The Ultimate Homebuyer’s Handbook
This blog is from my book, “The Ultimate Homebuyer’s Handbook” (available on Amazon with a free copy at the inspection) just notes the first of the many systems and structures that a home inspection does not cover.
Chapter 11 Overcoming the limitations of the home inspection….
What this chapter covers…
- Other professionals you may need to utilize – and when…
- What about the VA and FHA inspections…
I have noted below the trade professionals and specialists whose expertise you could utilize when purchasing a home. I realize this can get a bit overwhelming as you may simply ask why have a home inspection if you will bring in various specialists to evaluate specific areas of concern. The unfortunate reality is: the home inspection covers so many systems, areas, and concerns that it can’t always tell you everything you would like to know. Certain types of problems can’t be identified or fully evaluated without specialized equipment or knowledge. There are also important home components (such as chimney flues) that simply are not part of the home inspection. Just realize, your home inspector is providing an overview of dozens of systems and components while each trade professional is only looking at their own area of expertise.
Recommendations for further inspection can be abused, however, such as when an inspector routinely recommends a further evaluation of every system present. This is a cop-out. But as the home inspector sometimes can't tell you the extent of damage that may be present and the costs of repairs, there will generally be recommendations for "further evaluation" in the report.
In any case, below are a few of the trade and specialized professionals whose expertise may be relevant to evaluating the condition of the property. I’ll try to indicate when their expertise is most critical. Most often, they will NOT be needed – but you want to be aware of when their input may be critical.
Important: when you have strong suspicions that some major system or structure on the property you are looking to buy may be a problem, try to have one or more of the relevant trade professionals come to the inspection. Even bring them before the inspection as arranging their visit in the short time frame after the inspection is not always feasible.
Other Professionals whose Services you may need….
A further evaluation of the interior of chimneys by a qualified chimney sweep is routinely recommended by home inspectors. In fact, they may be the trade professional most often recommended. The reason is that, while your home inspector can see the exterior of the chimney and the masonry in the fireplace, (s)he can’t see much else. Most chimney flues are concealed from view, due to their design, obstructions, or soot coatings. For this reason, chimney flues are formally excluded from a home inspection. Lots of chimneys have flues you can’t look up. Flues for heating systems, wood stoves, and water heaters are completely concealed. Even where you can see the flue a soot covering can hide evidence of cracks. Your inspector may look – as sometimes problems are apparent – but do not confuse this a full chimney inspection; it is a best effort.
Chimney flues are formally excluded from the home inspection. Lots of chimneys have flues you can’t look up. Flues for heating systems, wood stoves, and water heaters are completely concealed. Even where you can see the flue a soot covering can hide evidence of cracks. END PULL QUOTECALL OUT
Unfortunately, chimney flues are where a lot of problems are found – and the fixes are seldom cheap. Those most at risk include:
- Chimneys in antique homes. Unless fully retrofitted with flue liners the fireplaces in antique homes are very often not safely usable. (Note: listing sheets for antique homes often state that the fireplaces are usable. That does not mean ‘safely usable’. Two different things). I’ve seen fires burning in the fireplace where I didn’t know why the house hadn’t burned down yet.
- Masonry chimneys serving wood stoves, unless retrofitted with a stainless steel metal liner.
- Block chimneys. Many were installed in the early 1980’s and many are just worn out.
- ‘Orphaned’ chimneys that serve a gas-fired water heater only, with the heating system now direct vented. These should have been retrofitted with an internal liner as the flue is too large to vent just a water heater.
- All unlined chimneys – which means most chimneys installed before 1920.
In short, chimneys warrant a further evaluation by a chimney sweep. Even the wood box chimneys with metal flues inside pose fire risks. Most inspectors recommend a Level 2 inspection, which involves using a camera to view the entire interior of the chimney. These can get expensive, but chimney repairs are even more expensive. In one relatively newer home I inspected last year a chimney scan revealed internal problems with the chimney that would cost $20,000 to correct. The flue liners were cracked and needed to be completely replaced.
If the home you are buying has a wood-burning fireplace or chimney, include in your offer that you will have a chimney evaluated. (You could do this for any type of chimney, but those used for wood burning would be at higher risk). For a list of qualified sweeps contact the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) at http://www.csia.org/ See more on chimney flues in chapter 13.
As noted, this is just one of the concerns where the inspection is limited and you may need to do further investigations on….”