Reuben Saltzman

Does A Better Inspection Increase Liability?

I’ve heard the same tired old argument from other home inspectors 342 times – the more testing and services you provide with your inspections, the better chance you have of being sued.  I think this whole argument is based on home inspector folklore, and it all comes down to proper communication with the client.  One of the most common arguments I hear for not doing ‘additional testing’ is when the topic of carbon monoxide testing comes up: do or don’t?

Here’s how the argument goes:   “I don’t test for carbon monoxide on furnaces because as soon as I start doing that, the next thing you know someone is going to take me to court for not testing their gas water heater, gas dryer, gas oven, and whatever else!  The more you do, the more liability you have.  I like to keep it simple”.   I’ve heard many home inspectors say something similar to this, and I even remember hearing one tell me (with pride) that he carries around a screwdriver and an outlet tester.  Nothing fancier than that.

This isn’t limited to carbon monoxide testing – I’ve heard the same argument used for reasons not to use a gas detector, infrared camera, borescope, and other tools that are not required by the minimum standards of the home inspection industry.   I don’t feel like I should have to say this, but the minimum standards are minimum standards! They’re not set in place to prevent a home inspector from doing a better job than they’re required to do.

I thought of this topic while doing an inspection last week.  I took one look at the furnace and was pretty sure I was going to find a serious problem with it.  The furnace was about 25 years old and designed in such a way that I couldn’t see inside the heat exchanger to evaluate for cracks or rust holes.  While inspecting heat exchangers goes beyond the minimum standards of my industry, I still do the best job I can, and I make this clear to my client.  I ran out to my truck and grabbed my electronic borescope and was able to quickly find a 1/4″ rust hole up inside the heat exchanger.

I reported the rust hole as a safety hazard and I told the buyer to replace the furnace – no need for a second opinion from an HVAC contractor.  Inspecting a furnace with a boroscope can be tedious, and I’ve only used my borescope on about half a dozen furnaces since I bought it two years ago.  The point of this story is that when I do use it, I make it clear to my client that my inspection of the heat exchanger is by no means exhaustive, I’m just peeking around to get a better look for any obvious problems.  Even if I don’t find a problem, I don’t give my client the impression that I saw every square inch of the furnace.

I’ve never heard of a single case where a home inspector was taken to court for providing a better service than they’re required to provide.  I’ve heard many hypothetical stories about it happening, but no real proof.  The next time you hear someone say this, ask them to prove it.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections – Email Saint Paul Home Inspections