DEAR BARRY: Last week, we replaced our old, leaky water heater, but there was a huge additional expense. The plumber said our exhaust flue didn’t meet code. It was installed through a basement window and did not extend up to the roof. We paid an additional $600 to install a proper flue pipe. When we bought the home two years ago, our home inspector did not report this problem. If he had, we could have requested repair by the sellers. Is our home inspector liable for the cost of this repair? –George
DEAR GEORGE: A flue pipe should not terminate at an openable window because this allows exhaust gases to enter the home. A defect of this kind should be obvious to any qualified home inspector. You may have a valid claim against your inspector, but there are a few complications that are likely to cloud the issue.
First is the $600 charge to extend the flue pipe above the roof line or to another approved location. Unless there were extraordinary circumstances to prevent a simple flue pipe installation, it is difficult to justify this many dollars for a routine installation. Your home inspector may claim that you were overcharged for the repair, and he might be correct in that assertion.
Second is the fact that you repaired the problem before notifying your home inspector. Many home inspection contracts contain a requirement that you contact your inspector before making repairs. This allows the inspector to evaluate the situation and propose a solution.
In some cases, alleged defects, when reinspected, turn out not to be problems at all. At other times, repairs of actual defects can be made for less money than proposed by a plumber or other contractor. Making repairs without first notifying the home inspector may have violated the home inspection contract, and the inspector may be legally absolved of liability.
Regardless of extenuating circumstances, it appears likely that your inspector did overlook a significant and apparent defect. All you can do at this point is to contact the inspector, arrange to meet at your home, and try to negotiate a reasonable settlement.
DEAR BARRY: Most of the outlets in my garage are equipped with ground-fault devices to prevent electric shock, but there are none at the laundry outlets. I discovered this recently and wondered why it was not disclosed by my home inspector when I bought the house. Was this an oversight, and should I call the inspector? –Darrell
DEAR DARRELL: Ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) are required for most, but not all, garage outlets. Exceptions to the requirement include outlets that are intended for dedicated appliances, such as washers and dryers. This is why your laundry outlets do not have ground-fault protection, and it is why your home inspector made no mention of it in the inspection report.
Most people have seen GFCI outlets but know little about them. They are the outlets, often seen in bathrooms, with two built-in buttons: one to test and one to reset the breaker. GFCI outlets are not required for laundry fixtures because old GFCI outlets would trip unnecessarily when appliance motors turned on. With newer GFCI outlets, this is no longer a problem.