It is also important to understand what a home inspection is not. Generally speaking, the home inspection is general in nature. That’s why it’s referred to as a General Home Inspection as opposed to a Technical Home Inspection.
It’s not technically exhaustive, nor is it intrusive or invasive, in that components are not disassembled or wall coverings removed to diagnose problems. The inspection is visual in nature with all systems or components operated using operator/homeowner controls only. The inspector may be likened to the general practitioner in medicine—he performs general exams but refers you to a specialist when repairs are indicated.
The general home inspection is not an inspection of code compliance or violation. It is an inspection of commonly accepted building standards and safety compliance. Code inspections are performed by officials of the local city/county governmental inspection office. The local jurisdiction building inspection departments, in fact, only enforce and conduct code inspections on new construction or renovation/addition projects that must meet current codes. Housing that is older or being renovated only need to conform to the codes that were in effect when the residence was constructed. There is no requirement to update or upgrade existing housing to meet the current codes until a point in time when major renovation is undertaken. Many code violations, however, can be related to safety considerations, which the processional inspector will point out.
A home inspector is not expected (and is not permitted in most, if not all jurisdictions) to offer opinions relating to areas of expertise that are reserved by law to licensed professionals in specific trades. For example, a home inspector is not expected to perform methods of design, load calculations or offer opinions relating to the suitability, strength or effectiveness of alternate materials and systems; this is an area of expertise reserved by law for a professional engineer, and the licensing of professional engineers is strictly controlled by state boards of professional engineers.
As another example, a home inspector is not expected to disclose the presence of wood destroying organisms such as termites, fungus, carpenter bees, wood boring beetles, etc. This is an area of expertise reserved by law for a licensed pest control operator, and the licensing of pest control operators is strictly controlled by state Structural Pest Control Boards. Anyone not duly licensed as a professional in a designated field of expertise cannot legally render opinions related to that field of expertise. A home inspector may alert an individual of conditions (structural and otherwise) that appear peculiar and recommend a further evaluation by a professional in the designated field of expertise. A home inspector may likewise alert an individual to the possible presence of wood destroying organisms with the recommendation of a further evaluation by a licensed pest control operator.
Home inspections are not appraisals. A professional home inspector will always refer a potential buyer back to the professional handling the real estate transaction when asked about the perceived value of a home.
General home inspections do not offer warranties or guarantees. A professional home inspector performs a ‘point in time’ inspection. The inspector will confirm the system or component is performing satisfactorily during the inspection. He/she may even determine the current age of the major appliances and their expected manufacturer’s life span to help you budget for replacements. However, the general home inspection is not able to accurately determine how much longer an appliance will live, nor should he/she be required to.
And, lastly, home inspectors do not validate the repairs called out during the general home inspection. Home inspection contracts will specify that all defects be attended to by licensed or certified trade technicians. Their receipt or invoice presented when the repair is completed is the validation necessary to properly convey the repair was does correctly and in compliance with locally acceptable building practices. For this reason, it is not necessary to ask your home inspector to return to the property at a later date.
Understanding what is and what is not provided with a general home inspection is a very important part of the process of choosing the right home inspector.