DEAR BARRY: We purchased a home a few months ago and had it inspected. At the time, everything seemed OK with the plumbing. But within a month, all the drains became clogged. The plumber had to break out the concrete floor to expose the bad pipes, and the repair bill is now more than $3,000.

According to the plumber, this problem should have been disclosed by the home inspector. But the inspector insists that no drain problems were apparent at the time of the inspection. Is anyone responsible for these repairs, or am I just out of luck? –David

DEAR DAVID: Whether your home inspector is liable depends on what defects, if any, were visible at the time of the inspection. Contractors and tradesmen often make judgments regarding what "should have been disclosed by the home inspector." But these people are rarely familiar with the standards of practice of the home inspector profession.

To determine whether your home inspector is at fault, the plumber should be very specific as to what symptoms were visible and accessible at the time of the home inspection. If faulty drain lines were plainly visible and were overlooked by your inspector, then the plumber has a valid point. If the drain lines had internal problems that were not visible at the time of the inspection, or if discovery required removal of the basement floor, then the plumber’s opinion is not valid.

Have the plumber answer these questions, and then ask the home inspector for his response. With issues such as these, a home inspector should be given the opportunity to review the defects before they are repaired. In this case, that may no longer be possible.

DEAR BARRY: We plan to add a garage to our home and would like to review the local building code requirements. Is there an online location where we can view this information? –Steve

DEAR STEVE: The building codes are not available online. The organizations that write and publish those codes are in business to sell books to building inspectors, contractors, architects, engineers and others. Free online access would defeat their efforts to make a profit.

But don’t be too disappointed — if the codes were available online, the information you seek would not be posted as a simple list. Instead, you would find several large volumes of information, written in highly esoteric language, and subject to interpretation. Furthermore, it would not all be in one place. It would be scattered, piece by piece, throughout various chapters of the building code, the electrical code, the plumbing code, and so on. This information is definitely not written for the average homeowner. In fact, years of study and use are necessary to acquire an adequate working knowledge of the building codes.

The best approach in your situation is to draw up a set of construction plans for the garage and submit them to your local building department for approval. The building official can advise you on pertinent code requirements. During the construction, the municipal inspector will inform you of changes needed to maintain compliance with codes, and you can ask further questions as the work proceeds. To keep costly mistakes to a minimum, hire licensed contractors to perform the work and to provide direction regarding code compliance.

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


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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