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Redefining the Home Inspection

Ask most home inspectors what the standard definition of a home inspection is and you will hear something like: "An evaluation of the current condition of the home based on visual evidence."  That definition fairly characterized the practice for many years.  But as more people entered the field, many with little or no relevant training or experience, that standard definition has been found to have several shortcomings.  Criterium Engineers, which has been providing home inspections around the country for nearly 40 years, has now redefined the practice.


"The first problem with the old definition is that it fails to take into account the purpose of the home inspection," says H. Alan Mooney, P.E., president of Criterium Engineers.  We see more and more reports which are simply checklists of what the inspector observed.  Some are accompanied by large books which are general descriptions of homes and building systems.  The consumer is given little in the way of specific information about the home they intend to buy.  Extracting meaningful information from the report is difficult if not impossible.  Such reports are cheaper and easier to prepare for the home inspector.  Unfortunately, they often have far less value for the consumer.


The purpose of the home inspection is to provide an understanding of the condition of the home so that the consumer can make an intelligent purchase decision.  With that purpose in mind, the inspector who provides value will produce a written report that reflects the condition of the home now and how it is likely to perform over the years.  The report is home specific and puts the condition of the various systems in perspective.


"The second problem has to do with the word evaluation," according to Mooney.  Most industry standards of practice suggest that the inspector observe and report their findings.  However, the real value comes when the inspector renders his or her opinion of the conditions found.  The problem for most home inspectors is that in many states, only a registered Professional Engineer (P.E.) can render an opinion as to the structural integrity of the home.  Fortunately, there are many P.E.s around the country who do provide home inspections.


The third shortcoming is that the definition does not relate to any particular standard.  The definition only provides a broad framework within which the inspector operates.  How he or she goes about performing that work is often governed by consensus standards developed by industry groups.  Recently, the National Academy of Building Inspection Engineers (NABIE) published a set of standards for home inspections performed by registered Professional Engineers.  NABIE is an affinity group of the 70,000 member National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE).


To overcome these shortcomings, Criterium Engineers created its own definition for home inspections:  "AN ENGINEER'S OPINION OF THE CURRENT CONDITION AND FUTURE PERFORMANCE OF THE HOME, BASED ON VISUAL EVIDENCE, LEADING TO AN UNDERSTANDING OF THAT HOME, PERFORMED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE STANDARDS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF BUILDING INSPECTION ENGINEERS."  This definition creates a framework for providing the highest level of services in the home inspection industry.





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