Reuben Saltzman

Home Inspector-ese decoded: what your home inspector is really trying to tell you

We home inspectors use a lot of the same language. We use words that are everyday, common terms for us, but some of these can leave first-time homebuyers scratching their heads.

“So is my home inspector saying this is a good thing or a bad thing?”

We try to read our clients to ensure they’re picking up what we’re putting down, but it’s not always easy. Some people are very good at nodding attentively at the right times, even though they have no idea what we’re talking about. If you’re one of those people, this is for you.

Home Inspector Terms

Deferred Maintenance: The previous owner hasn’t been keeping up with their duties as a homeowner. Houses are a lot of work to maintain, and when people put off until tomorrow what they should have done today, we often say “deferred maintenance”. The more your home inspector uses this word, the more work you have in your future.

Clean: When a home inspector talks about a clean house, we’re not discussing the lack of dirt. We’re saying the house has been well-maintained and doesn’t have a lot of problems. This is a great thing to hear your home inspector mention.

Boring inspection: See above. I used to say this tongue-in-cheek to describe an especially clean house.

Grading: This refers to the pitch of the ground around the house. Nobody likes to deal with basement water problems, but many old basements have them. The most obvious yet neglected way of keeping water out of your basement is to have the ground sloped so water drains away from the house. If you have negative grade it means water runs toward your house.

End of life expectancy: Home inspectors rely on average life expectancies for various components of a home. We have no way of knowing how long a component will last. In other words, don’t get whipped up when you hear this.

Safety upgrade: We’ve found safer and better ways of doing things, or we’ve adopted the use of safety devices to help prevent deaths and injuries. Only the newest of houses will have all of the latest and greatest safety upgrades, so home inspectors usually have some safety upgrades to recommend. To be clear, these aren’t defects; they’re opportunities for improvement.

GFI or GFCI: Ground Fault Interrupter or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. They’re the same thing; GFCI is just a newer term. It’s an inexpensive life safety device that’s been around for more than 50 years and helps prevent people from getting electrocuted. We home inspectors frequently recommend adding these as a safety upgrade.

Black stains/suspected organic microbial growth: Mold. We think we found mold. But without testing for mold, we can’t confirm it, and we don’t want to paint ourselves into a corner.

HVAC: This stands for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning. An HVAC contractor is the person who would deal with your furnace, boiler, air conditioner, ductwork, air exchanger, and similar components.

Crawl space: This is the portion of a house between the ground and another part of the house, and it doesn’t have enough headroom for most people to stand up. This is not an attic space, even if the attic space only has enough room for you to crawl through.

R-value: This is a measurement of how well your insulation insulates. The higher the R-value, the better. The “R” is for Resistance to heat flow. With all things being equal, newer homes have better R-values for everything.

Efflorescence: Fuzzy salt crystals left behind after water evaporates. It means we found evidence of water. It’s not a big deal, just a clue to something else.

Flashing: Stuff that keeps water from leaking into your house, usually made from metal. The material costs almost nothing, but missing or improperly installed flashing can lead to significant water intrusion problems. Think “For want of a nail”, but it’s flashing.

For a longer discussion of these terms and a few others, please check out our podcast on this topic as well: