Dear Barry,

When we purchased our home, the home inspection report listed the furnace as “serviceable.” After moving in, we had problems with heating, so we called a heating contractor. He said we have a Premier furnace that was recalled because of major safety problems. So now we have to buy a new furnace. Our Realtor says the home inspector is responsible. But the home inspector says he can’t be expected to know about every product that’s been recalled. Is the home inspector liable for having approved the furnace or are we stuck with the expense ourselves? –Jessica

Dear Jessica,

Home inspectors, in most cases, are not liable for product recall notices. But the Premier furnace matter is not a typical recall. It is probably the most widely publicized, most well-known recall to occur in many years. It has been a frequent subject of discussion among home inspectors — and even among Realtors — since 1999, and has been the topic of seminars, trade journals and even newspaper articles.

It would be difficult for a home inspector to have missed the issue, unless he were new to the inspection business. For a qualified home inspector, failure to recognize a Premier furnace as a potential safety hazard constitutes professional negligence.

It should be noted, however, that not all Premier furnaces are subject to the recall. This applies only to models equipped with nox rods in the burner chambers. These fixtures can be identified by the “x” at the end of the model number. On the other hand, Premier models that are not subject to the recall often have problems with the venting of combustion exhaust. A home inspector who carefully examines furnaces while they are in operation would notice this.

Your home inspector should reconsider the matter of his liability and let this be a professional learning experience.

Dear Barry,

I have several questions involving garage firewalls. What materials should be used to finish a garage firewall? What type of entry door is required in a firewall between a garage and a house? Why are no penalties imposed on home inspectors who fail to report firewall violations? And finally, are sellers required to disclose firewall violations in a garage? –Deb

Dear Deb,

A garage firewall is commonly covered with 5/8-inch fire-rated drywall, with all seams taped. Wall penetrations such as ducts must be made of metal. A door through a firewall can be a solid-core slab door with a minimum thickness of 1 3/8 inches; it can be a sheet metal door; or it can be a 20-minute fire-rated panel door. A fire door must also be self-closing, typically accomplished with a spring hinge.

Failure of a home inspector to disclose a substandard firewall or fire door is often a matter of professional negligence. A common exception would be a firewall that has 1/2-inch drywall only. Unless the edges of the drywall are exposed, it is not always possible to determine the thickness of the material.

Sellers are required to disclose defects of which they are aware. Most sellers, however, have no knowledge of firewall requirements and would be unaware of related violations.

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

***

What’s your opinion? Send your Letter to the Editor to opinion@inman.com.

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