In this episode, Reuben and Tessa discuss the factors that can affect the duration of a home inspection. Tessa mentions how complicated houses with multiple additions, large square footage, and older construction can significantly extend the time it takes to complete an inspection. They also talk about the challenges of inspecting attics, crawlspaces, and roofs, which can add to the overall time due to setup, access, and the need to inspect different roof coverings.
They emphasize the role of the home inspector themselves, highlighting that individual inspectors may complete inspections at varying speeds based on their experience, thoroughness, and efficiency. The hosts also touch upon the influence of clients, agents, engineers, and even deferred maintenance on the inspection time. They share anecdotes of challenging inspections and how certain unexpected situations can extend the process, such as needing to reset multiple GFCI outlets and handling unforeseen problems.
Ultimately, Reuben and Tessa conclude that a longer home inspection doesn’t equate to a problematic house. Instead, it reflects the complexity of the inspection process and various variables at play.
The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Reuben Saltzman: Welcome to my house. Welcome to the Structure Talk podcast, a production of Structure Tech Home Inspections. My name is Reuben Saltzman. I’m your host alongside building science geek, Tessa Murray. We help home inspectors up their game through education, and we help homeowners to be better stewards of their houses. We’ve been keeping it real on this podcast since 2019, and we are also the number one home inspection podcast in the world, according to my mom. Welcome back to the Structure Talk podcast. Tessa, great to see you as always. How are you doing today?
Tessa Murray: Hey Reuben. I’m doing well. I’m happy that I have air conditioning and that I am inside today. How about you?
RS: Oh my goodness. Yeah. As we are recording right now, it is hot as blazes. I just went out… And it… The thermometer doesn’t seem to… I don’t know, it doesn’t really register how hot it is. I just went out to my truck to grab something and I just about didn’t make it back.
TM: And you… That’s saying a lot because you love the heat. You…
RS: I love the heat.
TM: Sit out there and you marinate in it. It is… So it’s 96 in Red Wing right now, but what you’re talking about, that added oomph factor that makes it hard to breathe is the high humidity we have right now. It was really high humidity. I walked outside this afternoon and it hit me, it felt like Florida. It felt like we’re in Florida.
RS: Yeah. And I know the people in Florida and Arizona, and whatever, anybody listening, is just rolling their eyes…
TM: Laughing at us. [laughter]
RS: Yeah. It’s like when we hear them complaining about, “It’s 20 degrees here, we’re like, “Yeah, shut up.”
TM: It’s 30 degrees. Yeah, it’s freezing, yeah, for sure.
RS: But it’s hot for us. And, but I’ll tell you…
TM: It is.
RS: I am going to be outside. I still have to do my outdoor workout for this 75 hard program I’m doing…
RS: I gotta do an outdoor workout today yet, so…
TM: Oh my…
RS: It’s gonna be hot.
TM: Gosh, how hot… Is this like your 45 minutes in the afternoon you have to do?
RS: Yeah, yeah.
TM: You’re gonna be outside working out?
RS: Well, 45 minutes any time. Yeah.
TM: Oh, that… It seems like you should be able to bend the rules when it’s like a… When it’s a threat to your safety and your life. [laughter]
RS: That would be called 75 medium.
TM: Oh my God. Well, please pack some liquids with you, some electrolytes. Make sure you hydrate.
RS: Yeah, I definitely will. And I think it’ll be an easier one. I’m probably gonna go play disc golf or perhaps go for a walk. I don’t know.
TM: Maybe a walk. Walk sounds good, yeah.
RS: Yeah. Possibly so.
TM: Oh, crazy. Well, so what’s the topic for today? What do you wanna dive into?
RS: Well, today this… I think this is gonna be a follow-up to a blog post I wrote. I probably did it about 10 years ago. I had somebody… We were inspecting their house and we got an email from someone saying, hey, you guys have been there for four hours and I’m kind of freaking out. Does this… Is this bad news for me? Does this mean I have a bad house? ‘Cause this was a really long home inspection. And the… So the title of the blog post was, “Does a long home inspection mean bad news?” Is this bad for a seller or maybe bad for a buyer? Does this mean you’re buying a bad house if your inspector is there for a really long time? And I thought, that’s a great question. A lot of people wonder that. And even me, when I’ve sold my own house, being a home inspector.
RS: If they’re… I’ll kind of… I might even drive by the house or just see what’s going on. And if I still see they’re there, I’m biting my own nails. Like, ooh, what’s going on? What’s the home inspector… It’s a nerve wracking experience…
TM: It’s like waiting in the…
RS: To have your own house inspected.
TM: It’s like waiting in the waiting room for the doctor to come out after a family member’s having an operation or something. You’re like, the longer it goes, the more anxious you get. And you’re like, it cannot be good news. Right?
RS: Yes, yes. Do not keep me waiting.
RS: So I thought it would be good to just talk about all of the different variables that affect how long it takes to conduct a home inspection.
TM: Oh, that’s good.
RS: And once we’re done, hopefully people will understand that it doesn’t mean you’ve got a bad house just ’cause the home inspection took a long time. It just means the home inspection took a long time. That’s it.
RS: There’s no meaning behind it.
TM: And I think this is a good topic so that anyone listening who’s not a home inspector can kind of understand some of the challenges a home inspector might face, or these variables as you say, that might extend their time on site.
RS: Yeah. So, I’ve already got my list, Tessa, but why don’t we start with you? I want to hear you talk about some of the stuff that comes to your mind first. And I’ll bet you’ll touch on most of the stuff on my list.
TM: Probably, yeah. The first thing that comes to mind for me is obviously the bigger the house, the longer you’re gonna be there, usually.
RS: Yes, yes.
TM: That’s kind of common sense. So anything, I’d say square footage wise, I don’t know. If there’s anything that’s over 3000 square feet, 3500 square feet in my mind, that’s like, okay, it’s a little bit of a bigger house. But then the next thing… The next factor that comes to mind is the age of it. And also, if it’s been remodeled or they’ve had several additions, those things kind of go hand in hand, ‘Cause…
TM: You might have like a 3500 square foot or a 4000 square foot house that was built in 2020 and it’s brand new and you fly through that thing. But if you’ve got a 4000 square foot house that was built in 1910 and it’s had three different additions to it, [chuckle] that is a different story.
RS: Tessa, I recorded a video today talking about this, and I almost said exactly what you just said.
TM: Did you really? [laughter]
RS: Yes, yes. That’s almost exactly word for word what I said. We were… We are seeing eye to eye on this, totally.
TM: Yeah. Yeah. I think square footage, I think it’s additions and I think it’s age are probably my top three. Yeah.
RS: Yeah, yeah. And I… You know, when we price our home inspections, we price them based on the size of the house and the age. Those are both things that make an inspection more expensive. I wish we could figure out additions and re-models. I wish there was a way to compensate for that, ’cause…
TM: Totally. Yeah.
RS: Yeah, man, those make the inspection take longer, ’cause you got this addition, and all of a sudden, maybe they had to put in a sub-panel, there’s another electric panel you got to look at. And then maybe they’ve got a new HVAC system. You’ve got another furnace, another AC system to look at. Maybe they’ve got another attic. Oh my goodness, attics take a long time, right?
TM: They definitely do. Yeah, and kind of just adding on to what you’re saying, like anytime you get a house that has had several additions or re-models or the bigger it is, the more likely you are to have additional complex systems that take more time, HVAC, electrical, attics, crawl spaces. So it’s just the more complicated the house, the bigger the house, the different levels, layers of it, the more likely you are to have these additional things that just add to the time on site.
RS: Yeah, and now, so just talking about attics, how long does it take you to inspect an attic? And we’re talking about moving stuff, setting down your tarps, setting up your ladder, accessing the attic, inspecting it, putting the panel back, putting your ladder back, shaking out your tarp, vacuuming up the floor, dusting yourself off, how long does it take you to inspect an attic?
TM: You hit a lot of good points there, but you also forgot moving everything out of the closet if you have to. And putting it back.
RS: Yeah, yeah, and putting it all back, hopefully, so nobody knows you were there.
TM: Oh my gosh. Best case scenario, let’s just say you don’t have to move a bunch of stuff. It’s a really easy location that you can set your ladder up into and you can pop the attic access open, it’s easy to get it open. And let’s say it’s a reasonably sized attic. It’s just one attic, it’s simple, you can get into it, you can look at everything, you don’t have to be crawling through various different levels and spaces to look at everything. I’d say on a best case scenario, from start to finish, maybe 20 minutes.
RS: Okay. Alright.
TM: I don’t know. It could be less, it could be more. Again, depending on the size of the house and how big the attic is, if you’ve got a really big attic and you’re spending a lot of time in there, I’ve spent, I don’t know, there’s some houses where I feel like I’ve been up there forever. Or if there’s multiple attics.
RS: Hopefully not on a day like today, right?
TM: No, definitely not on a day like today. On a day like today, you pop your head up, you go up there for a few minutes and you come back down. But the cleanup is what takes a while. The setup and the cleanup is what usually takes the most time, I think. How about you?
RS: Oh, for sure. It’s the same thing for me. It’s just all of the prep work. Because when you’re done, you don’t want to leave any evidence that you were ever at the house, no fingerprints, no nothing. On those white access panels, I’ll go and I’ll do the surgical scrub with my hands in the bathroom, just scrubbing them for about a minute before I even touch that panel because I don’t want any fingerprints. Or putting gloves on. One of the two, right?
TM: Yeah, definitely. And then, I mean, sometimes you run into challenges too. I mean, have you ever dropped anything in an attic and you’ve had to go back and find it? Or, you know.
RS: Oh, yes, yes.
TM: I mean, so there’s stuff like that that can happen too, where a home inspector’s not counting on those challenges, you know? Maybe, so…
RS: Yep, yep, exactly. All that adds time. And then crawl spaces, we don’t have a lot of those here in Minnesota.
TM: Thank goodness.
RS: But it’s kind of the same thing. Thank goodness, yes.
TM: Yeah. It is. It’s the same kinda challenge where you’ve gotta get geared up, put on your stuff, and then dig in there. And depending on what you find and how big it is, you could really have to spend some time digging in that crawl space.
RS: Yeah, and for some of them, they’re pretty nasty. So you’ll want to change your clothes before you even go in there. I know I always kept a Tyvek suit or an extra pair of sweatpants and sweatshirt in my truck that I would change into before going into the crawl space because some of those are just disgusting.
TM: Yes, yeah, getting all geared up, the respirator, the gloves, the headlamp, all of that, getting your gear out of the truck and changing afterwards and getting cleaned up all takes time.
RS: Well how much, how, can you imagine being one of the inspectors in the south where you got to get in those crawl spaces where you got to access from the outdoors and it’s all unconditioned, getting all bundled up and all that stuff today?
TM: No, I can’t. And I, so much respect to you inspectors that have to do that at the majority of your inspections because I don’t think I could. I’m gonna admit it. I don’t think I’d want to be an inspector if I had to go into crawl spaces like that every single day.
RS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean.
TM: In those conditions, it’s nasty.
RS: And we got to do stuff in the cold, but at least when it’s cold, you can put on more layers. I don’t mind being around outside if I can have shorts and a t-shirt on, but if I got to cover up my arms and legs, I’m gonna die. Pretty sure.
TM: And the fact, I mean, when it’s cold, everything’s frozen, nothing stinks, but when it’s, you know, 90 degrees and super humid and it’s outside and you’ve got sewage that’s been leaking underneath the house for who knows how long and puddles of water that doesn’t evaporate and all these bugs and insects and things, I mean, that’s a whole nother level.
RS: Yeah, that’s where it gets extra funky.
RS: Yeah, yeah. Mad props to our Southern home inspectors who’ve got to deal with all that stuff. Yep.
TM: Yes, shout out to you people. Yeah, yep. Yeah, so complicated houses and these additional spaces like attics and crawl spaces can really add time. And especially if you get a house that’s had several additions and they might have two or three separate attics or two different crawl spaces, those are the things that you show up as a home inspector, you do your quick kind of walkthrough initial kind of look at the house and you see those things and you think, oh man, I’m gonna be here a while.
RS: Yes, yes, exactly. And then another variable I gotta add on is the roof, how you gotta inspect the roof. Now, the easy scenario is just a rambler. You take your little portable ladder, you lean it up against the roof, you hop on up anywhere you please, you walk around, you scamper over the whole thing, inspect it and you get down. Love those, piece of cake. But now, flip that and now you’ve got a two-story roof where there is no lower-story roof, you don’t have any access, it’s too steep for you to even walk. What do we do in that case, Tess?
TM: You’re setting me up to say that we use our extension ladder and we set it up on every single side of the house [laughter] and move it around so we can get a good view of the shingles in person. We do have some situations where maybe that’s not feasible due to lot lines or what have you and we can use a drone. But worst case scenario, you’ve got a house where you’ve gotta use an extension ladder and you gotta move that thing around multiple times to get different views.
RS: Yes, so time consuming.
TM: Oh my god.
RS: And when we do call in the drone. I say we call in the drone. We don’t equip all of our inspectors with drones ’cause the times when we need them are so few and far between. It doesn’t make sense to have everyone on our team licensed by the, what is it, the FAA? Is that the license we got?
TM: I don’t know. And I was… You know what? It’s funny, I was just talking with a roofing contractor the other day who came out to give an estimate on a… With a client I’m helping, and this company used a drone.
TM: ‘Cause this roof was a challenge and they kind of got the pictures we needed with that drone. I asked him about that very question, Reuben, [laughter] he didn’t seem to know anything about it. So I don’t know.
TM: Now technically this company… I will not name names.
TM: They’re in Wisconsin. I have no idea what the…
RS: Well, that figures then.
TM: What the rules are. But Wisconsin does require licensing for home inspectors.
RS: That’s true.
TM: Which Minnesota does not. So I don’t know if they’re more lax on drone stuff or if once you get out of the metro area, the rules don’t really apply. I’m not sure.
RS: I’m pretty sure this is a national thing, where if you’re using a drone for a business, you need to be licensed. And I’ve heard it’s not that easy to get… It’s a difficult exam. I know Eric took it on our team. And he’s the one doing the drone inspections on our team if we need it. Eric, we call him the drone strike.
RS: Eric’s going out there and droning the roof. But they’re few and far between. We can get the vast majority of them done with the ladder, but we’re getting long-winded here. The point is, some roofs are really quick and easy to inspect. Other ones take a lot of time. And it’s relative to how close it is to the ground, typically.
TM: Yeah. And how many levels there are, too. Sometimes you’ll pull up to a house and it’s got two kind of different roof levels, an upper level, a lower level, and you can’t get, you can’t walk from one to the other. So you might need to set up different ladders or do a roof hop sometimes, you can bring a lightweight ladder up to the lower roof with you and set it up so you can walk from the lower roof to the higher roof with that ladder. But all of that again, takes more time, like you said.
RS: Sure. And the number of roof coverings, if you’ve got various types of roof coverings that’ll add. I still remember, first home inspection I ever did, there was four different roof coverings at this house. [laughter] It was so intimidating.
TM: And you remember that because it scarred you for life. You still remember. [laughter]
RS: It scarred me. Yes. They had like… They had a flat roof, which we call rubber, but it’s actually an EPDM membrane. It had asphalt shingles, it had wood shakes and there was one other one. It may have had roll roofing or… I don’t remember what else.
TM: Oh my God.
RS: But I know there was four different types of roof covering and it… I was pretty freaked out. I shouldn’t… I felt like I wasn’t even qualified to do the inspection. And my dad was out of town and it was a top agent and he was just really pushing. My dad’s like, you can do it. I’m like, I’m not ready yet. I haven’t done enough practice inspections. I don’t even know how to write a report. He’s like, no, you’re good, you’re good. Okay, here we go. Feel pretty good.
TM: You know what that story reminds me? The apple does not fall far from the tree, ’cause I feel that’s exactly what you did to me too. [laughter]
RS: You had a little bit more practice, though.
TM: I think I did, yeah. I was definitely in training probably way longer than you were, but I felt the exact same way. And I remember one of my first houses was very complicated too. And it was in Minnetonka. It had several additions to it and it had multiple different roofs. I just remember getting there thinking how, where do I even start?
TM: You feel so overwhelmed and stressed out before you even start. [laughter]
RS: Yes, yes. Oh, I know exactly how you feel, Tess.
RS: Alright. And then, okay, last one on the house. Last one that comes to my mind is, “deferred maintenance.” And I’m doing air quotes when I say deferred maintenance. ‘Cause we all know that this is a euphemism. How else would you describe this loving term that people use to describe houses?
TM: Yeah, like you said, just houses that have not been maintained throughout the years. So obviously the more problems, issues, defects you come across, the longer the report, the more things to look at, the more time it takes.
RS: Yep. And that’s the one that people are kind of freaking out about is, is it all about deferred maintenance? And that’s just one of the items. But we can’t skip over it. When things are in bad shape, it does take longer to inspect, to document stuff, to dig a little bit harder, it does make a difference. And I do just gotta say deferred maintenance is, it’s a euphemism for not maintained, or poor condition.
TM: Yes. Yep, definitely. Yep, I think those are the main ones. And you mentioned it briefly earlier, we didn’t really dive into it much, but the more electrical panels or sub panels you have, the more heating systems, cooling systems, different systems you have, we’re testing all of those. And it takes time to test all of them and that really adds to how much time you’re on site too.
RS: Absolutely. Yep. Alright, so that’s the house. Now let’s talk about the inspector themselves. I think this is a huge variable.
RS: Even having within our company at Structure Tech, we have a very defined process. It’s the same expectations. You gotta do this on the roof, you gotta do this, you gotta do that. Some home inspectors will just get it done faster than others. There’s the human variable there. But then, going from company to company, you can have very different standards from what they do. I mean, you just described what we do for a roof.
RS: It can take us a lot of time to inspect a roof, but there is no requirement for home inspectors to even pull out a ladder when they’re inspecting a roof. And I know it’s gonna shock some people.
RS: But home inspection standards don’t require it. All you need to do is inspect the roof and if you feel like you’re qualified to inspect it from the ground, you can use the zoom lens on your camera, or you could use binoculars, whatever, and that could be the extent of your inspection. And I know there are companies who do that.
TM: Yeah, you’re right. That’s a big variable too, just how it’s inspected and the person that’s inspecting it.
RS: Yep. And same thing with attics. There’s no requirement for a home inspector to walk around in an attic. All they gotta do is pop the access panel and take a look from there.
TM: Oh my gosh.
RS: That’s all standards of practice actually require.
TM: Which, it’s crazy to me. ‘Cause how many times have you inspected an attic where there was something in the far corner [laughter] that you found that was significant that you would not have been able to see from the attic access?
RS: A gazillion times. And I remember…
TM: I feel like most of the time.
RS: My dad’s quote is, anytime you get lazy, that’s when you’re gonna miss something.
TM: That’s when it bites you.
RS: Always get to that furthest reach of the attic.
TM: Exactly, yeah.
RS: And my trick was when I, when there was one, there was an attic where it was really tough to get to the far reaches or a crawl space…
RS: I’d always pull out a business card and I’d leave it there.
TM: I love that. Yes, yes. Might as well.
RS: We’ve been here.
TM: Let it be known.
TM: Yep. You put in the effort.
RS: Exactly. Yeah.
TM: I think another factor too, this really changed the amount of time we were on site, was whether or not the client or the agent showed up too and had questions for us. Or if a seller was there. [laughter]
RS: Oh my goodness, yes.
TM: And remained at the house. That would add to time. So those are another, you know, those are factors that we can’t always control as home inspectors and you don’t know till you get on site. And also just our report writing system, we used to do it basically after the fact. And we would take notes and take pictures and then go home and write it. And we’ve switched over to a software where we’re just entering in data while we’re on site. So I think all of those factors can come into play too.
RS: Definitely, definitely. So that’s all home inspector stuff. And then, you talk about the client. I gotta mention engineers. What about when you’re doing an inspection for an engineer, Tess?
TM: We love engineers because…
RS: We love them.
TM: They think about all of the details and they have a lot of questions.
RS: Yes, yes.
RS: And I always like to joke that engineers are never satisfied with your answer until they can repeat it back to you in their own words.
RS: Like, that’s what engineers need. And like you said, we love them.
RS: This is not a knock against them. That’s just how they are.
TM: Yeah, it’s how their brain works. Yep. They need all the information and they need the data and they need proof. And it takes time to explain things in a way that’s acceptable to them. So…
RS: Yep, exactly.
RS: Alright. And then of course, there’s all the other one-off things that is just, the list is way too long, but I remember one time I had tripped a GFI using my tester. They didn’t wire them the way you should, they had a bunch of GFCIs wired downstream from each other, and I tripped the last one in the circuit, so they all tripped at the same time. And there was like six of them. And I must have spent 45 minutes hunting around this room to reset them in the proper order to get all of them energized again. Took forever. So there’s just those stupid little one-off things that you just can’t account for, right?
TM: Oh my gosh. I’m laughing ’cause, yes, I hear you. And I’ve been there in that exact same situation and it’s awful. But the one [laughter] situation that comes to mind too, you’ll remember this. I am sure I’ve shared this story on the podcast before, but the one inspection I did, this was kind of in the beginning of my in inspecting career, where I tripped a GFCI outlet on the exterior of the house and it tripped [laughter] all the power to the garage. And the garage had a garage door opener and that was the only way to get in. There was no side door.
TM: There was nothing else. And I locked myself and the homeowner out of the garage. [laughter] And I remember I texted you, Reuben, I was like, Reuben, I don’t know what to do. And [laughter] do you remember what you did?
RS: Oh, I sure do. I sent you a YouTube video on how to break into the garage using a coat hanger.
TM: You sure did. And you’ll not believe, I had a wire coat hanger in my car. I don’t know why, because I don’t, I mean, I don’t just drive around with coat hangers in my car, but for some reason, I had one in my car. And sure enough, I watched the video and within five or 10 minutes I had gotten into the garage.
RS: Yeah. You texted me back like five or 10 minutes later, you’re like, I’m in. I’m like, oh my goodness. This girl is the biggest rock star we have ever hired. She is unstoppable. Yeah.
TM: You know, it’s probably wrong to feel good about having a win on a kind of, almost like a criminal level, but that’s exactly what it was. I learned how to break into someone’s garage and I did it successfully very quickly. So luckily I never had to do that again.
TM: But exactly, all those little hiccups that you don’t even know can happen, that happens sometimes when you’re on site. [laughter]
RS: Yep, yep. All that little stuff that’s tough to account for. So, the bottom line is, all things being equal, a longer home inspection probably isn’t good, but things are never equal, you can never say that. And so, even if the inspection’s scheduled for four hours and it takes up every minute of that and they, people end up leaving late, this doesn’t mean bad news. It just means that there’s stuff that you don’t know was going on. It took longer because it took longer. And that’s all you can know. So a long home inspection does not mean bad news. That’s really the bottom line here.
TM: Yep, exactly. Just like a really long home inspection report doesn’t necessarily mean you have a terrible house either.
RS: No, good point. Yeah.
RS: It means the home inspector put in a lot of recommendations for maintenance or upgrades or just informational stuff. Like, hey, here’s your main water shutoff valve, in emergency turn this handle, here’s a picture of it and an arrow, and here’s your main gas valve. Here’s a picture of it and an arrow. And all these things are gonna increase the length of the report. This is a manual for the house. It doesn’t need to be a 10-page report to be a good house. You can have a 30, 40 page report and it’s still a great house.
RS: It just means your inspector’s giving you more information about it.
TM: Exactly. Yep.
TM: Well, this was fun. I’m sure we’re missing something. So if there’s anyone out there that’s listening that wants to add to this conversation or has some stories to tell, [laughter] shoot us an email. Reuben, how do they get a get a hold of us?
RS: Please email us, structuretalk@… No, what am I… No, I got it wrong. It’s podcast.
TM: That’s right.
RS: @structuretech.com. Yes.
TM: Thank you. Yes.
RS: Thank you. Alright.
RS: Well, great to see you Tess, great discussion. And…
TM: Good to see you too.
RS: We will see you all next week. Take care.
TM: Catch you next time. Bye.