpensive improvement. Especially if it's drywall-trimming drywall away from a vent pipe takes about 90 seconds with a drywall saw.

I know you don't consider suggestions from home inspectors to be very valuable. I own several rental homes myself, so here's a suggestion from a fellow landlord. I do very little work on my rental properties. When the safety of my tenants is at stake, no one but a licensed professional is going to do the work. I was a licensed contractor for many years, and could do most of the improvements. But a professional carpenter, electrician or plumber will make improvements much faster and better than I can myself. I usually end up losing $600 of inspection income to save $600 of professional labor costs, and end up with a less professional job.



Randy West owns Professional Building Consultants in Prescott. He is state-certified and has performed more than 6,000 home inspections in the Prescott area. West serves on the Home Inspector Rules and Standards Committee for the Arizona Board of Technical Registration. Contact him at randy@inspectprescott.com.

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