Is home inspector liable for missed defects?

Home buyer worried about gas leak, cracked roofing beam
Published on Jul 27, 2004

Dear Barry,

Before buying my home, I hired a home inspector and was not impressed with the quality of his work. Since moving in, I’ve discovered two major problems. First, an exterior gas line had such a major leak that the gas company refused to turn the gas on. Second, one of the roofing beams is cracked clear through, and with a flashlight this is visible from the attic entrance. Do I have any recourse for either of these problems? – Ryan

Dear Ryan,

Whether you can hold the home inspector responsible for missed defects depends upon whether the problems were visually discernible and within the scope of the inspection. The location of the gas leak would have much to do with whether the inspector should have noticed it. If the leak was occurring next to the building, at the gas meter for example, a home inspector could be expected to notice the problem. If the leak occurred at a buried line in the front yard, this would probably have been missed by a home inspector. The gas company, on the other hand, performs specific tests that reveal leakage within gas supply systems. For this reason, the gas supply company should provide a routine safety evaluation whenever a property with gas service is being purchased.

With regard to the ceiling beam, if the crack was clearly visible, you probably have a reasonable complaint against the inspector. However, not all beam cracks are structurally significant. Your first step is to notify the home inspector and request a review of the problem. A second opinion by a licensed structural engineer would also be advisable.

Dear Barry,

When we bought our condo, the home inspector said we might have trouble with the dryer vent, and he sure was right. The laundry is located in the middle of our home, in a hall closet; so the dryer has to vent vertically, up through the roof. This causes two problems. The vent becomes clogged with lint, and moisture in the duct causes the ceiling to become wet. Can anything be done to correct this problem? – Bob

Dear Bob,

A vertical exhaust vent for a clothes dryer is typically problematic because it acts as a moisture condenser. The sheet metal duct, cooled by the outside air in the attic, causes the steam from your dryer to become liquid on the inner surfaces of the vent. Then two things happen: First, the water runs down the inside surfaces of the duct, causing wetness and possible mold wherever leakage may occur (such as your ceiling); and second, the moisture in the duct tends to collect lint, which forms an increasingly thick layer on the vent surface, thereby reducing the efficiency of your dryer. Vertical dryer vents should probably be prohibited by code, but unfortunately, they are not.

The problem originated when the designer of the building selected an impractical location for the laundry. The solution is to relocate your dryer to the garage or another area that is near an exterior wall. Then the dryer vent can be a short, horizontal duct, less prone to condensation and lint build-up. Otherwise, you may have to make the best of a bad arrangement. For alternate solutions, an appliance repair technician may be able to determine a practical upgrade, based upon an on-site inspection of your situation.

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