COVID-19 Update: Structure Tech Home Inspections is still open for business. To see what we’re doing to help keep everyone safe, please see COVID-19 and Home Inspections.

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 (see video below), 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

No responses to “Does A Better Inspection Increase Liability?”

  1. Brewer Caldwell
    March 24, 2009, 3:51 pm

    Thank you for your article! I totally agree with the insight to go above and beyond what is required of you as an inspector. I am a realtor in AZ and just had an issue with an inspector that didn’t even do the basics of his job! Great article, great example set!

  2. Lorraine Smith
    April 30, 2009, 6:52 am

    I’m with you Reuben! From a seller’s standpoint, not having an inspection could lead to more problems, i.e., a new buyer purchases a home without an inspection, there is a mold problem, (radon, whatever), someone gets sick…guess who gets sued? not only the seller..but sometimes their realtor. I ALWAYS recommend an inspection on a pre-listed home OR representing a buyer purchasing a home. Uncover any potential problems now, fix them, sell the home with complete confidence (thanks to Reuben!!) and off you go. Done.

  3. How Serious Is A Cracked Heat Exchanger? | Reuben's Home Inspection Blog
    March 19, 2010, 11:09 am

    […] Does A Better Inspection Increase Liability? […]

  4. P. J. Severtson
    December 1, 2012, 1:08 pm

    I have been a full time home inspector in Los Angeles area for 18 years and a builder before that. I always do the most extensive inspection I possibly can and it’s kept me out of trouble even though many realtors are looking at their watches and asking “When will you be done?”. I usually put more than 100 photographs in my reports to document conditions and where furniture restricts access.

    That said, regarding moisture meters, I have never used a moisture meter on an inspection, ever, and have been informed by many mold inspectors [who testify in court as expert witnesses] that home inspectors “don’t need the liability” of using a moisture meter.

    It gives prosecuting attorneys ammunition in saying “you tested for moisture here but “failed” to test there. Therefor, you owe my client $$$”

    On the other hand, prosecuting attorneys have great imaginations and can “expect” a home inspector to have X-Ray vision or know what code was in force at some past time.

    Bottom line: do the best you can as if your were purchasing the home for your you and your family.
    Watch the “mission creep” however. You’ve still got to make money and spending all day on an inspection can put you out of business unless you can charge accordingly.

    Additionally, oddly enough, in California, having E&O insurance can make you a “deep pockets” target because insurance companies are known to pay out on frivolous claims [then raise the inspector’s premiums or perhaps cancel the policy], even though the inspector has done nothing wrong. Filing a frivolous claim is illegal in workman’s comp cases, but not so for home inspectors. Go figure.

  5. P. J. Severtson
    December 1, 2012, 1:26 pm

    PRUDENT ADVICE:

    Regarding carbon monoxide, I carry a real-time professional carbon monoxide monitor with me at all times on a home inspection, visible to all.

    It’s the Sensorcon Inspector(www.sensorcon.com) and costs about $150.00. It’s water proof, shock proof and made in the U.S.A. I can just clip it onto my shirt or wherever and forget about it unless it goes off. It is plainly visible by anyone who cares to look and shows due diligence.

    It goes off instantly at 35ppm, the NIOSH standard for eight hours of exposure, but does not wait eight hours to go off. I am testing ambient levels of carbon monoxide only. I don’t get into testing flue gasses. I feel that’s a prudent action that doesn’t extend into a “specialist” evaluation, an important line to not cross for a home inspector.

    It also lets me know when to evacuate a hazardous area and caution the client to get further evaluation.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a Reply