INSPECTION SCOPE AND LIMITATIONS
A home inspection is an observation of certain systems and components in, on, and around the inspected property. The objective is to provide the client with information about the condition of the observed systems and components at the time of the inspection. There are several important concepts in these two sentences. We will discuss these in general terms next and in more detail later.
Observation implies that the home inspector relies on senses to gather information. Sight is the primary sense, but home inspectors often use hearing, smell, and touch to gather information. The home inspector does not rely solely on the use of senses to gather information. The home inspector operates certain components, such as the HVAC systems and plumbing fixtures, to gather information about their condition. Most home inspectors use simple instruments, such as receptacle testers and thermometers, to gather information about the condition of certain components.
Some home inspectors use more complex instruments such as electrical circuit analyzers, combustible gas detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and infrared cameras. Use of these more complex instruments is out of scope for a home inspection. While using more complex instruments can locate additional deficiencies, it can subject the home inspector to additional risk by moving the inspection beyond the visual inspection as stated in the Standard of Practice (SoP).
Only those systems and components listed in the SoP used by the home inspector are included in a home inspection. Most SoPs list the same systems and components, but there are differences between SoPs. The home inspector must inspect all required systems and components. The home inspector may inspect systems and components that are not required, but doing so increases the home inspector’s risk. Home inspectors who report about out-of-scope systems, components, or conditions should include limitation statements in the report clarifying that doing so does not expand the scope of the inspection, and that other deficiencies could exist in the out-of-scope systems and components.
An inspection report provides information about the condition of inspected systems and components, but what information is required about what conditions? The answer to this question is essential to providing a report that complies with the SoP used by the home inspector. Different SoPs have different requirements that are expressed in different terms. One SoP requires that the home inspector report when a system or component is:
• not functioning properly,
• significantly, deficient,
• near the end of its service life.
We will discuss these conditions in more detail in another section.
A home inspection is a report about the conditions during the inspection. Conditions change, sometimes within minutes after the inspection is complete. This is an important inspection limitation that the home inspector should communicate to the client, verbally and in the report, and to all others with an interest in the property.
Most SoPs contain a long list of limitations and exclusions that help define what is not included in a home inspection. We will not discuss each limitation and exclusion. The following are important general limitations and exclusions that home inspectors should know and that they should communicate to clients. We will discuss limitation statements in more detail in another section.
A home inspection is not technically exhaustive. This is a made-up term recognizing the fact that a home inspector should know something about all of the systems and components of the house, but usually is not an expert about any of them. The home inspector is a generalist. Even if a home inspector is trained and licensed in another trade or profession, such as an engineer, contractor, electrician, or HVAC technician, the home inspector is not acting in that capacity when performing a home inspection. The home inspector is not required to, and usually should not, attempt to determine the cause of a deficiency, use tools, take measurements, or make calculations that are within the scope of another trade or profession’s services.
A home inspection cannot report on concealed and latent deficiencies. Concealed includes within walls, floors, and ceilings, under floor coverings, behind insulation, and underground. Concealed also includes behind occupant belongings. It is important that the client be made aware of this important limitation in the inspection agreement, at the inspection, and in the report. A latent deficiency is one that exists during the inspection, but presents no visible evidence of being present or active.
A home inspection cannot report on deficiencies located in areas that are not readily accessible. A readily accessible area is one that the home inspector can see without moving occupant belongings, snow, or other obstructions. A readily accessible area is one that is safe for the home inspector to enter without harming the home inspector or others, and without risking damage to the property. Except for electrical panel dead front covers, a home inspector is not required to dismantle (take apart) or remove components to make an area readily accessible, unless the component is intended to be taken apart or removed by the occupant during normal maintenance.
A home inspection is not intended to report cosmetic deficiencies. A cosmetic deficiency is one that does not have a significant impact on the ability of a component to perform its intended function. What constitutes a cosmetic deficiency can be difficult to determine. Deteriorated interior paint is a cosmetic deficiency if it does not significantly impact the ability of the wall covering to perform its intended function. Deteriorated exterior paint could be a reportable deficiency if the deterioration were so severe that it could allow damage to exterior wall coverings. A worn floor covering is usually a cosmetic deficiency, but a torn floor covering could be a reportable deficiency if it constitutes a trip and fall safety hazard.
STANDARDS OF PRACTICE (SOP)
A SoP defines what should occur during an inspection and what should be reported in the inspection report. The SoP is an essential part of every inspection. The home inspector should not perform an inspection (or any other service) without specifying the SoP that the home inspector will use. The home inspector should, at a minimum, identify one SoP in the inspection agreement and in the inspection report.
Many SoPs exist. Some are published by professional associations such as ASHI, CAPHI, CREIA, and InterNACHI. Some are published by government licensing authorities. Which SoP the home inspector should use depends on where the home inspector practices and to which professional association(s) the home inspector belongs. In some cases, a home inspector might be subject to more than one SoP; however, the home inspector should use only one SoP during an inspection. Home inspectors who practice in multiple jurisdictions where home inspectors are licensed should use the SoP required by the jurisdiction where the building is located.
The appropriate SoP for an inspection depends on the situation. When a home inspector performs an inspection under a government license, the home inspector should use the SoP designated by the licensing authority (if any). Some licensing authorities allow the home inspector to select a SoP from a list of approved SoPs. If the home inspector is not performing under a government license, the home inspector should use the SoP published by the professional association to which the home inspector belongs (if any). If the home inspector is not performing under a government license, belongs to more than one professional association, or belongs to no professional association, the home inspector should select one SoP and use that for every inspection.
A home inspector should ask three important questions during a home inspection. A SoP answers one of these questions and partially answers the others.
1.What should I look at? This question identifies the specific systems and components that the home inspector should inspect. A SoP identifies these systems and components such as structural components, wall coverings, and roof coverings.
2.What should I look for? This question identifies the deficiencies that the home inspector should report. A SoP identifies these deficiencies in general terms, such as not functioning properly and unsafe, but the home inspector must rely on knowledge and experience to identify specific deficiencies.
3.Why is something deficient? This question involves knowing the possible causes and implications of a deficiency. The SoP tells the home inspector to advise the client about the implications of a deficiency if the implications are not self-evident to the ordinary client. This knowledge is gained through education and experience, which is one reason why continuing education is essential for success in the inspection profession.
The following example demonstrates this three-question approach. The SoP answers the what should I inspect question by telling the home inspector to inspect the exterior wall coverings. The SoP answers the what should I look for question by telling the home inspector to report conditions that are not functioning properly, significantly deficient, unsafe, and near the end of service life. The condition of paint is an exterior wall covering deficiency that the home in
spector should look for. Paint that is worn, faded, blistering, or peeling is a reportable deficiency because the condition could be classified as not functioning properly, significantly deficient, and near the end of its service life. The SoP tells the home inspector to explain to the client in the report why the paint is deficient. The implications of deficient paint include the expense of repainting and the potential for damage to wall coverings if the paint is not maintained.