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What do home inspectors most typically find?

October 21, 2014

By Pam Leibfried

If you’re upgrading to a bigger home – or downsizing to a smaller one now that your kids are grown and out of the house – it’s likely that the potential buyer of your current home will want a home inspection before the purchase is finalized. But what exactly do home inspectors check for? The American Society of Home Inspectors’ official Standards of Practice cite 10 critical areas for inspection: structure, exterior, roofing system, plumbing system, electrical system, heating system, air conditioning system, interior, insulation and ventilation, and fireplaces.

Below, we discuss two of the problems most commonly found by home inspectors – wiring problems and water damage. In order to avoid delays in finalizing the sale of your home, you may want to address these issues before putting your house on the market.

Shocking electrical problems

A survey conducted by the American Society of Home Inspectors found that improper electrical wiring was one of the most frequently found problems in homes that their members inspect. Two issues they cited were faulty amateur wiring and improper grounding.

Amateur wiring: Do-it-yourselfers often cobble together wiring in ways that are not up to code and do not pass muster with home inspectors. Exposed wiring, sloppy or loose connections, inadequate circuit protection (adding new wiring without adding a new circuit), and improper wire sizes are mistakes that amateurs commonly make, and they all pose fire hazards. If you, or a friend or relative, did wiring in your house and you’re not sure if it is up to code, have a licensed electrician check it out before you sell.

Improper grounding: The National Electrical Code (NEC) requires that ground fault interceptor circuits (GFIC) are installed in the following types of electrical outlets (effective date of requirement appears in parentheses):

  • Outdoors (since 1973) 
  • Bathrooms (since 1975) 
  • Garages (since 1978) 
  • Kitchens (since 1987) 
  • Crawl spaces and unfinished basements (since 1990) 
  • Wet bar sinks (since 1993) 
  • Laundry and utility sinks (since 2005)

If you are a do-it-yourselfer who has installed non-GFIC outlets in any of these locations, you should replace them with GFIC outlets before putting your home on the market. This will head off a likely home inspector “red flag” when you sell. And in the interim, GFIC outlets will protect your family by reducing the risk of electrocution from a faulty appliance. 

Water damage

HGTV’s Rick Yerger says that water is the number one enemy of every home. "Of the many homes I have inspected," Rick says, "water damage to the structure has been the most damaging and costly." There are two main culprits for water damage: roof leaks and bad exterior drainage.

Roofs: Before listing your house for sale, make sure that any loose shingles or flashing are fixed. And if your roof used to leak but you had the problem fixed, be sure that any visible signs of that old leak are addressed. You don’t want a potential buyer or an inspector thinking that your roof still leaks just because you never got around to repainting a water-stained ceiling in the upstairs guest bedroom.

Exterior drainage: If your gutters and downspouts leak or don’t drain water far enough away from your house, or if your lawn is not graded to slope away from the house, water can seep into your basement or crawlspace. Water can cause the foundation to crack and settle or lead to dry rot or mold, and that type of structural damage is unlikely to be overlooked by a home inspector. If your gutters or downspouts are the issue, replacing or repairing a section of gutters is a task that is simple enough for the average do-it-yourselfer to manage. Downspout extensions, too, are inexpensive and easy to install. Changing the grade of a lawn, however, is a more complex process, so you may want to consult a professional instead of attempting it yourself. But if you do decide to tackle this project on your own, please remember that you need to locate and avoid underground gas, water, electrical and cable lines. For safety’s sake, consult your local utilities to find out what lies beneath the surface of your lawn before you start digging.