Inspecting Older Homes Requires a Different Skill Set

A different set of standards is usually required when performing a home inspection on older houses as opposed to new construction. Risks that do not apply to newer structures are often found lurking around older properties. Changes over time can result in many threats to the integrity of the property that cannot be recognized except by a trained professional.

There may be small mounds of earth or exceptionally green areas of the lawn that represent the menace of abandoned wells and septic tanks. These can still sometimes be found on properties that were long ago hooked up to central water and sewer systems. A quick look at an electrical circuit breaker box and wiring might lead one to believe that everything is in order. Only a trained professional knows to look for aluminum wiring or a faulty design of circuit breakers banned from use several decades ago. On the surface, none of these hazards are obvious.

Yet they represent exactly the sort of structural risk that professional inspections catch. Nobody other than a highly-competent professional is expected to know that certain brands of siding and roofing were recalled long ago or that some models of smoke detectors are useless. Comprehensive inspections are not about checking the boxes on a form but about uncovering the risks hidden deep inside even the most solid-seeming structure. Thirty years of remodeling may disguise the original lead-based paint on the walls. There is no way of knowing just by looking at the current layer of latex paint, or even the five layers of latex paint underneath it. Few people even know how to begin looking for such a health risk.

This is not to say that every older home represents a lurking catastrophe. Many of them represent finer examples of enduring craftsmanship than newer models. The point is that a well-done inspection can save money on costly future repairs as well as ensure a family’s safety in their new home. Catching problems before closing on a house means that the previous owner gets to fix things that the new owners will then enjoy for years to come. In this regard, the services of a good home inspector more than pay for themselves, while the services of an unqualified one are simply a waste of money. In fact, a poor inspector is worse than useless, since they engender a false sense of security. Here is a quick checklist of things you need in a home inspector:

  • Someone who is not in a hurry or afraid to get dirty. Most of the problems a home inspector needs to find are not in clean, easy-to-access parts of the house.
  • Someone who is fully vetted on the hidden risks of housing construction. Many products that were used in good faith in the past have since been proven to be failures at their intended purposes.
  • Someone who will fight for you. A good inspector is like a good umpire in baseball. He must call them like he sees them, regardless of how the realtors or loan companies want the home inspection to turn out.

The National Association of Certified Home Inspectors, Inc. (InterNACHI) has resources that can be invaluable to a home owner. Inspectors who are members of the InterNACHI and other associations must meet strict membership requirements and qualifications, including experience, training, professional affiliations and compliance with their state’s regulations. Starting with associations like InterNACHI is a great idea for home owners, and can assure that the home owner can hire the right Home Inspector and know the general principles, processes and requirements of a professional home inspection.