Dear Barry,

When I bought my home, the inspector found no problems with the plumbing drains. But since moving in, I’ve had nothing but backed-up sinks and stopped-up toilets. Four plumbers have told me that the main line is clogged with roots, and they want thousands of dollars to replace it. The home inspection contract says the inspector is only liable for a refund of the inspection fee. To make things worse, the home warranty won’t pay either. I thought that I was adequately protected by the inspection and warranty. But now, no one will step up to the plate. Is this somebody’s idea of fair play? –Derek

Dear Derek,

Home inspection and home warranties have definite limits. When problems occur outside these boundaries, things can definitely seem to be unfair.

Home inspectors are liable for the discovery of defects that are apparent on the day of the inspection. In your case, it is possible that the sink and toilet drains were flowing normally during the inspection and became clogged at a later time. Whether there were other visible symptoms that your inspector should have seen is a good question to ask one of your four plumbers. As to the monetary limitation on liability in the home inspector’s contract, some states uphold such limits. Others do not. You’ll have to ask an attorney whether the courts in your jurisdiction uphold this limitation. As regards the home warranty policy, warranty companies do not cover pre-existing conditions, and that would apply to drains that are congested with roots.

You should also consider the liability of the sellers of your home. Major root intrusion in drain piping is not something that becomes apparent all at once. It is usually a recurrent problem for several years before repiping becomes necessary. Therefore, it is possible that the sellers were aware of the problem but chose not to disclose it. Unfortunately, proving that they had prior knowledge could be difficult, if not impossible.

Dear Barry,

When I bought my home, the inspector recommended that I keep the foundation vents open during the warm summer months and close them when winter weather turned cold. But then I read an article where you advised never closing the vents, regardless of weather conditions. Could you please clear up the confusion on this matter? –Mike

Dear Mike,

Homes with raised foundations are nearly always equipped with screened openings to provide cross ventilation of subfloor areas. Closing these vents is generally an unwise practice. The purpose of foundation vents has nothing to do with temperature control or energy conservation and is therefore unrelated to variations in weather. The primary purpose of foundation vents is prevention of moisture condensation on surfaces beneath the building. Therefore, open vents during wet winter months are essential. Closing your foundation vents during the winter is an invitation to condensation and resultant moisture damage, dryrot, and mold. Foundation vents should remain open at all times, especially during winter. Those who advise otherwise could be leading you down the path of costly structural repairs and possible health hazards.

An exception to this venting rule involves homes with perimeter insulated foundation systems, specifically engineered for energy conservation and provided with alternative means of moisture control. Such construction methods, however, are rare.

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


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