March, 2002
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

No Need for Controversy: Code relevancy to National Home Inspectors Exam and 2000 ASHI Standards of Practice Explained


Some time ago there was a dialogue in the Reporter concerning what is relevant to be included in an inspection report based on the 2000 Standards of Practice. The opposing position contended that a staircase in an existing grand old mansion may not comply with today’s needs, but need not be considered as being significantly deficient. My response was that unsafe stairs, be it broken or missing balustrades, or uneven risers, create a safety hazard that must be disclosed. The reason for the concern should also be included in the report. This is easily achieved through a simple statement such as: “Stairs are unsafe due to broken/missing balustrades and uneven risers creating a trip hazard with the potential for personal injury and requires immediate correction.”

Recently there has been a discussion as to the relevance of the National Home Inspectors Exam. The criticism is that the exam addresses code items and is far beyond the minimum dictates of the Standards of Practice. As a Member with the unique vantage point of serving on both the Standards Committee and the Examination Board of Professional Home Inspectors (EBPHI), I emphatically disagree with this contention. Fellow ASHI Standards Committee members who have participated in the creation of the exam, also fully understand the correlation of the Standards and the Exam.

We use minimum construction standards as our guide. These are called codes. The various codes deal with the minimum performance standards for safety sake. Should we be reasonably cognizant of what is included in the codes? Definitely. We do not cite code violations, but rather recommend the homebuyer consider the corrections/upgrades for increased safety and/or proper performance.

The Standards of Practice no longer provide a simple laundry list of items to be inspected, but now “establish a minimum and uniform” performance set of expectations of our Membership. We examine and differentiate the systems and components by their distinguishing characteristics. We report to the client any system or component, that in the opinion of the inspector, is “significantly deficient or are near the end of their service life.” We also recommend a course of action, such as have it repaired, monitor the condition, or defer to a more qualified specialist for the items so designated in our reports.

What determines significantly deficient? This is explained through the Glossary. The Glossary is wholly integral to the Standards of Practice. “Significantly Deficient” is defined as “Unsafe or not functioning.” “Unsafe” is further defined as “a condition in a readily accessible, installed system or component which is judged to be a significant risk of personal injury during normal day-to-day use. The risk may be due to damage, deterioration, improper installation or a change in accepted residential construction standards.”

We can use the staircase, referenced earlier, as an example. Yes, the stairs may have passed code at one time, or could be considered as being “grandfathered” by a code official, even if unsafe. Is there a greater expectation for an ASHI inspector? Again, yes, based on our own Standards. Non-ASHI inspectors may overlook narrow, poorly lit, steep stairs having no handrail, but we need to disclose unsafe conditions.  It will always be the decision of the inspector on site at the time of the inspection to determine what he/she believes creates an unsafe condition.

If the exam reflects code, is it deficient? No, codes address safety concerns. It is far simpler to point out defects if you can state or reference a source as to why you made the distinction that an item was significantly deficient. “Just because” is pretty lame. On the other hand, consider the following: because it does not comply with good building practices (based on code); has safety concerns (based on code); was installed in such a manner as to void a manufacturers’ warranty (based on code by reference); has significant rot/insect damage; and was altered in such a manner as to impinge upon the structural integrity (code by reference) to such an extent that the condition needs to be reviewed by a licensed structural engineer, etc. All are far superior to “just because.”  

Are we expected to cite code? No. Should we be aware of the various codes and have the ability to comprehend why they exist?  Definitely. Should we limit the National Home Inspectors Exam only to the Standards of Practice? Again, the answer is no. This limitation applies to the ASHI Exam required of only ASHI Members, which does deal only with the Standards and the Code of Ethics, but has no relevance as to testing for the needed minimum knowledge of home inspectors across the nation.  

A task force of more than 50 highly experienced home inspectors (most with a minimum of 10 years of experience and many with more than 25 years experience in the profession) created the initial exam series. Each year this process has been repeated through the volunteer efforts of at least 20 new inspectors. Besides these volunteer specialists from within the profession, the exam is reviewed and administered by contracted exam writing professionals, who write defensible minimum competency exams for many other professions. These contracted specialists know a great deal more about writing exams than we do.

The best possible exam is achieved by making it scientifically valid and defensible. Such an exam is based on an extensive body-of-knowledge, is accurate in its degree of difficulty, and is governed by dedicated volunteers. This is what we now have in place. The National Home Inspectors Exam is by far the most superior product available.

Those who want only a limited exam may not be meeting our Standards of Practice or meeting the ASHI Mission Statement.

The National Home Inspection Exam (NHIE) has been embraced by ASHI because it is consistent with the ASHI Mission Statement.  Inspectors that are averse to testing and do not comprehend various inspection standards may discredit the profession and harm the public by their misunderstanding of the validity of such testing. It is in the best interest of ASHI Members to take and pass the NHIE.