What is a home inspection?
A home inspection is a non-invasive (visual) assessment of the condition of a home’s major systems based on readily accessible components of those systems. It focuses on issues that may affect the performance of the home, rather than code compliance or cosmetic issues.
In more detail:
A home inspection is:
A non-invasive (visual) assessment: It determines the condition of a home’s major systems based on a visual review of the readily accessible components of those systems.
Performance-focused: It focuses on issues that may affect the performance of the home, rather than code compliance or cosmetic issues.
Time-specific: It represents a professional opinion of the condition of the home and its performance at the time the inspection was carried out. While conditions that may lead to issues with specific systems are often identified during the inspection, the inspection does not predict future performance of the home. Components that are unsafe or near the end of their life are identified during the inspection.
Documented in writing: In addition to the presentation of the findings during the inspection, the main deliverable of the home inspection is a concise inspection report documenting all the findings in writing.
When and why do you need a home inspection?
For a lot people, the purchase of a home is the biggest financial investment they will ever make in their life. It stands to reason that most home inspections are performed in the context of a real state transaction. In this setting, an analogy for the home inspection process would be having a car evaluated by your mechanic before buying it, but with the financial stakes being 100 times higher in the typical real state transaction.
Regarding the scope of a home inspection, a good analogy would be that of a periodic medical checkup. You would not go around visiting a dozen medical specialists, rather you go to your family doctor, who examines you and may or may not refer you to a specific medical specialist as required. In the same fashion, it would be logistically difficult and perhaps cost prohibitive to engage an electrician, a plumber, a roofing contractor, a structural engineer, a building envelope specialist, among others, to perform a coordinated battery of inspections for your home. This is where your trusted home inspector comes into play, fulfilling the role of generalist, identifying potential concerns and possibly recommending further evaluation for specific system(s) as required.
Other situations where a client may benefit from the “generalist consultant” assistance offered by a home inspector include:
Upon taking delivery of a newly constructed home (a Pre-delivery inspection)
Right before expiry of the warranty by the builder of a new home (Year-end Warranty / Tarion inspection)
Before listing a property (as the seller) to ensure your seller disclosure statement is complete (Pre-listing inspection)
Preventive or maintenance inspection, to ensure you are properly maintaining your home.
Pre-construction inspections: If you are concerned regarding upcoming construction in town-houses or semi-detached homes and want to document the condition of your home prior to construction being carried out by your neighbour.
What a home inspection is not:
Understanding what a home inspection is not intended to be helps you know what to expect during the home inspection, helps you make better use of your time during the inspection and possibly identify additional maintenance programs or services you may want to procure for your home.
A home inspection is not:
An environmental review or air quality assessment: Environmental assessments typically require physical sampling and laboratory testing of the samples for specific contaminants or organisms that may affect occupant health and safety.
An energy audit: These audits require detailed calculations and blower-door tests performed with specialized equipment to determine specific retrofits to the home’s HVAC system for higher efficiency and occupant comfort.
A code or design review: This type of review may also require specific calculations and focuses on criteria that go beyond the perceived performance of systems and components.
An invasive or destructive test: At the point in time when a home inspection is typically performed in the context of a real state transaction, there is no possibility or desire to remove finishes and dismantle systems for testing.
Intended to identify concealed defects: Given the access limitations during a standard inspection, defects concealed behind finishes or underground could go undetected if no visible evidence of said defects is present during the home inspection.
Intended to predict future performance or fitness for specific uses.
A warranty or insurance policy on the home, or a substitute for seller disclosure statements.
Possible findings of a home inspection
During the inspection and in the report, items that your inspector will identify would fall in different categories and it is important to understand these categories and the reasons your inspector brings each of these up:
Minor imperfections: These are not the main purpose of a home inspection and are noted by your inspector for your convenience, so you may address them if you wish to.
Maintenance recommendations: These are also not the main purpose of a home inspection, but some important maintenance items are noted as a courtesy, to ensure you have the correct information to preserve your home and investment.
Major defects: Finding major defects is the main goal of a home inspection. These are issues that will significantly affect the performance of your home and/or will require large expenditures to correct.
Conditions or situations that lead to major defects: An example would be a home where no signs of basement leakage are observed, but has poor downspout terminations and grade sloping towards the house. These conditions are often addressed at a fraction of the cost before they become a major defect.
Issues that may affect your ability to occupy, finance or insure your home: Such as the refusal of some institutions to finance or insure homes with knob-and-tube wiring or aluminum wiring or at least require specialized inspections by licensed electricians.
Safety hazards: These are issues that need to be addressed immediately due to the danger they pose to the occupants of the home.
Defects and keeping things in perspective
Your home inspector is there to help you navigate through all the information received over a short period of time and put each issue or piece of information in their proper context. While you are the only person in the position to evaluate the personal and financial implications of any specific defect brought to your attention during the home inspection process, it is important to keep in mind that no home is perfect (including more recently-built ones) and it may not be worth aborting the transaction over certain minor items or deferred maintenance.
For major defects that may affect your ability (or willingness) to complete the purchase, your best course of action is to get several estimates to have the defect addressed and re-evaluate your decision with all the cards on the table. This course of action is helped if you have your home inspection as early in the process as you can. This provides you with more time to procure estimates prior to your deadline to remove conditions from your offer.