Dear Barry,

When I purchased my home, the inspector reported no roof defects. But shortly after the close, the first rains leaked into the house. I called a roofing contractor, and he discovered that the roof was patched with tar in the area of the leakage. The home inspection report states that the roof was inspected from across the street with binoculars. If this is all one can expect from a home inspector, why bother hiring any of these guys? – Thomas

Dear Thomas,

In most cases, a home inspector will conduct a roof inspection by walking on the roof surface. If unusual height renders the roof inaccessible by means of a 12-foot ladder, it is common practice to inspect from the ground, with the aid of binoculars. In these cases, the inspector will typically indicate that the inspection was limited and advise further review by a licensed roofing contractor.

Other cases where an inspector would not walk on a roof include tile roofing, where walking on the surface could cause breakage, or steep roofs, where walking would be unsafe. In those situations, home inspectors generally inspect from atop a ladder, leaned against each side of the building.

In your situation, there are three pertinent questions:

1) Did the inspection report advise you of the incomplete nature of the roof inspection?

2) Was the roof patching visible from the ground, by means of binoculars.

3) Were there any water stains in the attic or on the ceiling surfaces where the leakage had previously occurred, and if so, were these stains pointed out in the report, with recommendations for further evaluation of the roof.

The answers to these questions would help to determine whether your home inspector was professionally negligent.

Dear Barry,

In a recent column, you recommended that water heater thermostats be turned to the “vacation” setting during long periods of absence, rather than being turned off completely. I have a second home that is unoccupied most of the year and the electric water heater seems to have no visible thermostat. The only way to change the settings is to remove the cover plate on the heating element, and this doesn’t appear to be easy. Instead, I’ve been turning off the circuit breaker when the house is not in use. What do your suggest? – Sylvia

Dear Sylvia,

The problem with turning off the water heater completely is that expansion and contraction of metal fittings occurs when the fixture is heated and cooled, and this can produce leaks. There is also the risk of freeze damage to the fixture if it is turned off during a very cold winter.

In recommending that water heater thermostats be turned to the vacation setting, I referred specifically to gas-fueled water heaters. Electric water heaters can also be turned to lower settings, but this, as you noted, requires removing the access covers at the heating elements. This is not as difficult is it might appear. A local plumber or handyman can show you how it is done.

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


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