Dear Barry,

When we bought our home, we hired an ASHI certified home inspector and accompanied him through the entire inspection. But he missed a major problem with our forced air furnace. The inspection report described the system as “normal,” whatever that means, and merely recommended “routine maintenance and cleaning.” When we moved in, we hired a heating company to clean and service the unit, as recommended by the inspector, and the heating guy showed me the inside of our heater. To our shock, it was full of rust holes, was producing carbon monoxide, and needed immediate replacement. Now we recall that our inspector never actually removed the cover panels when he inspected the heater. He just shined his flashlight through a small opening. When I called him about this, he said, “I recommended that you have the heater cleaned prior to close.” But our report says nothing about doing this before closing the sale, nor was there any mention that the furnace was defective. What do we do now? –Debbie

Dear Debbie,

Inspecting a forced air furnace without removing the cover panels is gross professional negligence. It makes as much sense as a podiatrist examining your feet without first removing your shoes. If a home inspector or a doctor intends to discover physical maladies, the visual impediments must first be removed.

According to the Standards of Practice for the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), “the inspector shall inspect the installed heating equipment.” And the definition of “inspect,” according to ASHI standards, includes “opening readily openable access panels.” Therefore, failure to remove the access panels on your furnace was a violation of established home inspection industry standards. As such, the inspector appears to bear some liability.

If your heating contractor was able to observe the rust damage in your furnace by merely removing the access panels, then the home inspector should have discovered the problem and should now take responsibility for the consequence of a substandard inspection. If he recommended that the furnace be serviced prior to close, that recommendations should have been contained in the written report. Verbal recommendations that are not consistent with the contents of the report are invalid and irrelevant.

As to your question, “What do we do now?” you should inquire as to whether your home inspector is insured for errors and omissions. If not, you might consider a date at your local Small Claims Court.

Dear Barry,

We were about to buy an old home, but then we learned that it has asbestos shingle siding. We’ve read that this material is safe if it is not damaged, but we’re worried about likelihood of future problems. What do you recommend? –Lynne

Dear Lynne,

Asbestos shingle siding, commonly installed in the 1940s and early ’50s, consists of a material knows as transite. Transite siding is comprised of asbestos fibers that are embedded in a solid cement medium, thereby preventing release of fibers into the air. Unless the material is ground into dust by application of power tools or other destructive processes, transite is not regarded as a significant health hazard. However, in the event that you should alter the exterior of the building, handling and removal of the asbestos containing material should be assigned to a specially licensed professional, and such services can be very costly. Also, when reselling the home, the presence of asbestos material must be disclosed, and this can adversely affect the interest of some buyers (just as you were deterred), regardless of the relative safety of the material.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

***

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