Dear Barry,

I’m a construction supervisor for a nationwide residential developer, and frankly, I’m tired of dealing with you know-it-all home inspectors. My company constructs good homes; we build them to code; and we don’t sell them until they’ve been approved by a city or county inspector. But some of our buyers, after the municipal inspector says everything is OK, waste their money on a bogus inspector like you. They hire some self-appointed “expert” who invents a list of imaginary problems, just to make the buyers think they’re getting some value for the inspection fee. For example, we installed a water heater and secured the exhaust connections with metallic tape. The city inspector signed it off, but a home inspector said the connections should be fastened with screws. In another house, a home inspector said that all the windows should be safety glass. Why don’t you guys find some real jobs instead of making up problems where there aren’t any? –Howard

Dear Howard,

Levels of competence vary widely within all professions. Admittedly, there are home inspectors who need to find other jobs or at least be retrained in their current ones. Likewise, you’ve probably known a few construction supervisors who don’t measure up to your professional standards. But you wouldn’t dismiss the credibility of your own profession on the basis of poor performance by some. If that premise were acceptable, we could write off all doctors because of a few malpractitioners; we could reject all carpenters because some are wood butchers; and we could discard all attorneys because … well, we’ll skip that example.

Of the two instances you cite, one is favorable to the home inspector and one is not. Flue pipe connections on a water heater are required to be secured with screws or other approved method. Tape is not an approved method because the glue eventually dries out and loses its adhesion. Ensuring the permanent attachment of an exhaust pipe within a home is a vital safety concern for the occupants. Screws do not detach as they become older. The municipal inspector, rather than approving the taped connections, probably just failed to notice them. Fortunately, this error was caught by the “know-it-all” home inspector.

In your other example, a home inspector called for tempered safety glass for all windows in a home. The absurdity of that recommendation is obvious. That home inspector clearly needs retraining or retirement. On the other side of that coin, there are newly approved homes in which windows that should be safety glass are not. Examples include windows adjacent to bathtubs or at stair landings. Defects such as these are sometimes missed when buildings are signed off. Home inspectors provide a final backup in the consumer protection process.

The bottom line, Howard, is this: All new homes have defects, regardless of the competence and integrity of the builder or the construction supervisor. If this were not the case, the essential imperfection of humanity would be disproved. Some new homes have repair lists that are long, while other lists contain only a few items. In most cases, defects are minor in nature, but serious problems, such as violations of safety requirements, are not uncommon. A home inspector can spend three or more hours searching for construction errors in one home; a municipal inspector cannot. A home inspector can spend an entire workday inspecting just two houses; a municipal inspector cannot.

In the long run, a thorough home inspection benefits the builder, as well as the buyer, by reducing the number of repair callbacks that might occur after the home is sold. It lessens the possibility of injury to occupants, and limits the likelihood of future lawsuits. Builders, in fact, would be well advised to hire a home inspector of their own to provide a final “pickup” list when the construction is completed. Then the buyers’ home inspector would be less likely to irritate the supervisor with further disclosures.

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

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