June, 2007
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Developing a Support Network Helps Offset Inexperience

ROGER HANKEY

In late 2004, I was called upon to render a second opinion about a roof structure. A non-ASHI home inspector had reported an adverse condition in the attic, and the seller hired me to respond to the buyer’s demand for further investigation.

When I first examined the attic, I was told that the concern was the rafters, but they seemed fine to me. They were rough 2x4s in an unfinished attic of a 112-year-old South Minneapolis duplex. The rafters had very little sag, and I found only one knot that had a split of about 50 percent. I asked for the name and number of the inspector, and when I reached him by phone, he said, “Oh, no, it isn’t the rafters; it’s the tilting chimney.”

I said, “What do you mean, tilting? It is offset.” He didn’t seem to understand.

The chimney in this case was offset an inch per foot of height in the attic; therefore, it was offset about 8 inches so it would exit alongside the ridge board. The ridge board was not in contact with the chimney.

I’ve seen many chimneys like this and several with much greater offsets.

I took the photos shown here, wrote a brief report and took a small fee from the frustrated property seller. He was upset that an inspector had recommended further evaluation on a condition that was typical for the age and type of construction.

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On the long drive to my next inspection, I had a chance to reflect on why this situation occurred.

1. The inspector obviously had not seen an offset chimney before. Instead of deferring judgment about something new, his inexperience led him to list it as an adverse condition and call for further investigation.

2. Unfortunately, this resulted in a disservice to all parties
for the following reasons:

a. Experience would lead an inspector to observe that
the mortar joints are level.

b. The building is over 100 years old and the attic portion of the chimney is in good condition, with no pressure or contact with the ridge board.

c. Listing this chimney as an adverse condition without checking further is a direct result of inexperience, which hurts his inspection and the profession.

It seems to me that incorrect inspection findings could be reduced if ASHI Inspectors remember that they see what they know, and that when they see something for the first time, they should respond with the curiosity and thoughtfulness necessary to produce a report based on accurate observations and sound judgment.

Referring the client to a specialist for further investigation is not wrong, but it should not be our automatic first response to something new to us. Another approach taken by many experienced inspectors is to make a quick call to a trusted colleague for a little help over the phone. I both make and receive such calls on a regular basis, and I am pleased to know that my fellow ASHI members respect me enough to provide answers and entrust me with their questions. None of us knows it all, and everyone may have a blind spot. Knowing that we can rely on other ASHI members and ASHI chapters makes all of us better inspectors. Whenever another inspector calls you for advice, do your best to give whatever you can. Together, we can provide better service to our clients and raise the image of our profession.

Article previously published in the Heartland ASHI Chapter newsletter December 2004.