Questions your customers are being told to ask.
The home inspection is probably the most important part of the home buying process. As such many buyers will Google what they should ask you. Either so they don’t seem clueless, or they really want some of this information. Most quality inspectors through the course of an inspection answer most everything. We put together a sample from some webpages of what they are telling customers to ask so you can be prepared when you face these questions and aren’t caught off guard. It will help you to have thorough answers prepared for these. Every inspector has their own style of explanation, so plan yours.
Here is what the experts tell your customers to expect:
A good home inspector should cover all the bases, and even educate you during the home inspection. But some home inspectors tend to be more quiet, and you will have to ask them for home maintenance advice and other info on the home (outside of the report).
Don’t be afraid to ask them how to maintain the water heater, how to improve the grading, or even how to fix that item. Home inspectors are a storehouse of knowledge — so don’t be afraid to ask.
- ♦ How much insulation is in the attic?
- ♦ Where is the main water shutoff?
- ♦ Where are the master GFCI outlets?
- ♦ And what is the electrical panel brand?
What To Ask During the Home Inspection?
These questions should be on home maintenance, ages of various systems, overall quality of the home, main water shutoff location, master GFCI outlets locations, and how to operate the home.
Keep reading for more details on a variety of important questions…
1. What Is the Condition Of The Roof?
Probably one of the most important questions you can ask during a home inspection is the condition and age of the roof. The most obvious roof defects are missing shingles, curling shingles, and missing flashing.
Sometimes there are roof issues that I only find when actually on the roof such as a spongy area that is indicative of a past water leak. Always ask your home inspector about the estimated age of the roof, but you may need to ask the seller directly (and hopefully get a receipt/warranty). The life expectancy for a standard 3-tab shingle roof is 15-years, and the life expectancy for architectural shingle roofing is around 25-years.
A roof with missing and damaged shingles.
2. How Much Attic Insulation Is There?
Inspecting the attic is usually the last thing a home inspector does, or at least during my home inspections — so it is important to make sure that it was inspected.
I would frequently find attics with missing or grossly inadequate insulation. And sometimes I would find urine stained insulation due to mice infestations.
Sometimes I find fiberglass insulation that is so old and compressed — it will hardly give any insulating value. It is important that the loose fiberglass or cellulose insulation is several inches higher than the top of the attic ceiling joists. If the attic has degraded, damaged, or missing insulation, it can be a costly project to fix.
3. What Does the HVAC System Look Like?
The HVAC system is such a critical component during a home inspection, and you should be clear on the condition and age.
If the HVAC system is 15-20 years old or older, there is a good chance it will need to be replaced within a few years. Most good home inspectors will verify the age of the system, take off the HVAC cover, and look at it closely. I sometimes find mold in the HVAC system, and I also frequently find heavily rusted evaporator coils.
If the HVAC system is older, it may still be using outdated R-22 refrigerant (now banned), it will likely need to be replaced within the next few years or possibly this year. R-22 is no longer in production, and it can be extremely expensive to ‘top off’ an HVAC system using this refrigerant.
Interior of a furnace with mold growth
4. Any Tips on Home Maintenance?
If you are walking around with the home inspector—which is highly recommended—you can ask them for tips on how to maintain the home.
For example, if you are inspecting the water heater, ask the home inspector how to maintain it. Most homeowners don’t know that you need to periodically drain the water heater to remove built-up sediment. There is also a ‘sacrificial anode rod’ that helps the interior of the water heater from rusting which needs to be periodically changed.
Home inspectors are a storehouse of knowledge in regards to home maintenance, and don’t pass it up.
5. Are the Windows Good?
The windows can be a big thing during home inspections, and I have had clients walk from homes with terrible and old windows.
Probably the biggest issue is the old single paned windows. These windows have any one ‘layer’ of glass and have barely an R-value whatsoever. Sometimes homeowners try to increase the insulation of these windows by installing storm windows — which helps a little.
Modern energy efficient windows have two panes of glass, and on the inside is an inert gas that makes them much more insulating.
Considering the cost of completely replacing all of the windows, $10,000 or more, it can be a big issue. And sometimes all of the windows don’t open properly, or fall down when opened, or have fogged glass (moisture trapped in between the glass) — it is a good idea to be clear on the condition of the windows.
6. Do You Notice Any Structural Problems?
Structural issues is a big one, and I have had to recommend further evaluation by structural engineers on many occasions.
Common structural issues can be related to oddly sloping floors, foundation cracks, foundation bowing or bulging, or even improperly cut joists.
If the home inspector even has a whiff that something may have an underlying structural issue, they should recommend evaluation by a structural engineer.
7. How Is the Grading And Drainage?
Home inspectors should be trained to diagnose grading and drainage problems. All houses should have grading (the ground around the home) that slopes away from the home. With the soil sloping away, it channels water away from the foundation.
It is also important that the downspouts are working properly and not disposing of water next to the home. I always recommend downspout extensions to get water several feet away from the foundation.
Just ask the home inspector if he thinks that water is properly draining away from the house and if has any ideas on improving drainage. If you want further input, you can get a consult by a landscaping contractor.
8. Does the Home Appear to Be A Flip?
This is a bit of a cheeky question, but it can reveal a lot about the house. Home inspectors tend to be wary of ‘flipped houses’ and we can usually tell when a renovation has been done sub-par.
If you have a sense that the home you are buying may be a ‘fix and flip’ it is a good idea to ask the home inspector and if he has any advice — especially considering it could be the largest investment you ever make.
When I get asked this question, I usually share my thoughts on the quality of the renovation. I also tend to tell my clients that they should verify that permits were pulled by the city or county for the renovation. A lot of shoddy flippers won’t even pull permits because they cut corners and want to hide it.
9. Did You Turn On the HVAC?
It is a good idea to always ask if the home inspector turned on the heating and cooling.
Occasionally even I forget to crank up the A/C or heat and to just verify that it will turn on. Make sure that the home inspector gets a very high temperature reading at the air vent (or just feel it with your hand) and that it gets very cold when on cool. If you only get lukewarm heating or cooling, it is a sign that there may be an HVAC problem.
One exception is in the middle of winter because it can be damaging to turn on the AC system — so the inspector may not want to turn it on.
10. Did You Check the Smoke Detectors?
Ideally, home inspectors should check at least 2-3 smoke detectors to verify that they are working. Home fires are extremely dangerous and are responsible for many fatalities every year.
There should be a smoke detector in every bedroom, as well as at least one smoke detector on each home level.
When I test home inspectors, I have a small can of ‘fake smoke’ that I can spray onto the smoke detector to test it. After the alarm starts ringing, I quickly blow fresh air on the smoke detector with a folder to turn it off.
11. What Type of Plumbing Does The Home Have?
Most homes have either copper or CPVC water piping but there are still a significant number of homes that have polybutylene water pipes.
Polybutylene is a defective water piping that is no longer in production. It usually has a gray or bluish color and somewhere on the pipe will be stamped PB.
It is a good idea just to ask the inspector what type of piping the home has. Copper is the highest quality type of pipe you can have, but since it is so expensive nowadays, many new homes are built with CPVC or PEX.
Defective polybutylene piping found during home inspection.
12. Where Is The Main Water Shutoff?
The main water shutoff is where you turn on or off the water to your entire home.
You will need to know where it is if you plan on doing a bathroom renovation, or if you need to change a whole house water filter, or just for emergencies. But sometimes the main water shutoff can be very difficult to locate, and it can be hidden behind cabinet doors, or in a weird area.
Always make sure to ask during the home inspection the location of the main water shutoff.
13. Where Is the Main Electrical Breaker?
The main electrical breaker is the breaker that will shutoff power to the entire home. Sometimes there isn’t a “main breaker” and you will have to shut off all of the breakers individually.
If you are changing an outlet or doing some other type of electrical work (or just for an emergency) it is important to know how to cut off power to the home.
Ask the inspector to show you how to flip the main electrical breaker.
14. Where Are the Master GFCI Outlets?
All new homes are required to have GFCI protected outlets in the kitchen, bathroom, garage, and outdoors.
There is usually one or two master outlets for each area such as the kitchen that will trip or reset all the outlets.
For example, if all the power goes out in your bathroom, there will be a master GFCI outlet with a reset button. You will need to hit the reset button to get power back to those outlets on the GFCI circuit. But sometimes this master GFCI outlet is hidden, and you may have trouble finding it.
Also, the master GFCI may not even be an outlet, it may be a GFCI breaker in the electrical panel that has a reset button. Ask the home inspector how to reset the different GFCI circuits in the home.
15. Are There Any Ungrounded Outlets in The Home?
This is a good question to ask for older homes, because having ungrounded outlets can become an issue.
Ungrounded outlets are two pronged outlets that don’t have a ground wire attached. These outdated outlets were the standard back in the day, but they can now become a fire hazard, short circuit your electrical devices, and they also raise the risk of being shocked.
It can be very expensive to add grounds to multiple outlets in the home, and it may even require re-wiring the entire home.
Ungrounded outlet I found in older home.
16. What Is the Electrical Panel Brand?
The electrical panel brand is an important thing to know, and your home inspector should note the brand in their report. But it isn’t a bad idea to just ask the inspector during the home inspection.
The brand itself can tell you about the system because there is a list of recalled and defective brands that are red flags. The most notorious electrical panel was made by a company called Federal Pacific. But there are other defective electrical panels such as Zinsco, Sylvania, and ITE Pushmatic.
Replacing an electrical panel, depending on the size of the system, can become a costly project. And who wants to buy a home with a defective panel box?