DEAR BARRY: Before I bought my home, I hired a home inspector. At the time, he seemed to do a good job, but I was sorely mistaken. Since moving in, I have found two major problems.

First, an exterior gas line had such a major leak that the gas company refused to turn on the service. Second, one of the ceiling beams is cracked clear through. If you shine a flashlight on the crack, you can see light in the attic, and this worries me about structural stability. Shouldn’t these conditions have been reported by a competent home inspector? –Ralph

DEAR RALPH: The unreported defects may or may not reflect against the competence of your home inspector. It depends on whether those conditions were visible at the time of the inspection and whether they were within the scope of the inspection.

The location of the gas leak would have much to do with discovery by the inspector and the gas company. If the leak was occurring near the building — at the gas meter, for example — a competent home inspector would probably have noticed it. If leakage occurred at a buried gas line in the front yard, that would probably be missed by an inspector. The gas company, on the other hand, performs specific tests that reveal leakage within gas supply systems. For this reason, homebuyers should always request a safety inspection by the gas company before purchasing a home.

If the crack in the ceiling beam is clearly visible, the home inspector should have reported it. However, not all beam cracks are structurally significant. If the crack runs parallel to the wood grain, it probably does not weaken the beam. You should notify your home inspector and request a review of the problem. A second opinion by a licensed structural engineer would also be advisable.

DEAR BARRY: My circuit breaker box doesn’t have a master breaker to shut off the electricity to the house. Is it a good idea to have one installed, and is this a job for a do-it-yourselfer? –Michael

DEAR MICHAEL: If your main electric service panel has more than six breakers, the code requires a main shutoff switch. The intent of this requirement is to enable quick disconnection of the power in the event of an emergency. Older panels, containing six breakers or less, typically do not have a main switch. Many of these panels, however, have been modified to include additional breakers, but still have no main shutoff.

Often the additional circuits in these older panels were installed by individuals without sufficient electrical qualifications. In such cases, review and upgrades by a licensed electrical contractor are warranted to ensure safety and legal compliance. Unfortunately, many older panels are not designed to contain a main disconnect switch. Therefore, replacement of the old panel might be necessary.

At this point, it should be clear that these are not procedures to be undertaken by a "do-it-yourselfer." Work of this kind requires considerable professional knowledge and expertise.

When attempted by handypersons, the finished product may appear functional but is likely to include significant fire safety violations and possible shock hazards. So be sure to hire a qualified electrical contractor.

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