September, 2010
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Lessons in Risk Management: The Inaccessible Crawl Space

MICHAEL CASEY AND ROBERT PEARSON

Although some insurance claims are due to negligence on the part of the inspector, most are not. Most are the result of comments made, or not made, at the inspection and in the report.

For example, an inspector inspected an older home with a crawl space. There was a small area, somewhat of a cellar, that was accessible and a very limited portion of the crawl space was visible from the cellar.

In his report, under “Foundation,” the inspector wrote, “Crawl space partially not accessible,” along with the description of some conditions in need of repair.

This comment would seem to meet or exceed nationally accepted standards of practice and clearly alert the client that portions of the subfloor area were not accessible. The comment did not mention the crawl space was not inspected, which you would think would be obvious, since it was not accessible.

Sometime after the inspection, the buyer submitted a claim for non-disclosed deteriorated wood and significant repairs needed to the floor framing in the crawl space. Upon further review, it was discovered that numerous defects were clearly visible by simply looking with a flashlight through the screens of the subfloor ventilation openings. Defects were visible even though this portion of the crawl space itself was not accessible due to lack of clearance between the soil and floor framing (clearance was 1-foot to zero).

The moral of this story: the inspector mentioned that the crawl space was inaccessible, meeting or exceeding national standards of practice. Nevertheless, because the defects were visible simply by shining a light through ventilation openings, it was difficult to defend this claim.

Simply mentioning that the crawl space was not accessible, while complying with the standard of practice, did not alert the client to the magnitude of potential conditions. We recommend further elaboration regarding the potential conditions when areas are inaccessible:

“The home has a crawl space under the first floor. This area was not accessible for inspection. We strongly recommend that this area be made accessible and an inspection by this firm and/or a licensed pest control company be arranged prior to settlement. The crawl space contains important structural components that should be evaluated for a complete analysis of this property.”

Furthermore, if there is any opportunity to see portions of the building through alternative methods, such as a crawl space via the ventilation openings, we recommend using those methods as long as they can be used safely. If areas are not accessible for inspection, be sure to report the condition and the potential hidden conditions that may be present.