Question: We had our home inspected before purchase but have encountered a problem not disclosed by the inspector. After moving in, we found that the circuit breaker for the kitchen outlets would frequently trip. Our electrician checked the problem and discovered that the kitchen appliance circuits were rated at 15 amps only. He said that 20-amp circuits are required by code. Should our inspector have found this problem?
Answer: A good case could be made for requiring home inspectors to verify that all kitchen appliance circuits are rated at 20 amps, but to date, this is not a condition typically included in home inspections. There are several reasons for this omission.
Many electric service panels, especially in older homes, lack adequate labeling of the circuit breakers. Inspectors who check these panels often have no way of knowing which breakers are wired to the kitchen circuits. Even when breakers are labeled, it is common for the labeling to be incorrect.
In the absence of sufficient labeling, the inspector would have to switch off the breakers to determine which are connected to the kitchen outlets. If problems of any kind were to result in the process of turning breakers on and off (such as a breaker that will not reset), the inspector would be liable for the repair work.
For these reasons, home inspectors do not routinely verify the capacity of kitchen circuits.
Most Inspectors Expect Feedback From Buyers
Q: Since moving into our home, we've found several items that were not disclosed to us by the seller and which were overlooked by our home inspector. The agent and seller say the property was purchased "as is." We relied on the seller's representations and thought we had a good inspector. Where do we go from here?
A: Most home inspectors--the good ones, that is--expect buyers to let them know when problems materialize after the close of escrow. Many inspectors make it a point to encourage clients to call if and when concerns develop. Inspectors refer to such instances as "call backs" and regard them as a normal and occasional part of doing business.
Of the many types of problems that can turn up after taking occupancy, some may be the responsibility of the inspector. If an undisclosed building defect was visually discernible during the inspection, a competent inspector will usually arrange to have it corrected.
In cases when the problem involves major expense, the inspector might need to notify the insurance company. If, however, a problem was concealed at the time of the inspection or was specifically listed in the report as being outside the scope of the inspection, then that condition would not be the inspector's responsibility.
In the light of these standards, you should afford your home inspector the opportunity to respond to your concerns. If he refuses, methods of recourse vary from mediation and arbitration to litigation and frustration. With luck, these final choices will not be necessary.
Chimney Cap Prevents Crumbling Mortar
Q: The home I'm buying is only 12 years old, and my inspector found that the brick lining in the fireplace is coming loose. All of the mortar is simply crumbling. I would expect a fireplace to last much longer than 12 years. What could be the problem?
A: Your situation is a common one and may result from the lack of a chimney cap. In many areas, metal caps are not required on masonry chimneys, but they should be.
Chimneys generally develop a coating of creosote on their inner linings. This is why we hire chimney sweeps. When rainwater mixes with creosote, a mild acid is formed. This solution gradually seeps into the masonry lining, neutralizing the alkaline bond in the mortar. The result is that the mortar begins to weaken and disintegrate. To prevent this degenerative process, the installation of an approved chimney cap is recommended.
In the meantime, avoid using the fireplace until it has been evaluated by a certified chimney sweep.
Focus on Big Issues, Not Minor Defects
Q: This may be your easiest question of the week: During a home inspection, we learned of a torn screen at the patio door. By law, does this have to be fixed? Also by law, does every window and sliding glass door have to have a screen? Finally, can you use a handle guard to cover a rip, rather than replacing the screen?
A: There is no law requiring repair or replacement of damaged screens on doors and windows, nor is there any requirement that screens even be installed. As part of a real estate transaction, your purchase contract may call for screen repairs, but you'll have to check the wording on this or ask your Realtor. As to installation of a handle guard on a sliding screen door, this is a common and inexpensive way of addressing a small tear in the screen.
In general, however, conditions of this nature should not become the main focus of a home inspection. It is good that your inspector pointed out minor maintenance items for future attention, but conditions involving function and safety are of far greater importance when reviewing the findings in a home inspection report.
Insistence on the repair of minor routine defects can generate bad feelings in a real estate transaction and has been known to make some deals fall out of escrow.
If you have questions or comments, contact Barry Stone through his Web site at http://www.housedetective.com.
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