Dear Barry,

My parents bought a house about a year ago and had a home inspector check it out. The inspection report said the furnace had no problems. But recently, a heating contractor did a routine inspection and said the furnace blower is cracked. He told us this could let carbon monoxide into the house and that the furnace needs to be replaced. My parents have carbon monoxide detectors in their home, and these have never gone off. And our suspicions were raised when the furnace man refused to show us the crack.

So we’re having another contractor take a look, and we have four questions: If the blower is cracked, can it be repaired? Shouldn’t the company that found the crack be willing to show it to us? Shouldn’t the home inspector have reported the crack? And do we have recourse? –Kari

Dear Kari,

A cracked blower does not affect carbon monoxide levels in a home. The heating contractor must have meant a cracked heat exchanger. In most cases, a furnace with a cracked heat exchanger must be replaced. The only exceptions are heaters for which replacement parts are available, and with older furnaces this is unlikely.

It’s hard to imagine a heating company discovering a significant problem and then refusing to show it to you. Your decision to get a second opinion is therefore prudent, especially given the high cost of a new furnace.

Whether the home inspector should have reported the crack (assuming there is a crack) is uncertain. Inspectors can only report conditions that are visible and accessible. In many cases, cracks in heat exchangers are located in obscure places and cannot be seen without dismantling the furnace.

As for recourse, that would only be an issue if the crack existed one year ago, when the house was purchased. Unfortunately, there is no way to know if the fixture was cracked at that time. It is possible that damage developed during the past year.

Dear Barry,

I’m trying to decide whether to hire a home inspector, and there are two things I need to know. What is the cost for an inspection? And at what age do homes begin to develop serious problems? –Joseph

Dear Joseph,

Inspection fees vary widely, depending on the size, age and complexity of the home, and according to the level of experience of the home inspector you hire. A quality inspection may cost from $300 to $500 or more. Those who are new to the profession typically charge lower prices to attract business, but home inspection is a process where you truly get what you pay for. Price shopping is a very risky way of choosing an inspector, given the costly consequences of undisclosed defects.

As for the age of a home, this has little or nothing to do with the amount of problems likely to be found. An old home, in fact, could have fewer problems than one that was just built. A home that appears run down and deteriorated could have fewer serious problems than one that appears well maintained and immaculate.

Regardless of age or cost, it’s always a mistake to buy without a home inspection.

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

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