In the complex world of home buying, thorough inspections play a vital role in securing a safe and sound investment. With eleven common types of inspections to consider, from general home inspections to more specific evaluations like radon, mold, asbestos, or lead-based paint inspections, the process can seem daunting. However, understanding these inspections is essential for potential homebuyers, as each inspection serves a unique purpose, uncovering potential problems that can save homebuyers from future headaches and costly repairs.
In this article we’ll walk you through these various inspections, illuminating their significance and helping you make informed decisions about your future home. before continuing, it should be noted that when it comes to home inspections, the notion of "cheaper is better" doesn't hold water. A hasty, inexpensive home inspection could easily overlook potential issues that could, over time, cost a homeowner thousands of dollars in repairs. For instance, an inspector hastily bypassing an attic housing a mold problem could result in $20-30k worth of remediation down the line if left unaddressed.
3 Main Types of Inspections
General Home Inspection
A General Home Inspection is designed for the buyer. It encompasses primary areas such as the structure, roof, walls, foundation, and exterior elements like doors, windows, brick, and siding. The inspector also evaluates electrical systems, including the main panel, circuit breaker or fuses, wiring, and ground fault interrupter plugs. Plumbing systems such as pipes, fixtures, and hot water heaters are also scrutinized, along with HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). A caveat regarding A/C units is that inspections can only be conducted above 60 degrees to avoid damaging the unit. The inspector will also check the insulation and ventilation of the roof, which is a significant area, as it's where mold most frequently occurs. Built-in appliances like ovens, stoves, and dishwashers are also part of this inspection. That might seem comprehensive, but it isn't exhaustive.
FHA / VA Inspections
Let's delve into FHA and VA home inspections next. It's important to note that these inspections are not primarily for the buyer's benefit; they are conducted to protect the bank's interests as they are legally required. The checklist for these inspections includes requirements such as an undamaged exterior, foundation, and roof. The property must be safely accessible, although what that precisely entails can be a bit unclear. There should be no loose wiring, and all utilities must be functioning. A working furnace is a must, but do note that there isn't a stipulation about its lifespan or CO2 checks. The property should be free from chipping paint, among other things. These inspections are typically conducted by an appraiser, not a trained home inspector. While appraisers have their expertise, they should not be seen as a substitute for a professional home inspection.
City inspections, sometimes referred to as municipal inspections, are another type to consider. Again, these are not primarily for the buyer's benefit but to satisfy the city council's standards, usually based on recommendations from the building department. Many cities in Metro Detroit and across the nation require them. Typical findings from these inspections, such as peeling paint, electrical, plumbing, or HVAC issues, must be addressed before the buyer can move in. While these inspections can be quite thorough - many city inspectors are retired tradespeople like electricians and construction workers - they are limited in scope, and the reports are not always user-friendly. For a comprehensive list of cities in Metro Detroit requiring these inspections, it's advisable to reach out to a local real estate expert.
Specialized Home Inspections
Moving on to Radon Inspections - these can be carried out whether you're buying a home or already own one. Radon is a colorless, odorless gas, a byproduct of the breakdown of radioactive elements, often seeping up from the ground. Sump pumps, being holes in the ground, are a common source. According to the EPA, approximately 1 in 15 homes in the US have radon levels exceeding the safe limit of 4 rads per million - an alarmingly high number. Radon poses serious health risks as it's a potent carcinogen, ranking as the second leading cause of lung cancer, only behind smoking. In some regions, like Southeast Michigan and the East Coast states of Maine, Vermont, and Connecticut, radon levels can reach potentially dangerous levels. To perform a radon inspection, a home inspector deploys a radon testing machine, typically in the basement, that takes readings once an hour for at least 48 hours. This helps account for fluctuations and airflow changes, such as when a window is opened. A radon inspection usually costs between $100 and $200, and given the health risks, it's highly recommended. Homeowners who didn't test for radon upon purchasing their homes can obtain a DIY kit from home improvement stores to conduct the test themselves. Safety should always be a priority.
Chimney inspections are also pivotal, though typically not conducted by a regular home inspector. If you have a gas fireplace that vents directly outside, or a wood fireplace, it's advisable to hire a professional chimney sweep for an inspection. They look for creosote buildup, a byproduct of burning wood that can accumulate over time, posing a fire risk as it's flammable and its flashpoint lowers with time and proximity to the fire. They also check for blockages, leaks, and cracks, which can lead to not just fire but also carbon monoxide poisoning. Over 400 people in the US die from CO2 poisoning annually, and around 50,000 visit the emergency room due to its effects. If your home doesn't have at least two CO2 detectors, it's imperative to purchase and install them immediately. Safety is paramount.
A Sewer Scope Inspection is highly recommended, especially in regions with older homes like Berkley, Royal Oak, Ferndale, Livonia, Westland, Southgate, and Wyandotte, to name a few. The sewer line, which runs from your toilets and sinks to the road, is the homeowner's responsibility. If it needs replacement due to damage from tree roots, costs can range from $12,000 to $20,000 - and the tree often has to be removed as well. Common, high-cost problems include potential pipe collapses, blockages, root invasion, and sediment buildup. If detected early enough, these issues can be addressed every few years before they cause catastrophic damage. Even for new construction homes, a sewer scope inspection is recommended. Debris from construction, like drywall or wood, or simply careless installation, can cause sewer lines to back up into the home, a costly problem that can usually be prevented at the builder's expense.
Niching down even further, we encounter Mold Inspections. Not to alarm anyone, but did you know that the EPA estimates that 70% of homes have some level of mold? Most of the time, it's dormant due to a lack of moisture, but when it starts growing, it presents two main problems: health and structural damage. The health issues depend on the type of mold present. There are three basic harmful types: Allergenic, which can cause asthma attacks by aggravating allergies; Pathogenic, causing symptoms in people with compromised immune systems; and the most dangerous, Toxigenic, which can cause health issues even in the healthiest individuals - note the root word 'toxic'. A laboratory-conducted mold test costs between $100 and $400 and takes 2-4 days. Secondly, it's vital to find the source of the moisture promoting mold growth, as mold feeds on organic material. Mold is nature's way of recycling, but our homes are designed to resist this natural process. But before causing undue alarm, remember that not all molds are bad. For example, Penicillin, derived from a specific mold, has saved countless lives.
An Asbestos Inspection is an important consideration, particularly for older homes. Before 1990, asbestos, a cheap, heat-resistant, and durable material, was commonly used in a myriad of building materials. However, it's also a known carcinogen. In homes, it was commonly used to wrap furnace pipes for efficiency, in vermiculite insulation before fiberglass became prevalent, in old floor tiles, and even in siding. According to experts, the most common issue arises when asbestos is disturbed, releasing harmful particles into the air which can be inhaled. If found in attic insulation, it's generally best to leave it undisturbed. If it's in basement tile flooring, encapsulation or professional removal is advised. Asbestos tests can cost between $250 and $750, depending on the scope and size of the inspection.
Pest inspections, sometimes referred to as Termite inspections, are not mandatory in the northern states for FHA loans due to the rarity of these pests. However, for VA loans, they're required. Ensure your inspector is VA certified to fill out and submit the necessary form to your lender. In southern states, like Florida, it's standard to have all homes inspected for pests. In such cases, ask for pest maintenance records from the property owner. The ideal scenario is regular checks and treatments by a professional pest control service.
For those not on city water, Well Inspections are vital. Some municipalities in Metro Detroit require these inspections, while others don't. If you have a well, it's crucial to have the water tested. A comprehensive inspection includes the well cap and casing, which prevent contaminants from entering the well. The water is tested for bacteria, nitrates, lead, arsenic, pesticides, and an excess of minerals like lead. One common contaminant, coliform, can grow at the base of a well if it hasn't been used for some time. In this case, the well must be "shocked," a process that involves adding chlorine, letting it kill all bacteria, and then flushing it out. This is a task best left to professionals, who can subsequently test the water to ensure all chlorine has been removed.
Septic Inspections are another critical aspect, especially in areas where it's mandatory before purchasing a home. If your property isn't connected to the city sewer, you have a septic tank. These systems have a reputation for being problematic, but when maintained properly, they can function effectively for up to 75 years. A thorough inspection examines the tank, the field, and the surrounding ground. The process involves checking the intake, output baffle, and partition wall, as well as any pump chamber which might have a backflow alarm. Inspectors will also scrutinize the ground around the tank for signs that it's not absorbing water correctly - an indication that an engineered field, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars, might be required. The inspection also ensures the tank is waterproof and that wastewater is being evenly distributed across the field. If you're new to owning a septic system, it's worth asking about how to maintain the tank and field properly during the inspection. Lack of maintenance can turn a $400 pump-out service into a $20,000 replacement bill.
Lead-Based Paint Inspection
Lead-Based Paint Inspections are necessary for homes built before 1978, when it was outlawed to use lead-based paint in residences. Lead is toxic, has a slightly sweet taste, and is especially harmful to children. Inspections generally cost between $250 and $700 and involve taking paint chips from each room down to the base drywall or plaster for testing. According to the EPA, encapsulation, or painting over the wall, is an effective method to mitigate the risk for families. Given that most homes have been painted multiple times since 1978, and you'll likely do so as well, the risk may already be minimized. However, this is not advice for or against testing; it's merely a statement of what the EPA recommends.
Navigating the labyrinth of home inspections might initially seem overwhelming, but understanding their importance and scope can bring peace of mind during the home buying process. The 11 types of inspections outlined here — from general home inspections to specific tests for radon, mold, asbestos, pests, and lead-based paint — are critical to securing your investment and ensuring your new home's safety and longevity. When purchasing a home in Metro Detroit, or indeed anywhere, these inspections serve as your first line of defense against unforeseen repairs and health hazards. They offer a comprehensive view of your potential home's condition, providing invaluable information that can influence your buying decision or negotiation strategy. It's not about finding a home without flaws but about knowing what those flaws are and what it would take to rectify them. Remember, a home is one of the most significant investments you'll make in your lifetime, so it's crucial to make an informed decision. Happy house hunting!
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