Dear Barry,

I have performed more than 30 residential home inspections during my first year in business but am concerned that my tone deafness may prevent me from providing adequate inspections for my customers. I’m uncertain about continuing this new career because I’m unable to hear squeaky floors, mechanical noises or the sounds of faulty plumbing, just to give a few examples. What is your advice? –Ben

Dear Ben,

This is a very tough question to answer with an absolute yes or no. Hearing is an essential tool in the performance of a home inspection. Although home inspections are strictly defined as visual inspections only, hearing is used a great deal by inspectors. We listen, for example, to furnace ignitions, air flow from heat registers, the chirping of birds in attics, the click of GFIs across rooms and garages, noises emitted by bathroom exhaust fans, garage-door openers, garbage disposals, dishwashers, and more. It’s hard to imagine not hearing those sounds and still managing to perform thorough and comprehensive inspections.

Regardless of these shortcomings, this is a business decision that you’ll have to make, weighing the benefits of the profession against the risks. If you stay in the game, you should probably include a statement in your contract, disclosing that you have hearing limitations that could compromise the completeness of the inspection. Customers should have the choice of proceeding on the basis of that understanding.

Dear Barry,

We’re concerned about ground water seepage through the block walls of our basement. The house is now 50 years old, and the blocks are becoming chalky and crumbly from years of moisture. My husband says the blocks should be sealed from the other side to prevent further deterioration, but that this would be very expensive. Is he right? –Julie

Dear Julie,

Your husband is absolutely correct. The block walls should have been waterproofed when the home was originally built. Waterproofing may have been omitted or may simply have been inadequate. Unfortunately, the only way to waterproof the other side of these block walls is to excavate around the entire basement, and this, as your husband has pointed out, could be very costly. If you proceed with this work, have the project evaluated by a geotechnical engineer to determine how ground water drainage might be improved before you refill the excavated areas.

Dear Barry,

In the home we just purchased, the subfloor insulation is installed upside-down, with the vapor barrier facing the ground, rather than the floor. Our home inspector says this makes no difference, as long as a vapor barrier is installed. Is this correct? –Irwin

Dear Irwin,

Installing the vapor barrier on the down side of the insulation definitely does matter. It is an improper installation for a very significant reason. In homes where the vapor barrier is below the insulation, moisture condensation has occurred between the vapor barrier and the subfloor, resulting in major dryrot, and necessitating costly replacement of framing and subfloor materials. Most experienced inspectors have seen this kind of damage in homes where the vapor barrier was installed incorrectly. Reversing the subfloor insulation is strongly recommended.

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

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