September, 2006
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Misunderstandings & Communication


An inspection experience

Carbon Monoxide and a two-week-old child made this inspection very interesting. I arrived to find the seller at home caring for an infant. She offered to leave, but I suggested she wait and leave in an hour or so when the buyer arrived.

I began the inspection in the basement laundry and immediately noticed an older-model carbon monoxide detector plugged into the receptacle behind the washer and dryer. I unplugged the detector, examined the label on the back and discovered that it was more than five years old.

I showed this to Ms. Homeowner (mother of the infant), and suggested that she obtain a new detector since the sensor in her detector was no longer reliable. I also offered her the opportunity to purchase a CO Experts Low Level monitor directly from me. She took the brochure I offered, and a short while later, asked me to bring in a CO Experts monitor for her. I agreed and set up the new monitor for her.


The home was heated with a 38-year-old American Standard boiler. I didn’t run or test the boiler until near the end of the inspection, as I like to have the buyer present to see the carbon monoxide testing. I found no visible concerns on the boiler. However, the vent connection to the chimney had a long horizontal run and was partly hidden by a wood paneling cover in the basement family room. (I recommended the bottom of the cover be removed to examine the vent connection.)


The buyer arrived, the seller departed, and eventually I did the carbon monoxide tests on the water heater, gas oven and the boiler. The water heater and oven were well within normal limits, but the boiler CO levels, measured in the vent below the draft hood, were OVER 2200 PPM. Fortunately, the CO level in the air in the boiler room, basement and elsewhere in the house were 0 PPM.

The buyer’s agent had arrived by this time, and I explained to the buyer and agent that the boiler would need immediate service; while it was not leaking or spilling carbon monoxide, it was dangerous, and the repair should happen that night or the next morning.

I prepared a copy of the carbon monoxide test portion of my report, and asked the buyer for permission to leave a copy at the boiler to be certain that any service technician would know the results of my tests. The buyer agreed. I also left a note for the seller, indicating the boiler needed immediate service due to elevated levels of carbon monoxide in the vent.

My explanation of the problem to the agent must not have been adequate because she began to talk about elevated levels of carbon monoxide in the house. I said NO, the boiler is MAKING CO, NOT LEAKING CO. She said she understood, but three minutes later during her call to the listing agent, she again said the boiler was leaking Carbon Monoxide. I interrupted her and asked her to correct her statement to the other agent.

We packed up and left, but before I arrived back at the office, the listing agent had left a message for me to call him. When I returned his call, he said the sellers didn’t understand how the new low-level monitor I sold them didn’t warn them of the high levels of Carbon Monoxide. I carefully explained the difference between readings taken in the vent and the level in the ambient air. He understood and said he would explain it to the seller.

I called him two days later for feedback and learned that the seller had called CenterPoint Energy the night of the inspection. CenterPoint Energy red-tagged the boiler, shut it down and the seller spent the night elsewhere.

The boiler was repaired the next day at a cost of $600. I asked if everyone was satisfied with this outcome and the agent said YES. He said everyone was happy that they would be safe.

This misunderstanding taught me to be even clearer about the levels of Carbon Monoxide in the ambient air of the house. I’ve added a line in my CO test report listing the level of CO in the indoor ambient air. I’ll also be much more careful explaining elevated levels of CO to all parties involved.