Inspection Limitation Statements
Introduction Most SoPs require the home inspector to report when a system or component that is required to be inspected is not inspected, and to report the reasons why it was not inspected. In addition to reporting each system and component not inspected and the reasons why, the home inspector should include in all limitation statements a recommendation that the client have the system or component inspected, and a warning that the uninspected system or component may possess costly deficiencies. This additional recommendation and warning are not required; however, situations have occurred when the home inspector was held responsible for the condition of an uninspected system or component in spite of reporting the inspection limitation.
Most SoPs contain a long list of out-of-scope systems and components, general limitations, and specific conditions and tasks that are excluded from a home inspection. In theory, the home inspector should be able to rely on the limitations and exclusions of the SoP. In practice, home inspectors have found that it is prudent to report and document inspection limitations that apply to each inspection. The home inspector should take pictures to document limitations such as locked doors, unusual obstructions, and concealment by occupant belongings. The pictures are not required to appear in the report.
Access and Visibility Limitations It is common practice not to inspect certain components because of restricted access and visibility. Examples include the heat exchangers of modern furnaces, the combustion chambers of modern water heaters, and the interiors of chimneys. A statement about the limitations of inspecting fully or partially concealed parts of each such component is sufficient. A typical limitation statement about a furnace that has sealed access covers might read: “We did not observe the internal components in the furnace including the automatic safety controls and the heat exchanger. We did not observe the internal components of the evaporator coil and those parts of the condenser behind sealed access panels. The access panels were not readily openable or were sealed shut. Some parts of the HVAC system components including, but not limited to, vents, ducts, coolant tubes, and control cables are concealed or are otherwise not visible for inspection.”
It is often not practical to fully inspect known problem components, such as Federal Pacific electrical panels, or to list the potential problems with these components. The home inspector should include a statement about such known problem components along with an evaluation recommendation. A typical statement might read: “The main electrical panelboard appears to be manufactured by Federal Pacific, also known as Federal Electric and Challenger. These panelboards and circuit breakers present various potential electrical and fire safety hazards. These panelboards and circuit breakers are usually past their expected service life. We recommend that a qualified electrical contractor who is familiar with this type of panelboard thoroughly examine it and provide a written evaluation of its current condition and cost of replacement, if recommended.”
Many components are frequently concealed within walls and ceilings, behind and under soil, behind plants, and behind or under other construction materials. These components include structural components such as studs and joists, plumbing pipes, electrical cables, HVAC ducts, appliance vents, and exterior wall coverings. A general limitation statement about components that are usually concealed is often sufficient. A typical statement might read: “We were not able to observe the wall, ceiling, and second story floor structural components because they were concealed by finish materials and by insulation.”
Attics, crawl spaces, and roofs are frequently not accessible for a full inspection. This is discussed in the System and Component Descriptions section in this chapter. Reasons why these areas are not accessible include safety, low clearances, height above ground, locks, and concealment by snow, soil, and occupant belongings. The home inspector should include specific limitation statements about which areas were not fully inspected and about the reasons why they were not inspected. A typical statement might read: “We entered the crawl space and observed the accessible areas. Some areas were not accessible due to low clearances under framing, HVAC ducts, and similar obstructions. The following areas were not accessible: approximately 400 square feet in the left crawl space area.”
Shutdown Limitations Plumbing, electrical, and HVAC systems and components are sometimes shut down. Shutdown can affect part of the system such as a plumbing fixture or an electrical branch circuit; in this case the home inspector should report the specific component that was shut down and the cause of the shutdown. Typical causes of partial shutdowns include tripped or blown overcurrent protection devices and closed valves. Shutdown can affect the entire system. System shutdown is usually caused by the utility service being turned off. The home inspector should report the utility shutdown and disclaim inspection of all affected components. A typical statement might read: “The water was turned off during the inspection. We were not able to fully inspect or test water supply and drain pipes and fixtures, water heaters, and any appliances or systems that require water to operate such as dishwashers.”
The home inspector should not activate systems or components that have been shut down. Experienced home inspectors ask about the status of utilities when scheduling the inspection; however, real estate agents and clients are sometimes not aware about the status of utilities.
Out-of-Scope Component Limitations The home inspector should not rely on a SoP to identify components that were present on the property and were not inspected or were only partially inspected. Examples of out-of-scope components include: accessory buildings and structures, fences, swimming pools and spas, recreational equipment, water features, outdoor cooking equipment, outdoor fireplaces and fire pits, radon mitigation systems, and large decorative accessories such as planters.
Some types of systems and components are in-scope while similar components are out of scope. Examples of out-of-scope systems include heat and energy recovery ventilation systems and ground-source and water-source heat pumps.
The home inspector should specifically disclaim inspection of out-of-scope components that are not inspected. If the home inspector elects to inspect any of these components, the home inspector should report what aspects of the component were inspected and disclaim inspection of the remaining aspects.
Inspection of and comments about out-of-scope components could be interpreted as expanding the scope of the inspection. The home inspector should include a limitation statement that any inspection of or comment about out-of-scope components is performed as a courtesy and that the inspection does not change the agreed-upon inspection scope. A typical statement might read: “We observed a barn-like structure on the property. ASHI standards do not require that we inspect such structures. Our inspection of such structures consists of a limited safety inspection, the objective of which is to determine if the structure presents an immediate and significant hazard to health and safety. While conducting this limited safety inspection we may observe and report visible deficiencies. Reporting deficiencies does not expand the scope of the inspection. The structure does not appear to present an immediate and significant hazard to health and safety unless otherwise specified in this report.”
Incomplete Work Limitations Inspection of new construction and houses undergoing remodeling sometimes have systems or components that are not complete and ready for inspection. The home inspector should report that these systems or components were not ready for inspection and were not inspected.
Environmental Hazards Limitations Environmental hazards include, but are not limited to: air and water quality, fungi (mold), lead, asbestos, and dangerous, damaging, and annoying animals including their feces. These hazards are out of scope of a home inspection; however, it is common practice to report visible significant environmental hazards and recommend evaluation. The home inspector should include a limitation statement advising the client that reporting visible environmental hazards does not alter or expand inspection scope, and that additional environmental hazards could be present. A typical statement might read: “Determining the presence or absence of environmental hazards is specifically excluded from home inspections by ASHI standards. Environmental hazards include, but are not limited to, fungi (mold and related organisms), radon, asbestos, animals (including their nests and droppings), plants, noise, and other conditions that may be harmful or inconvenient. This exclusion applies whether the hazards are visible or concealed. We do not express a finding about the presence or absence of environmental hazards whether visible or concealed. We may report about environmental hazards, but doing so does not mean that we report all hazards and doing so does not remove or change the environmental hazards exclusion.”
Fungal growth is common in some parts of a house, such as the crawl space, and is common in some locations, such as warm/humid climates. Home inspectors in locations where fungal growth is common should include a limitation statement advising the client that fungal growth is common, and that reporting the presence of fungus is not within the scope of a home inspection. A typical statement might read: “Almost all homes in this area have some level of fungal infestation, especially homes on crawl space foundations. Fungi are almost always present on materials in the crawl space and inside HVAC ducts and equipment. Most people tolerate fungal infestations without significant adverse effects; however, some people are allergic or sensitive to fungi. We do not express a finding about the presence or absence of fungi whether visible or concealed. We recommend evaluation of the home by a qualified industrial hygienist if you wish assurance about the presence or absence of fungi in the home.”