The Limitations of a Home Inspection

by –  by Nick Gromicko and Kenton Shepard 


The Home Inspection Defined   A general home inspection is a visual inspection for system and  major accessible component defects and safety issues. The inspection is  not technically exhaustive. A “general home inspection” and a “home  inspection” are the same thing.   A home inspection is designed to reflect, as accurately as  possible, the visible condition of the home at the time of the  inspection. Conditions at a home for sale can change radically in only a  day or two, so a home inspection is not meant to guarantee what  condition a home will be in when the transaction closes. It’s not  uncommon for conditions to change between the time of the inspection and  the closing date.

Above:  an overloaded outlet with no cover

It’s a Visual Inspection

A “visual” inspection means that a home inspection report is limited  to describing conditions in those parts of a home that an inspector can  see during the inspection. Obviously, parts of the home that are  permanently hidden by wall, ceiling and floor coverings are excluded,  but so are parts of the home that were inaccessible during the  inspection for some other reason. Some reasons might include lack of an  access point, such as a door or hatch, or a locked access point, or  because an occupant’s belongings blocked access, or because of dangerous  or unsanitary conditions.

There can be many more reasons. The point is that if an inspector  can’t see a portion of the home, the inspector can’t assume  responsibility for ensuring that a safe and proper condition exists or  that systems are operating properly in that hidden space.


Safety can be a matter of perception. Some conditions, such  as exposed electrical wiring, are obviously unsafe. Other  conditions, such as the presence of mold, aren’t as clear-cut.

In the example of the possible existence of mold, it’s difficult to  accurately call it out during a general home inspection because  mold sometimes grows in places where it can’t be readily seen, such as  inside walls, making its discovery beyond the scope of the inspection.   Also, the dangers to human health are from the inhalation of spores from  indoor air.

Most people with healthy immune systems have little or no problem  with inhaling spores. A few people whose immune systems are compromised  by lung disease, asthma or allergies can develop serious or even fatal  fungal infections from mold spore levels that wouldn’t affect most  people. Every home has mold and mold colonies can grow very quickly,  given the right conditions. Mold can be a safety concern, but it often  isn’t. The dangers represented by mold are a controversial subject.  Other potential safety issues also fall into this category.

Above:  the cutting torch and gutter system of roof drainage management

System Defects   Although the majority of the inspection is visual, the InterNACHI  Standards of Practice do require inspectors to operate space and water  heating equipment, and air-conditioning equipment, if it can be done  without damaging the equipment.

Inspectors will also examine the major accessible components of  certain systems as required by the Standards of Practice. Furnace air  filters are one example.

A home inspection is not technically exhaustive, meaning that systems  or components will not be disassembled as part of the inspection. For  example, an inspector will not partially disassemble a furnace to more  accurately check the condition of the heat exchanger. Inspectors  typically disclaim heat exchangers.

Hazardous Materials

Asbestos, mold, lead, water purity, and other environmental issues or  potential hazards typically require a specialist inspection, and may  additionally require laboratory analysis.

Home Inspectors are Generalists

Home inspectors are not experts in every home system but are  generalists trained to recognize evidence of potential problems in the  different home systems and their major components. Inspectors need to  know when a problem is serious enough to recommend a specialist  inspection. Recommendations are often made for a qualified  contractor, such as a plumber or electrician, and sometimes for a  structural engineer.

Above:  the result of subfloor movement

Inspector Qualifications

Very few home inspectors have been in the inspection industry for  their entire working lives. According to an InterNACHI poll, about  half the home inspectors have a background in the building trades. Those  with a construction background started with a general idea of the  systems and components that they might find installed, as well as how  those systems age and fail.

This doesn’t mean that inspectors with a background in something  other than the building trades are not qualified — only that they  started in the inspection industry at a relative disadvantage. Building  the skills and developing the judgment to consistently recognize and  interpret evidence correctly and make appropriate recommendations are  things that can be improved with practice and continuing education.

Above:  improper electrical splice

Managing Expectations

Part of a home inspector’s job is to manage the  expectations of their client. This is especially true when a client has  never dealt with a home inspector before. Explaining the limitations of a  home inspection to a client will help them develop realistic  expectations concerning what to expect from a home inspection report,  and what lies beyond the scope of the inspection.

When a home buyer is interviewing inspectors, the buyer should ask about how the inspector handles special safety concerns.

Disclaimers are portions of an inspection agreement or  report in which an inspector notifies the client that the inspector will  not accept the responsibility for confirming the condition of a portion  of the home or of a particular system or component.

Creating realistic expectations in a client’s mind  will help prevent misunderstandings and promote smooth real estate  transactions.


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