End of Service Life Some SoPs require that the home inspector report systems and components that are near the end of their expected service lives. This is frequently (and incorrectly) interpreted as requiring that home inspectors report the age of components such as water heaters, HVAC equipment, and roof coverings. Component age is usually an important factor when estimating whether a component may be near the end of its service life; but it is not the only factor. Damage, deterioration, and improper installation are other factors that can reduce the service life of a component. Lower quality components often have a shorter service life compared to higher quality components. For example, an average quality air conditioning condenser usually has an expected service life of fifteen years in many areas. Condensers near the ocean can have an expected service life of five years because of deterioration by salt spray. For example, a three-tab fiberglass shingle presenting granule loss, stiffness or breaking when bent, or visible fiberglass strands at the edges may be near the end its expected service life even if it has not yet reached its twenty year warranty, and even if it presents no evidence of leaking.
A system or component that is near the end of its service life is not necessarily deficient. Being near the end of service life is a condition, not necessarily a deficiency. The home inspector should report the near end of life condition. A typical report statement might include setting client expectations for increased maintenance costs and for replacement at some future date.
A system or component that is at or beyond the end of its expected service life could be deficient because the system or component has a higher probability of imminent failure. The home inspector should report this condition and may consider recommending evaluation of the system or component so that the client might gain a better understanding about the system or component’s condition. The home inspector should also set client expectations for increased maintenance costs and replacement at a date that could occur in the near future. In no case should the home inspector make any statement that could be interpreted as an estimate of the remaining service life of a system or component.
Several published lists of system and component expected service lives are available. One is the Residential Rehabilitation Guide published by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is free and can be downloaded from the publisher’s websites.