There are a number of things that can be done to prepare for a home inspection. The buyer or real estate agent should work with the seller to ensure that:
- The utilities are turned on
- Pilot lights are lit for any heating or cooking appliances that will be inspected
- Heating units are accessible
- Electrical panels are accessible and unlocked
- The attic area is accessible and cleared of stored items
- Crawl space entrances are accessible and unlocked, and that they are not screwed or nailed shut
- Showers and bathtubs are free of stored or personal items
- Sinks and dishwashers are cleared of dishes, and the area beneath all sinks should be free of stored items
- Any pets are secured for the inspector’s safety
- All items and areas to be inspected are readily accessible
- The utilities are turned on.
Electric, gas and all other utilities should be working so that your inspector can properly test and operate all the systems and components in the home. Some home inspectors may charge a fee to return to the home and inspect anything that they could not properly inspect or test the first time, so don’t overlook this!
- Pilot lights are lit for any heating or cooking appliances that will be inspected.
Home inspectors will NOT light pilot lights for stoves or heating units. These units need to be operational at the time of inspection. Put yourself in the inspector’s shoes for this one: would you want to walk into an unfamiliar home and ignite an appliance that may not have been properly maintained or repaired? For an inspector, it’s an invitation to a disaster or a lawsuit, and a home inspector WILL NOT take that chance.
- Heating units are accessible.
This means that the area around the furnace, boiler or other heating appliance is free of stored items and clutter. Your home inspector is not required to (and in most cases WILL NOT) move items away from the heating unit in order to do his or her job.
- Electrical panels are accessible and unlocked.
All electrical panels and sub-panels should be readily accessible so that the inspector can remove the panel cover and inspect the wiring within. Also, be aware that a home inspector may refuse to inspect an electrical panel if part or all of the panel or distribution box is wet, or shows signs of fire damage or short-circuiting.
- The attic area is accessible and cleared of stored items.
The attic of a home is a very important area. By inspecting the attic, a home inspector can diagnose the causes of roof damage or premature roof failure, mold, ice dams, and many other problems with the home. This area should be readily accessible. Your home inspector needs to be able to get into the attic, first of all. Scuttle holes, walk-up accesses and pull-down stairs should be unobstructed and free of stored items so that an adult male can enter freely. If access to the attic is gained through a closet ceiling, then the closet area should be free of clothing and other stored items in order to allow the inspector to place his ladder there and climb into the attic.
In the attic area, be sure that all areas of the attic are visible and accessible. Remember – a home inspection is a visible evaluation of the home….if it is not visible, it cannot be properly inspected.
- Crawl space entrances are accessible and unlocked, and that they are not screwed or nailed shut.
Another important area of the home is the crawl space. Let’s face it…nobody likes to go down there. Crawl spaces hold all kinds of unsavory things: rodents, snakes and spiders, not to mention plumbing, electrical and structural components that are rarely seen. So it stands to reason that the crawl space is one of the least maintained areas of a home, but one of the most important. Be sure that your inspector can gain access to the crawl space to view the floor structure, wall structure and any plumbing or electrical components in that area of the home. If you contact a home inspector and they state that they do not inspect crawl spaces, look for another home inspector. But be aware that your inspector is within his rights to refuse to enter a crawl space if the area presents an obvious health hazard such as standing water, leaking sewage, evidence of rodent activity, evidence of snakes or other life or health-threatening situations.
- Showers and bathtubs are free of stored or personal items.
One aspect of the plumbing inspection is running water into tubs, showers and sinks in order to look for leaks and obstructions, and to ascertain that the plumbing fixtures are in good working order. Obviously, if the tub is full of clothes or other items, your inspector will not run water into it and will not be able to properly inspect the plumbing components.
- Sinks and dishwashers are cleared of dishes, and the area beneath all sinks should be free of stored items.
A home inspector needs to be able to see and freely inspect the plumbing and drainage components for sinks, dishwashers and garbage disposals. Be sure that the inspector is able to access these areas so that YOU can be sure that everything is in good working order.
- Any pets are secured for the inspector’s safety.
Even Chihuahuas can turn into Cujo when a new person shows up in their home. You, or the home seller, may think that the dog is not a threat, but bear in mind that the dog doesn’t know the home inspector, and the home inspector doesn’t know the dog. Unfamiliarity can sometimes breed contempt: the dog has never seen the inspector and may view him or her as a threat. Your inspector is there to sniff out problems in the home, and may not have an extra half-hour to gain Fido’s trust. It is always best to tie or otherwise secure any pets during a home inspection. An important note about cats; cats may not pose a threat to the inspector but cats love running out of the house and getting into the attic. Nobody want to spend hours looking for the lost cat. Please secure them too.
- All items and areas to be inspected are readily accessible.
This may seem redundant, after discussion about crawl space accessibility, attic accessibility, etc. But it bears repeating. Home inspectors will not normally move items out of the way to inspect systems or components, and most inspectors will take pictures of obstructed areas to document that there were items in the way at the time of inspection in order to absolve themselves from litigation issues. So if an area is not accessible and visible, the home buyer is ultimately the person who is short-changed after paying several hundred dollars for an inspection. In my experience, home inspectors are very qualified in general…rarely have I encountered a home inspector who doesn’t take their task seriously. But a home inspector is only as good as their accessibility.