DEAR BARRY: The house we’re buying was built in 1974. Our home inspector did a thorough job, but he missed one thing. He never mentioned possible asbestos in the textured ceilings. Shouldn’t he have said something about this? –Margaret
DEAR MARGARET: Environmental hazards, including asbestos, are outside the scope of a home inspection and are specifically excluded in the standards of practice for the industry.
There are two reasons for this exclusion: 1) Asbestos-containing materials cannot be verified without submitting material samples to a certified test laboratory; and 2) Disclosing potential asbestos in one material, without mentioning every other possible asbestos product, exposes home inspectors to legal liability.
We live in an increasingly litigious society, and avoiding lawsuits has become an everyday part of doing business, especially for home inspectors. If an inspector mentions possible asbestos in a popcorn ceiling, why not mention the possibility in floor tiles, plaster, drywall mud, roofing, duct insulation, and so on?
Well here’s the answer: Popcorn ceilings have become commonly recognized as a potential asbestos-containing material. Published articles in magazines, newspapers and trade journals have been so numerous that it is difficult for home inspectors, and even real estate agents, to justify lack of comment in the course of a real estate transaction.
When home inspectors and Realtors say nothing about possible asbestos in ceiling texture, legal liability is actually increased. If the buyers remove the ceiling texture as part of a remodel or renovation project and later learn that the material contained asbestos, the result could be a major lawsuit.
The fact that asbestos disclosure was not required would be a useful talking point on the witness stand, but it would not reduce the cost of hiring an attorney for legal defense.
The best advice to home inspectors and to Realtors is to state that you are not qualified to perform an asbestos inspection but that acoustic ceiling texture is widely recognized as a potential source of asbestos. This disclosure can be followed with a general recommendation for further evaluation by a qualified environmental inspector.
In so doing, you stay within the scope of your inspection, while providing valuable information to homebuyers.
DEAR BARRY: We purchased our house four years ago and our home inspector reported no plumbing problems. Now that we’re selling the property, the buyers’ inspector disclosed polybutylene pipe, and the buyers are demanding that we replace it. Shouldn’t our home inspector have told us about this? –Jeff
DEAR JEFF: Home inspectors should definitely report polybutylene pipe, and for two good reasons. First, because disclosure of pipe type is required by the standards of practice for the profession. Second, because polybutylene pipe is prone to leakage, and that kind of information is why people hire home inspectors.
Failure to disclose polybutylene pipe is an example of professional negligence, unless the material is concealed within the construction. But the buyers’ inspector discovered it, so your inspector is apparently without excuse.
After four years, your inspector may no longer be liable, but you should notify him of the situation so that he can avoid a repeat of this mistake. You can also ask if he would share some responsibility for your situation.
To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.
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