Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Home Inspection 101

A Consumers Guide to Hiring a Qualified Home Inspector

The purpose of a home inspection is to inform the individual buyer of the current condition of the home. The purchase contract the buyer and seller signed is contingent on the home inspection. A buyer will generally have the option based upon the inspection to; opt out of the purchase, ask for repairs or credit towards repairs or a purchase price reduction.

It would seem that the importance of a good, thorough home inspection by a qualified inspector is obvious. Never the less many home buyers do not adequately research the profession before hiring an inspector. Most people simply ask the price of the inspection and availability of the inspector when calling to hire an inspector. This is an extremely poor method in which to choose a home inspector.

When buying a new car or furniture set would you merely go to the retailer and buy the lowest priced soonest available item? What would you most likely purchase and take home? In all likelihood a poor quality item that you will probably regret hastily purchasing.
Hiring a skilled professional home inspector is absolutely no different. Just like the example, a low priced, quickly available inspector may mean the same thing; poor quality. So what should a home buyer be looking for in a home inspector?

Licensing: Ask for the inspectors’ full license number, this includes any letter prefixes, and write it down. The letters distinguish if the inspector is fully licensed or an intern or apprentice. For example in Connecticut the prefix HOI means Home Inspector, HOP means a Home Inspector Intern.

Insurance: Does the inspector carry Errors & Omissions and or liability insurance and can they provide proof of insurance upon request. Some states require insurance while others do not. Inquire as to the state insurance requirements and be sure the inspector has the proper type and amount.

Training: Has the inspector had formal training from a recognized training school? State regulation in the home inspection profession is relatively recent (Many states still do not have licensing or regulation!), so formal training has been mostly optional. Many “old timers” were carpenters, electricians or builders and learned to perform home inspections “on the job”. However, there is no single trade that qualifies someone to move into the field of home inspection without extensive training.

Experience: This is can be a misleading qualification if the right questions are not asked. Years of experience are not as important as the total number of home inspections completed. In a 2005 national home inspection business operations study conducted by the American Society of Home Inspector (ASHI), over 80 percent of respondents’ said they were full time home inspectors. Yet almost 40 percent said they perform less than 100 home inspections a year. This discrepancy would indicate that many inspectors may be working at other jobs or are semi-retired individuals.

Be sure to ask how many inspections the inspector completes a year, at least 200 or over would be a good standard. It is also still important to ask overall years of experience and total number of inspections.

Continuing Education: Even well trained, experienced inspectors must continually update their skills and knowledge. Licensing requires a minimal amount of continuing education for inspectors to renew their license. Look for inspectors who go beyond the necessary minimum and spend the time and money to keep their skills current.

Association Membership: Inspectors who have made the commitment of time, training, testing and money to belong to a reputable professional home inspection society are generally more committed to doing a high quality job for their clients. But be careful, not all home inspection organizations are equal. Some ask for little or no training, knowledge or experience to become a member, while others are very rigorous in their qualifications for membership. A membership logo means little; it’s what’s behind the symbol that counts. Inquire about and research this area fully, it will provide you with great insight into the inspectors abilities and dedication to performing a top notch home inspection.

The Inspection: How long does the inspection take? As previously mentioned short inspection times mean poor quality. A thorough inspection on an averaged sized home, (1500-2500 sq. ft.) should last 2-4 hours. Also ask if the inspector would like you to attend the inspection. If they say no, this should alert you that something is wrong with this particular inspection company. A good inspector should insist that you attend the home inspection if at all possible.

The Report: This is why you hire an inspector, to provide written detailed information about the house. The first and most important question, when and how will you receive the report? On site, within 24 hours, a week, by email, regular mail or delivered by the inspector. What type of report does the inspector use, what is the approximate length of the report, are there pictures included? Be wary of short reports, 10 pages or less, and long report turn around times.

Other Qualifications: Ask if the inspector has additional certifications or licenses in services that you may require in addition to the home inspection. For instance radon testing is a very common ancillary service provided by many home inspection companies, but many inspectors are not certified or formally trained. If you are looking to have other services done be sure to ask about the inspectors’ qualifications to conduct the tests you require.

Miscellaneous Items: Some things you should confirm when calling to hire a home inspector. Be positive that the inspector that will be doing your home inspection possesses the qualifications stated by the person on the phone. This is especially important when talking with multi-inspector firms. Most importantly will the inspector be readily available for follow up questions.

Price: The very last question you should ask, not the first. Put quite simply, you get what you pay for. Good home inspectors demand higher prices because of experience, money invested into training to improve their skills and the business for the benefit of their clients. Remember the money you pay a good inspector is an investment. You will very likely receive back from the seller monies well in excess of the home inspection fee. Be certain to choose your inspector wisely.

Summary: When calling to hire a Home inspector be sure to ask about:

  • Licensing
  • Insurance
  • Formal Training
  • Experience
  • Continuing Education
  • Association Membership
  • The Inspection
  • The Report
  • Other Qualifications
  • Does the inspector doing inspection have the qualification stated.
  • Price
Following this simple guide should aid you in finding a well qualified, professional home inspector. Having a good inspection will provide you with valuable information on your prospective purchase and ultimately piece of mind going forward.

James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Infrared Thermal Imaging, What's it Really Good For?

I have noticed quite a bit of blogging relating to using infrared thermal imaging cameras for home inspections. Some of these blogs are nothing more than an ad for how the home inspection company is ahead of the technological curve. But what really is the the truth about using thermal imaging as a home inspection tool.

The first and most important thing to understand about infrared cameras is they do not see through objects. That's x-ray folks. Infrared is thermal or temperature readings of the surface of an object. Now infrared cameras are extremely temperature sensitive. Because of this sensitivity they can display pictures in temperature gradients. The image may appear to have a great degree, no pun intended, of temperature differential, when in fact there is little temperature range.

Notice the the image to the right. The temperature range is about 11 degrees. What are you looking at in this picture?

Missing wall insulation. The dark areas in the center of this infrared thermal image show clearly where the insulation company failed to fill the stud bay. The bays on the immediate left and right are only partially filled. Look closely at the right hand wall and the ceiling. Can you see the stud lines?

Now this is a great example of a good use of infrared thermal imaging. Heat and energy loss. Makes sense right, temperature sensitive camera-heat and cooling deficiencies.

What it is not really great for is a general inspection tool or a mold locater. Why? Because there must be ideal infrared conditions present to find problems such as a water incursion. Simply taking the camera out at the time of the home inspection and scanning the home will not necessarily reveal anything.

Which brings up another important aspect of the thermographers job, to know when and how to use the camera in order to locate an existing problem. Most infrared building diagnostic companies use spray racks to systematically wet the building in order to find a leak. They use the infrared camera along with a moisture meter to track back to the water source.

If your lucky during the day of the home inspection or very recently it has rained. Now you have a very good chance of locating a leak or source of a moisture problem. Of course rain is not the only source of water leaks in a building. A plumbing leak is just as common. The thing with a leaky pipe is a good home inspector will likely find it during the course of his inspection.

Having rain during the home inspection when using infrared is not the only needed thermal condition. Temperature differential is also very important. Lets say the inside of the home is 70 degrees and out side it is 58. The inside has been 70 for several hours. This is what I call a temperature equilibrium. The surfaces in the home have been at the same temperature for many hours with the outside temperature relatively close to the inside. Because of this the walls will appear to the infrared camera with very little detail.

As you can see infrared thermal imaging is far from an exact science. It is crucial that the person operating the camera is trained in the use of the camera, thermal dynamic principles, and interpreting infrared images. Owning an infrared camera and offering infrared as an ancillary home inspection service does not assure a skilled operator.

I use infrared primarily as an energy auditing and heat and cooling loss tool in CT where I perform home inspections. I have found infrared to be a fantastic device in this application. I have almost never used it to locate water leaks and when I have was disappointed in the results.

Okay, so what is infrared thermal imaging really good for? Everything I discussed here and much more. So long as it used within the parameters of its' limitations by a skilled operator.

James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC