Home inspections are conducted by an objective third party. Inspectors are typically hired by a home buyer during a purchase, but home inspections can be performed anytime. The inspection is visual and noninvasive, meaning the inspector will investigate the physical structure of the house and its internal systems but won’t open up walls or lift up flooring.

A professional inspector is a housing generalist; he or she will understand the elements of home construction, proper installation, how the systems of the house should function—independently and as a unit—and how they should have been maintained. The home inspector can also recognize the signs that a system or component may be about to fail.

The homeowner is responsible for providing the inspector with safe access and adequate lighting to facilitate the inspection. The buyer or homeowner doesn’t have to accompany the inspector through the house, but it is recommended by the American Society of Home Inspectors. Walking the property with the inspector can help the buyer or owner become more familiar with the home and its systems, and it allows the opportunity to ask questions about the condition of the home and how it should be maintained.

A basic inspection should include an examination of the home’s following elements:

  • Structural integrity
  • Exterior—attached decks and patios are typically included, but outbuildings and freestanding decks are not
  • Roofing system
  • Plumbing system
  • Electrical system
  • Heating and air conditioning systems
  • Interior
  • Insulation and ventilation
  • Fireplaces and solid-fuel-burning appliances

While quite comprehensive, a basic home inspection does not cover all the recommended tests that potential buyers should consider. Further inspection should be conducted for:

  • Lead paint
  • Water quality
  • Wood-destroying insects, including termites
  • Air quality, including radon gases
  • Fungi, mold, and allergens

These types of home issues require a licensed professional to assess them. Though some home inspectors are licensed to test for these issues, the tests are not part of a basic home inspection and would have to be contracted as additional services or acquired through other qualified professionals in those fields.

At the conclusion of the home inspection, inspectors are required to provide a written report of their findings. It should contain descriptions of the general condition of the property and notations of any visible problems, in addition to whether repairs are needed, whether there are any risks of concealed damage, and whether further investigation is recommended or required.

A home inspection can provide peace of mind for a home buyer, but it is also a worthwhile investment for any homeowner interested in the current condition and future viability of his or her home.

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Sources: American Society of Home Inspectors; Commonwealth of Massachusetts; EBSCOhost Home Improvement Reference Center: Kiplinger’s Buying & Selling a Home; National Association of Home Inspectors.

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