One of the most important steps in purchasing a home is having it professionally inspected. A professional inspection can reveal hidden defects in a home and can provide a list of items that will require maintenance or repair during your ownership. Quality and thoroughness of home inspectors varies widely. Many inspectors show up armed only with a digital camera, a ladder and a pad of paper. (Some don’t even bother with a ladder!) However, in our experience, the best inspectors carry an array of gadgets to get at some of the hard-to-detect problems in a home.
On a recent inspection, I took a look through the toolkit of Bruce and Cullen MacKintosh from Centennial Home Inspection Services to see what sort of gear you should expect to see with a top-notch home inspector.
Let’s get the basics out of the way. Every home inspector needs to show up with a digital camera and a ladder. No ladder means that they will avoid important hidden areas like the roof or attic. You’d be surprised by the number of inspectors who don’t even bother with the ladder and should avoid them if you value a complete evaluation of the home you are buying.
Bruce and Cullen carry a toolkit loaded with a variety of fancy and not-so-fancy gadgets. Here are some of the important goodies.
- Screwdrivers – Whether to remove panels, open a cover, or to poke through rotted wood, an assortment of long and short screwdrivers is probably the home inspector’s best friend.
- Mirror – When you are trying to see in hard to reach areas, like on the inside of a furnace or vent, a mirror with an extension arm gets you there.
- Water pressure gauge – Low water pressure is pretty obvious, but high pressure isn’t. Both are bad for a plumbing system, and a pressure gauge gives a quick and accurate reading to see if you need pressure regulation or enhancement for the home.
- Matches – A simple device that is infinitely useful to test how a chimney flue draws air or to light a pilot light.
- Circuit tester – Improperly wired receptacles are more common than you think. This handy little device will tell you if the polarity of the circuit is correct, whether it is grounded or not, and will allow you to check to see if the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) are working correctly.
- Coveralls – Any inspector worth their fee is going to have to get dirty and crawl around in cramped crawl spaces.
Some moisture damage is obvious due to stains or wet walls and flooring, but most moisture damage is hidden behind walls and underneath floors. An electronic moisture meter can read water content behind these surfaces and tell you if an area is dry or potentially wet and damaged.
Remote Laser Temperature Reader
These thermometers can instantly read the temperature of any surface that the laser beam can reach. The most common use for these is to quickly evaluate if all heat/cooling vents are operational. It is even handier for things like heated floors which heat up slowly and can be hard to determine whether they are operating properly throughout a particular room.
Carbon Monoxide Detector
Any home with fuel-burning appliances can be at risk for excess carbon monoxide emissions. An improperly burning flame in a furnace or water heater can give off this odorless, yet poisonous and potentially fatal gas. A portable combustion analyzer will allow your inspector to measure for this quickly and accurately.
Combustible Gas Detector
If your home has natural gas or propane service, there is a potential for your piping to have leaks. Natural gas is infused with odorants to give it a strong smell like rotten eggs. For significant leaks, your nose is all that you will need to detect it, but for minor leaks, one of these detectors will catch what your nose cannot, finding even minute leaks due to improper piping.
Testing the flow of electricity isn’t something you can eyeball, and it isn’t something you want to try to test by hand. A multimeter allows you to quickly and accurately test electrical circuits.
This might not be carried by the typical home inspector, but there are companies who specialize in scoping underground sewer lines for problems, pipe breaks and blockage. A small camera and light is placed at the end of a stiff cable that is pushed through the pipes underneath the home. A video recording of the entire length of pipe is captured, and if problems are discovered, the inspector can use an above ground locator to find exactly where you need to dig. (The camera sends out a radio signal so that you can locate it from above ground.)
Choose a professional inspector
A professional home inspector will comply with state licensing and training requirements, often is a member of one or more professional inspector associations and will come equipped with a wide variety of gadgets to help uncover potential problems in the home you are buying. Shop carefully for an inspector and ask your real estate agent for recommendations.