How important is a home inspection when buying a home? And what is inspected during a home inspection? First off, doing a home inspection is not mandatory. But considering the magnitude of the purchase – a home – doing a home inspection is highly recommended.
What does the home inspector inspect?
A home inspector will look at many aspects in and around the home. The most important items and areas a home inspector examines are:
- Attic, Insulation & Ventilation
- Foundation & Structure
- Drainage & Grading
- Heating & Cooling
- Doors & Windows
- Security & Safety features
These days, most home inspectors use drones to check the roof. A home inspector should be able to give you an approximate life span of the shingles. However, it is also wise to ask the sellers for the age of the shingles to confirm. Besides the shingles, the inspector also looks at the roof drainage, the flashings, any sky lights, the chimney etc. Just note that most home inspectors only check the outside state of the chimney. A certified WETT inspector is needed for a full in-and-out inspection of a chimney and fireplace. WETT stands for Wood Energy Technology Transfer.
The home inspector checks many items on the exterior of the home. Calgary homes come with many different options in siding: vinyl, stucco, wood, hardie board, etc. Every kind of siding has its pros and cons in Calgary’s climate. Besides siding, all flashings and trims are inspected, as well as any decks, balconies, porches, railings, windows, fence gates, parging, awnings, etc. Also, the garage door is part of the exterior and is subject to inspection.
Attic, insulation & ventilation
The attic contains insulation, and a home inspector can determine if there is enough insulation present to save on energy.
It is also important that the home inspector checks for enough ventilation under the roof. Enough ventilation is important to prevent condensation in the attic. Too much condensation can open a ‘can of worms’ in the attic, such as mould, excessive heat of the shingles on hot days and ice damming in the winter. Especially in Calgary’s climate with hard winters, hot summers and where freezing and thawing can occur in a matter of hours, these issues are better prevented than mitigated. A home inspector can offer advice to increase ventilation, and, if needed, a professional roofer can be contacted for a consult.
A home inspector can also recognize the (potential) presence of asbestos in the attic, if any is visible. If asbestos is in walls or in the ceiling, the inspector can only assume that asbestos is present. In such a case, the inspector can refer to a certified asbestos company for testing. Asbestos was regularly used in homes up to the late ‘70’s, and, occasionally until the mid 80’s.
Foundation & Structure
A home inspector checks the foundation and structure of a home. Many foundations in Calgary homes, especially in older homes, show cracks. These cracks are usually caused by settling and are not necessarily an issue. If a home inspector doesn’t trust a crack, s/he will advise a specialized company be contacted for further investigation.
Overall, a home inspection definitely reduces the risk of buying a “problematic” home
If a mildew odour is present in the home, the inspector is often able to detect it. Even though Calgary is in a very dry area, mould can still be found in a home. The smell of mould or mildew is usually difficult for a seller to conceal. The potential costs and headaches a home owner can run into when mould or dampness are present is worth the few hundred dollars for a home inspection.
In Calgary, most foundations are concrete; however, a small percentage of homes have wooden foundations. Overall, wooden foundations are somewhat stigmatized in Calgary, and opinions on wooden foundations range widely. Do your own research and contact an engineer for the inspection of a wooden foundation.
Drainage and grading
In addition to investigating the foundation, a home inspector will inspect the grading on the exterior landscaping. Water must flow away from the home during rain. If this is not the case, foundation issues may arise. Grading issues are a fairly common issue in Calgary, and improper grading can result in possible damage to the foundation of the home. A home inspector can give advice on any grading issues. Simply installing new gutters and downspouts can often remedy this problem.
These days, 100 amps is the norm in a Calgary home. Some homes still have 60 amp electrical systems, and some homes still have aluminum wiring. The home inspector can clarify if a home’s electrical system needs updating. One note about the electrical is that some home insurance will not cover aluminum wiring. If the electrical system raises any concerns, it is wise to contact a certified electrician. In general, a home inspector will test and check many elements within the electrical such as the panel, outlets and the presence of AFCI breakers, etc.
It is up to the buyer to check ‘with the naked eye’ for anything cosmetic
Furthermore, a home inspector will inspect the piping material for copper, PEX, PVC, Poly B, etc. Every type of piping has its pros and cons. Poly B, especially, is stigmatized, and not every insurance covers Poly B anymore. Also, here, of course, the inspector checks for any leaks, any draining issues, the functioning of the sump pump and so forth.
Heating & cooling
HVAC, heating, ventilation and air conditioning help to maintain a good indoor air quality. The home inspector checks anything involved here.
The most common source of heating in Calgary are gas furnaces. Furnaces have a life span of 15 to 25 years, but in Calgary we have seen furnaces up and running since a 1967 installation. Only high efficiency furnaces are installed these days. However, many home inspectors will tell a buyer to ‘pamper’ the mid-efficiency furnaces. The high-efficiency furnaces seem to cost more in maintenance and don’t last as long, as many things made today are not made to last.
Besides the furnace, the hot water tank or on-demand-hot-water heater and the humidifier are subject to an inspection, as well as the gas fireplace(s) and air conditioning system. In Calgary, though, older air conditioners cannot be checked when the outside temperature is below 15 or 16 degrees Celsius.
Furthermore, many newer homes are equipped with an indoor air quality system, solar system and vacuflow system which a home inspector will check.
Door and Windows
The home inspector is still a generalist, yet can refer to a specialist
Security and Safety features
An inspector will look at the standard security features that protect your home, such as the types of locks on the doors, the windows and patio doors. He will also check the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and where those are located throughout the home.
Most home inspectors will test appliances. However, testing appliances may give limited results. For example, the dishwasher may work, but the home inspector cannot guarantee the dishes will come out 100% clean. The same applies to the washer and dryer. Also, appliances can work one day and fail the next day or on the day of possession.
Disclaimer: we are not home inspectors. The above-mentioned list of items that a home inspector inspects is not necessarily complete.
The home inspector is a generalist
The above mentioned is not a complete list but gives a reasonable idea of what to expect from a home inspector. Even though a home inspector has some powerful tools such as a thermal imaging machine and a moisture meter, the home inspector is still a generalist. Yet, if a home inspector finds an issue that is, or can become, a concern, the buyer can seek the advice of a specialist in that field. For example, if issues around the electrical are not clear, a professional electrician can be brought in. Or a concrete specialist can give a professional opinion if a crack in the basement raises suspicion. Sometimes it may be even necessary to consult with an engineer.
A home inspection is not for cosmetic issues
Also, home inspectors don’t check for cosmetic issues. It is up to the buyer to check, ‘with the naked eye’ for anything cosmetic. That includes the scratch in the wooden floor under the rug, under the coffee table, etc.
However, overall, a home inspection definitely reduces the risk of buying a “problematic” home. Besides that, a new homeowner is made aware of any issues that need attention. Good upkeep is still the best practice, and it’s better to prevent issues rather than face high costs in remediation.
Many home inspectors in Calgary are knowledgeable about building codes. Some older homes have certain components that are not up to today’s building codes. That does not mean that the seller must remediate the issue, but for a buyer it is good to know what to expect when doing renovations. One example has to do with basement windows. Many older homes have smaller windows that are not E-gress. The home inspector can point this out, and the buyer can do research into the expected replacement cost.
The power of thermal imaging
The thermal imaging machine is a powerful tool that home inspectors started using around 2008. These days, almost every home inspector uses this tool, and it offers extreme valuable information to a buyer. Thermal imaging detects different temperatures.
Imagine placing your hand against any wall for mere seconds. Then, step back several meters from the wall and point the thermal imaging machine on the spot where the hand was placed. The image of the hand shows, as the machine still picks up the temperature of the human hand on the wall.
Translate this ‘super power’ to any leaks, cold drafts or active mould in the house behind walls, in between the ceiling and roof, around any plumbing, and so forth. The smallest temperature difference will show up on this camera.
To be most specific, a thermal imaging machine cannot detect mould if it is not active. Mould needs moisture to be active. Thermal imaging detects the moisture caused by a difference in temperature.
More questions about home inspections
The above-mentioned items give a decent overview of what a buyer can expect a home inspector to examine. But most buyers have many questions regarding the home inspection. For example:
- How much does a home inspection cost?
- Can I re-negotiate on price if an issue is exposed during the home inspection?
- Is it really that important to do a home inspection?
- Should I do a home inspection on an apartment?
For answers to these questions, read frequently asked questions regarding a home inspection.
Please note: The above is general information and not considered legal advice. We do our best to write informative articles about real estate in Calgary, Alberta. If you have any questions or concerns about our comments, please feel free to contact us or speak to your legal advisor.