DEAR BARRY: We bought our home in the winter time, so our home inspector did not test the air conditioner. He said the outside temperature was too cold to run the system. But that left us with an undisclosed problem. The summer arrived with 100-degree temperatures, and we found that our air conditioner did not work.

The contractor we called said the system had not been fully connected when it was installed, but this was not reported to us during the home inspection. Is our home inspector liable for failing to report this problem? –Kathy

DEAR KATHY: Your home inspector could be liable, depending on what he did or did not say in his report. At the same time, there remains the issue of whether or not to test an A/C system in cold weather. So let’s take a look.

Many home inspectors refuse to test air conditioners when temperatures are below 60 degrees. This is because A/C systems can be damaged if they are operated during cold weather.

However, damage is unlikely to occur if the system is briefly operated for purposes of testing and inspecting. Prolonged use is what causes damage. Therefore, failure to test an A/C system during cold weather is not fully justified.

However, if a home inspector chooses to skip the test, the report should recommend testing by a licensed HVAC contractor prior to close of escrow, rather than allowing the homebuyers to purchase the property without knowing the condition of the A/C system. If your home inspector declined to test the unit but made no recommendation for further evaluation, then he was professionally negligent.

There is, however, a second issue in your situation. If the A/C system was not fully connected, the lack of connections may have been visible at the time of the inspection. If so, your home inspector would be liable for failing to disclose a visible defect that was within the scope of the inspection.

But whether he is legally liable depends on the wording of the home inspection contract that you signed. You should notify the inspector of this situation to see what he is willing to do.

DEAR BARRY: We bought ceramic floor tiles for our bathroom and hired a tile setter to install them. But the workmanship was terrible. So now we’re going to tear it all out and start over. But we want to make sure we get a good tile contractor this time. How can we find someone who is competent to do this work? –Laurel

DEAR LAUREL: Finding a qualified contractor can sometimes be a shot in the dark, but there is a good way to find competent flooring installers. Stores that sell flooring materials seldom employ their own workers. Instead, they contract with various carpet layers, vinyl installers and tile setters. And these store owners usually know which contractors are better than the others.

The next time you buy floor tiles, ask the vendor which tile installer is the best of the bunch. That person is the one you should request to retile your bathroom.

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