DEAR BARRY: We purchased our home about six months ago. It is only five years old, but the heater just failed. The heating contractor found a crack in the heat exchanger. The cost to us for parts not covered by the warranty will be more than $1,000. Our home inspector says the heat exchanger is not covered in a home inspection. The crack is plainly visible and could have been seen by our inspector if he had taken the time to look. Is it fair that he should not be liable for this omission? –Bill
DEAR BILL: Home inspection contracts typically list heat exchangers as outside the scope of a home inspection. Likewise, industry standards, as defined by state and national associations, define heat exchangers as outside the scope. The reason for this disclaimer is that most heat exchangers are partially or totally inaccessible and cannot be inspected without dismantling the furnace.
This escape clause has led many home inspectors to overlook visible defects that could have been reported to buyers, if the inspector had simply looked into the burner chambers. The purpose of the disclaimer is to protect home inspectors from frivolous claims for cracks that could not have been seen. But many damaged heat exchangers have been identified by concerned home inspectors. Cracks in the lower portions of a firebox can sometimes be seen by shining a flashlight into the burner orifice. Rust flakes, black soot or faulty flame patterns can also alert a home inspector to possible defects, if only the inspector will try to look.
The job of a home inspector is to report conditions that are "visible" and "accessible." If the crack in your heat exchanger is visible and accessible, that fact should override the disclaimer for inspection of heat exchangers. You should arrange for the home inspector to reinspect your furnace. Point out to him that the crack is visible and insist that he take responsibility for not having reported it. If he doesn’t agree, ask him to submit the matter to arbitration or mediation.
DEAR BARRY: My new house has a major drainage problem in the basement. The builder installed a sump pump that operates constantly because of excessive ground water. It stopped working during a power failure, which caused flooding and mold. According to my builder, there is no code requirement to drain water away from my house. Is this true? –Cas
DEAR CAS: Depending on which version of the building code is used in your area, the Code definitely contains standards for site drainage around buildings.
According to section 1804.7 of the Uniform Building Code, "Provisions shall be made for the control and drainage of surface water around buildings."
If the International Residential Code (IRC) applies in your area, Section R405 states, "Drains shall be provided around all concrete or masonry foundations that retain earth and enclose habitable or usable spaces located below grade." Obviously, that would include basements. Furthermore, Section R406 of the IRC contains detailed specifications for the waterproofing of concrete and masonry basement walls.
Any builder who tells you differently is wrong.
To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.
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