DEAR BARRY: We had our home in escrow, but the deal was killed by the buyers’ home inspector. He told the buyers that our foundation isn’t sound and that it needs to comply with current building codes. The buyers backed out of the deal, so we had a contractor look at the foundation. He found no physical defects — no cracks and no signs of settlement. He also said that older homes are not required to meet newer code requirements. Do we have any recourse against the home inspector? His report cost us the sale of our home. –Mark

DEAR MARK: It appears that the home inspector made some errors in his findings, but legal recourse in such cases is rarely an option. To recover your losses, you would have to prove that the buyers would definitely have completed the purchase, and outcomes of that kind can never be known for certain.

Aside from the fact that your foundation may be sound, there were two essential problems with the home inspector’s disclosures:

1) When a home inspector states that a foundation "isn’t sound," he is making an engineering evaluation. Unless he is a licensed structural engineer, he has overreached his professional limits. Instead of assessing structural adequacy, a home inspector should disclose specific defects that are apparent, such as cracks, decomposed concrete, sloped floors, or other visible conditions that would indicate foundation problems.

2) After listing apparent foundation defects, the inspector should recommend "further evaluation by a licensed structural engineer," rather than drawing structural conclusions of his own. If your buyers’ inspector had done this, an engineering inspection could have determined whether the foundation was deficient, and that might have saved your deal.

However, without knowing the buyers’ motives, you can never say for sure if a purchase would have been completed, regardless of their stated reasons for canceling the contract. …CONTINUED

DEAR BARRY: We have an unvented gas fireplace that was installed before we owned the home. In the six years that we have lived here, it has seldom been used because it always emits a strange odor and even makes our eyes sting. What can we do to correct this problem? –Charlotte

DEAR CHARLOTTE: Ventless gas fireplaces and heaters are approved for use in nearly all states, California being the only exception. These fixtures should be used only if a functional carbon monoxide detector is installed in the room.

The odor that you smell could be harmless, or it could be a red-flag warning of a serious problem. The stinging of your eyes could be caused by combustion byproducts known as aldehydes, which are irritating but harmless. On the other hand, the exhaust could be a mixture of combustion gases, and could include carbon monoxide.

The manufacturers of ventless gas fireplaces claim that these fixtures can never function in a hazardous manner. But common sense dictates that anything manmade is subject to failure.

The first thing you should do is notify the gas company of the problem and ask that they conduct a safety inspection. They can use detection devices to determine that the burners are properly adjusted and confirm that the combustion exhaust is safe. If a problem is detected, they will red-tag the fixture. Then you can file a warranty claim with the fireplace manufacturer.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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