Home inspector understates roof problems

Who’s liable for surprise expenses?

Barry Stone
Inman News™

DEAR BARRY: Before we bought our house, we hired a home inspector. He said the roof was worn and needed a few bundles of wood shakes for patching. The seller said there used to be some leaking but assured us that this had been repaired.

After moving in, we noticed a hole in the roofing and called the inspector to reconsider this omission in his report. He agreed to install a metal patch and invited me onto the roof for a look. What I saw was disturbing.

The condition of the shakes was worse than stated in the inspection report. After this, I got repair bids from three roofing contractors. Each of them stated that the roof needed replacement. This was a major shock, considering the huge expense of reroofing. Shouldn’t our home inspector have alerted us to this? –Dave

DEAR DAVE: Roofing is an important aspect of a thorough home inspection. Competent home inspectors make a concerted effort to discover and disclose conditions that compromise the reliability or longevity of a roof. It is surprising, therefore, that the deteriorated condition of your shakes was not disclosed by your inspector. Even if the shakes were functional, the fact that they were badly worn demanded disclosure.

In such cases, home inspectors typically recommend further evaluation by a licensed roofing contractor prior to close of the transaction. Had that recommendation been made by your inspector, a roofing contractor would have reviewed the shakes before you purchased the property, and the need for replacement would have been revealed while negotiations with the seller were still possible.

It is unfortunate that that opportunity was missed. For that omission, your home inspector may bear some liability.

DEAR BARRY: Is duct cleaning a legitimate service for a forced-air heating system? We have lived in our house for 23 years, and lately have seen bits of "popcorn" ceiling material on our furniture, directly under our heating vents. The appearance of this debris seems to be increasing in frequency. Would duct cleaning be a remedy? Also, who does this kind of work? –Patty

DEAR PATTY: Air duct cleaning can be beneficial if dust and debris are forming on the inner surfaces of the ducts. Dust buildup in forced-air heating systems can harbor dust mites and mold, posing potential health problems. Professional cleaning is typically provided by heating contractors and chimney sweeps.

A related health concern, however, involves the particles of popcorn ceiling texture. When your home was built, acoustic texture was apparently sprayed onto the ceilings. The person who installed the texture allowed the material to coat the interior surfaces of the air duct openings.

This overspray is now losing its adhesion, causing particles to fall onto your furniture. These particles, potentially, may contain asbestos fibers. Professional testing of this material is recommended to determine if asbestos is present. If so, the overspray inside the ducts should be removed by a licensed asbestos abatement contractor.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

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Copyright 2011 Barry Stone