Inspecting a residential structure
As a home inspector, it’s important that I keep up with my education. It is also important for me to help you understand structures, such as the house or building you’re living in.
Home inspectors are guilty of conducting superficial structural inspections. The reason for this is that structural defects are less common than defects in other areas. When these defects do exist, they are often very noticeable – unless someone has gone to great lengths to hide that fact.
Example: I once heard a story of a homeowner who went complete out of their way to hide a foundation problem. To the point where they had the old footing extended to support a new foundation, the weeping tile moved over. That new foundation the supported not the structure, but a façade exterior wall. The icing on the cake was that they had to extend the overhang on the roof. It would have been more cost effective to just fix the problem.
As a home inspector, my job is to evaluate the performance of the structure. It’s to answer the question: Is it doing its job? To answer that question, it’s best to ask: Has it withstood the test of time? That makes answering the first question easy. On new home builds however, I don’t have the ability to answer the validating question. So, in those instances I must fall back to my knowledge of current building standards (not building code).
In some cases, many people believe that home inspectors do building code inspections – the reality is that these are two different vocations. Home inspectors are like the family doctor who checks up on you. If you have a knee problem, the family doctor refers you to a knee specialist. Most often than not, a home inspector’s recommendations may more stringent than the actual building code – depending on the knowledge and experience that the home inspector has.
How do I know if the structure has been standing the test of time and doing its job? If there are no signs of major movement (because all structures move, constantly). Minor cracks in the parging – cosmetic; parging falling off the foundation wall – cosmetic; minor settlement cracks (minor as in a couple of millimeters) – not a concern. If there are any of the following, then it’s time to be concerned:
- Failure of interior finishes (large cracks where you can tell it is shearing)
- Undue stress on joints or individual components
- The movement affects the home’s systems (windows/door not functioning properly; pipes that are damaged; electrical wires that are taunt (This may not be structural at all, it may be an installation error), etc.)
The most important thing about structures is for it to satisfy the question: Can it safely support live loads?
What are live loads? Live loads are the people and things inside the home, the wind, the rain, the snow, or anything that pushes or pulls on the structure, or anything that stresses the structure that isn’t always there. Live loads can also be the water in the soil around the foundation; wet or frozen soil exert more pressure on the foundation then when it is dry.
The most important thing to remember about home inspectors is that we are not engineers (some are and shouldn’t be home inspectors). And we do not have X-Ray vision.
Home inspectors should only report things that they have visually inspected – seen with their own eyes.