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Home Inspector

HOME INSPECTORS VS. ENGINEERS

Should you hire a home inspector or an engineer to conduct a home inspection of the house they are buying? This question is as old as the home inspection profession itself. During my twenty-five years of conducting home inspections, I have met no more than a half-dozen engineers that are also qualified home inspectors. Engineers must walk a fine line, since they are not being hired as engineers, who in that role (as engineer) can conduct a technically exhaustive-and much more expensive-evaluation of a property as compared to the home inspector. The engineer must make it clear to their clients that they are conducting a home inspection and not an engineering evaluation. If a structural defect is identified during an engineer's home inspection, the buyer may still consult with another structural engineer for confirmation of the problem and estimates to repair. The Pennsylvania Home Inspection Law forbids a home inspector or engineer from working on a property for at least 1 year from the date of the inspection. This often leaves the consumer confused since they were counting on the engineer's expertise to conduct a home inspection as well as provide cost estimates for the structural repair.

Home inspectors on the other hand are considered "general practitioners". We must be trained in all facets of home construction including structural, mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems, i.e. experts in "defect recognition". This is similar to going to your doctor for your annual physical, during which a problem is identified and your doctor recommends that you see a specialist, i.e. cardiologist, dermatologist, etc., for further evaluation. So too it is with the home inspector "generalist". If the home inspector feels that a certified heating contractor needs to evaluate a malfunctioning furnace he or she would recommend this professional follow-up. Any other house defects would also be referred to a specialist for further evaluation and repair.

Another consideration is that in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania engineers and architects are "grandfathered" to conduct home inspections without home inspection-specific training. They do not have to take a home inspector's exam, nor maintain annual educational requirements. They may not necessarily carry the minimum insurance as required by both states. For those of you in Pennsylvania, I recommend that you refer to the PAR/PHIC Compliance Form (www.Phic.info - Document Downloads) if you are aware that an engineer or architect will be conducting the inspection on client's behalf. Be sure to have the inspector execute the Compliance Form to reduce liability for all parties.

In closing, if an engineer or architect is to be hired, your client should "inquire before they hire". If possible, determine the level of experience the engineer or architect has conducting home inspections including the number of inspections done, years performing home inspections, type of report provided, and is he or she a member of a home inspection organization like ASHI, etc. Determine if the inspection is being conducted as a home inspection or an engineering evaluation to establish the correct level of client expectations. This way all parties get what they are paying for.

Jack H. Milne, Jr. President, Tri-County Inspection Co.