April, 2009

Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

There's Always More to Know About Commercial Property Inspection


“Fire Protection Systems: Dos and Don’ts for Commercial Property Inspectors” by ASHI Certified Inspector and Fire Marshal Todd Kerkhoff, was published in the January issue of the ASHI Reporter.

The article promoted comments from Richard Weldon, P. Eng., Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates, Ltd., Consulting Engineers-Building Inspections, which he asked us to share with Kerkhoff and readers.

The comments and replies follow:

WELDON: I was pleased to see another contributor for information on commercial systems. There was some good maintenance information in this article. However, there was also what I believe to be misinformation; some of it is very germane to performing commercial inspections.

I assume people doing commercial inspections follow the ASTM E 2018-08 Standard. If not, there may be a problem right there.

But if they are following the standard, my following comments apply.

I certainly appreciate the constructive criticism of the article and also respect the opinion of Mr. Weldon. In fact, I actually agree with a couple of his comments.

Inspectors should not test the emergency lights and exit signs. There is no testing of equipment.

KERKHOFF: Perhaps it would have been helpful if I would have prefaced the discussion of emergency lights and exits signs with the sentence,  “If an inspector wishes to show the client how to test …” Something along that line would have better followed the ASTM standard. That being said, I don’t believe the standard is intended to limit inspectors from including other inspection services, provided the inspector is capable and willing to do so.

Commercial inspectors will not eventually have to inspect commercial kitchens. As part of the inspection, we do not assess any process-related equipment. This would also apply to fire protection equipment for process-related equipment.

KERKHOFF: The Commercial Kitchen section of the article dealt solely with the fire protection equipment an inspector is likely to encounter and in no way suggests that the inspector should test cooking appliances. The intent of the first sentence of the Commercial Kitchen Section was to inform the inspectors that there are a lot of commercial kitchens and that they are likely to come across them. It was certainly not meant to suggest that it is just a matter of time before testing of commercial kitchens will be required.

Personally, I believe that it is pertinent information for the client to know that a hood system and/or fixed-fire suppression system has or has not been properly maintained. No testing is required to determine this information, just observation of the immediately available documentation (i.e., the sticker on the side of the hood or the tag on the suppression system pull station).

In the discussion of fire alarms, inspectors were encouraged to contact the local fire marshal each time they find a trouble light at a fire alarm. That may be true in a small town, but we come across such conditions regularly. I wonder if the local fire marshal wants to hear from us every time we find a trouble light?

I appreciate the response to this comment below, but continue to urge caution in reporting a trouble light to the fire marshal’s office.

It is analogous to reporting to the building department other deficiencies we find. I believe we need to make sure people are safe, but we also need to understand the process we are involved in and how our actions may affect the building owner when we are working on behalf of a potential purchaser.

Mr. Weldon indicated that it might not be a good idea to notify the fire department when a “Trouble” light is found in the fire alarm control panel. This appears to be a point where he and I will disagree (unless the building is vacant). I believe the size of the city is irrelevant. I work in the Kansas City area, which is the 29th largest metropolitan area in the country, and I know of no fire marshal who is bothered by this type of information. I would agree that minor fire code violations such as burnt out lights in exit signs, which occur in nearly every building, need not be reported to the fire department. However, fire protection equipment that is obviously impaired affects the safety of the building occupants and should be repaired without delay. Getting the fire department involved is likely to speed up the repair process and ensure that the building is safe for tenant occupation. I believe this is best for all of the stakeholders in the transaction.

In the last paragraph of the article, a sentence starts, “Although commercial property inspectors do not inspect fire protection systems, …” This really threw me. Fire protection systems are definitely part of the ASTM E 2018-08 Standard) — see Section 8.4.9:

8.4.9 Life Safety/Fire Protection: Observations—Identify and observe life safety and  fire protection systems, including sprinklers and standpipes (wet or dry, or both), fire hydrants, fire alarm systems, water storage, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, emergency lighting, stairwell pressurization, smoke evacuation, etc.

KERKHOFF: I believe the disagreement regarding the closing statement is largely a matter of nomenclature. Perhaps the following revised statement would better follow the wording of the standard:

“Although commercial property inspectors do not inspect test fire protection systems, they should identify and observe the fire protection systems and cover the basics with their clients. This will provide valuable information about the need for additional inspections and ongoing maintenance.”

The purpose of the article never was intended to teach commercial property inspectors how to “test” fire protection equipment. It merely was intended to provide information about periodic professional maintenance requirements and to encourage inspectors to educate their clients about some common fire protection systems.


Weldon on ASTME E 2018-08

The ASTM E2018-08 standard is for a Property Condition Assessment of a commercial building. This standard was written specifically for commercial building inspections when purchasing commercial property. The ASHI Standards of Practice does not cover commercial buildings.

I believe the ASTM standard was written with full knowledge of the ASHI standard. For example, the ASHI Standard is good for a residential building up to and including four dwelling units. The ASTM Standard is for any building of commercial usage or a building of exclusively residential usage having five dwelling units or more.

Richard Weldon, P. Eng., Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates, Ltd., Consulting Engineers-Building Inspections.