January, 2018
Discussion from Executive Director
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Prepare for the Future by Remembering the Past


What really surprised me after I became a home inspector was something I never contemplated (although I guess that’s one definition of being surprised). Although I had been in the repair and remodeling industry for almost 20 years, I had a couple of rude awakenings once I stumbled into the home inspection profession. The first was how much I really didn’t know. In my career leading up to home inspections, I had been a jack-of-all-trades, doing plumbing, electrical, carpentry, roofing and concrete work. Add a little welding and deck building, and I thought I was pretty hot stuff.

After my first day at the ASHI ’89 International Conference, which is what InspectionWorld® was called back then, it dawned on me that I didn’t know squat. Here’s an excerpt from my column in the ASHI Reporter from 10 years ago: 

Friday’s session is forever embedded in my memory. It was the gas forced-air heating session. The hot topic of the day was the dreaded cracked heat exchanger and how to detect it. Using a mirror to look for cracks could help, albeit only where one could see. But there was a lot of buzz after the session and I remember an old salt saying, “Essence of wintergreen, my friends. You carefully pour a few drops in the heat exchanger, then turn the blower on, go to a register and sniff. If you smell wintergreen, you’ve got yourself a crack in the H.E., pilgrim. Try not to inhale any when you pour it...that’s all you’ll smell the rest of the day.”

Needless to say, all I could smell for the next couple of days were Christmas trees. After finding out wintergreen didn’t work, I invested in a sonic sound tester. You placed the sender device into a chamber of the heat exchanger and the receiver at a heat register. If you heard the sound at the receiver, then ta-da! You had a crack because the sound went through the crack. Yeah, right.

The next foolproof method of finding cracks in a heat exchanger was to gain access to the top of the unit and spray water (or even WD-40 on it). Oh my, what a mess. Needless to say, there was no easy way to find that holy grail.

Lesson 1: Shortcuts typically are wrought with detours, roadblocks and hours of wasted time.

So, after realizing there are no easy routes, I traveled down the path of learning everything I could from the guys who’d been down that road before. I attended every seminar I could, read everything I could lay my eyes on and, most importantly, listened to what smarter folks than me were willing to share.

Lesson 2: You never learn everything there is to know because the inspection world keeps changing.

So, what’s going to be different this year? One thing I’m certain of is that products will be “value-engineered” and methods of inspecting them will have to be found.

But this is where we have to utilize the second part of the title of this article: Remembering the Past. Our clients are still going to want an inspection that they can count on to make the biggest financial decision of their lives. So, although using Google to ask a question may give you countless answers, that method of learning is just like finding out about yesteryear’s “wintergreen” or “sonic crack detector.”

There is no substitute for learning on your own and from others’ mistakes. You just have to be wise enough to not dismiss the past as a waste of time. You may not want to admit it, but the past is what brought you here.