50 Home Inspection Tips

  1. If the home has a chimney, do not overlook it. You will need to examine it closely to make sure that chimney repairs are not required, as they can be extremely costly. If there is missing mortar between bricks, it is not a big deal. However, large cracks or missing bricks can be indicative of necessary rebuilding. Every side of the chimney should be examined.
  1. Decks may look nice from the exterior, but you should always take a closer look. Fresh paint may be covering a serious rotting wood problem. You will be able to see if this is the case by looking at the deck from below. You should also stand away from the deck and view it from a distance to see if there is any sagging. This may reveal a structural issue.
  1. Rot can rapidly weaken wood and is like a disease to the structure of a home. Both wet rot and dry rot can grow quickly when wood is exposed to a combination of moisture, warmth, and oxygen. Signs of wood rot may not be obvious, so it is important to know where to look. Places that commonly have wood rot are window sills, door trims, the underside of wood floors, crawl spaces, bathroom areas, decks, and the corner boards of siding.
  1. The wood rot inspection should start with examining the wood surfaces to see if there are any areas where discoloration, sagging, or rippled paint are present. Probing should be done with a knife, ice pick, or screwdriver to see if there are any soft spots in the wood. This is a good indicator of rot.
  1. An electronic moisture meter can be used to see if water is still present. The source of the water that caused the wood rot must be identified so that measures can be taken to prevent a recurrence. The moisture may have originated inside or outside the house. Plumbing issues, leaks in the roof or siding, and poor drainage are all possible causes that should be considered.

electronic moisture meter

  1. Examine the wiring outside of electrical boxes. If it is spliced and sloppy, that is a good indicator that all of the wiring in the home should be thoroughly checked. A highly skilled electrician would not have incorrect wiring displayed, and such an obvious mistake would most likely indicate other issues that are not so obvious.
  1. Hairline cracks in concrete foundations are usually not indicative of serious issues, but if you see cracks that are growing or are both vertical and horizontal, there could be a problem. Foundation settling is the most likely cause of vertical cracking, and if identified early on, repairs can be done quickly and effectively before they get the chance to cause serious structural damage. Horizontal cracks tend to be more serious and move along walls, threatening a wide range of foundational support. They are usually caused by drainage issues and soil pressure problems and require immediate repair.
  1. Mold discovered in the bathroom is not too alarming; an exhaust fan can easily remedy the problem. However, if it is caused by a leaky roof or plumbing issues, repairs could be costly. It is   necessary to address this problem, however, since mold can cause serious health issues.

Mold discovered in the bathroom

  1. Leaks can be detected by examining walls and surfaces underneath pipes. Even if there is no dripping water, stains are a sign of past leaks, and could be an indicator of further issues in the future. Even small leaks may be a sign that plumbing replacement should take place in the near future. There is a good chance that all of the pipes in the home are of the same age and material.
  1. Poking wood with a screwdriver can help with detecting a termite infestation. If the tip goes in easily or tapping the wood causes a hollow sound, there might be an issue. Also, a brownish film on a damaged surface or wings that have been shed are good indicators of an infestation. There may also be mud tubes inside and outside of the walls and foundation that termites use to travel through. An infestation needs to be stopped, as termites can ruin wood, sheet rock, carpeting, and other surfaces.
  1. A musty odor can be a sign of mold, perhaps caused by a broken pipe or a leak. Health problems can arise from mold, so it is important to address the issue right away. It is easy to fight mold on non-porous surfaces, as disinfecting with diluted bleach is usually effective. However, if mold is found on a porous surface such as dry wall, the wall should be replaced. If the smell exists without visible mold, a thorough examination inside the walls may reveal that the mold lives there.
  1. Sewer gas may be present in a home. This is extremely dangerous, as it has toxic and explosive potential. Sewer gas is often accompanied with a terrible smell of waste. If a bathroom is not used regularly, water that usually blocks sewer gas from coming into the house can evaporate, and the gas can flow through. While this is a serious problem, it is often easily solved by pouring a cup of water—alone or with a little vegetable oil—into the drain to stop the evaporation. Another cause of sewer gas in the house could be a broken or clogged vent pipe. That can be discovered through an examination of the piping and roof, where the gas is usually routed out of the house.
  1. Make sure to give special attention to particular situations where water, leaks, and moisture are often found, as they can be signs of lurking mold. Even small leaks that are easily repaired may signal a need for plumbing replacement for the whole house, as all of the pipes most likely are made of the same material, are the same age, and have experienced the same amount of usage.

  1. Wires should be inspected for proper anchoring with wall studs. Cables should run through the studs, at least 20 to 24 inches above the floor, with a metal wire protective plate around the studs so that the wiring will not be touched by nails and screws during drywall installation.
  1. Aluminum wiring should be noted immediately, as it can be a fire hazard. This type of wiring isn’t very common today, but can still be found in older houses that were built when aluminum was often used instead of copper due to its affordability. Having all of the wiring replaced is very costly, but is usually necessary.

Aluminum wiring

  1. Polybutylene plumbing pipes were also used as a copper alternative once upon a time, but it was quickly discovered that they easily corrode from the chlorine in water supplies, causing frequent leaks and flooding. These pipes still exist in many homes. They may have not leaked yet, but that doesn’t mean they won’t. A possible problem can’t be detected until it begins, so the best bet is to replace all the pipes, which can cost thousands of dollars.
  1. A frightening—and sometimes very hidden—hazard is a buried oil tank. These were used to funnel propane into the house before the advent of electrical heating. These tanks can be found buried in backyards all over, but more often in the Northeast. Having them removed is very expensive, but extremely important. If you see two pipes coming up from the ground, the tank is active. If it was shut off, however, it will not be visible.
  1. The house must be inspected for proper grounding, as it is integral to the safety of the home. Electrical panels, receptacles, and fixtures should be grounded and anchored to the ground. This requires time and patience, but it is a crucial part of inspection.
  1. Smoke detectors should be included in the electrical portion of a home inspection. It is important to note what kind of smoke detectors are used, where they are installed, and how they are operating. The location of any carbon dioxide detectors should be noted as well. If any smoke detectors are missing or not working properly, that must be reported. A test button should be used on all detectors when possible.

Smoke detectors

  1. An often confusing and complicated part of the electrical inspection is the reporting on Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters, otherwise known as GFCIs. The location and operation of GFCIs need to be inspected, and if any are missing or malfunctioning, it should be reported. A homeowner is not required to update their home whenever there is a change in building codes, so an inspector may make the mistake of using current codes to identify GFCI issues on parts that were installed at a time when different codes were used. So, the date of the installation should be determined to ensure that the proper codes are used.
  1. Bathroom inspections should include an examination of sink faucets and drains. Flooring should be checked for leaks due to unsecured toilets and sinks. The hot and cold water faucets should also be reviewed to make sure the hot and cold water are not reversed. Water flow should be checked, and water shut-off should be in place when a tank is full.
  1. The caulking and grout around showers and tubs should be inspected for cracks and decay.
    Shower heads and faucets should be checked for leaks, water flow should be tested, and safety glass should be installed where required. Jetted tubs require special attention. The functioning needs to be tested, the drainage needs to be examined, and the motor GFCI needs to be protected.

checked for leaks, water flow

  1. Ventilation in bathrooms should be checked, as moisture can build up and cause issues. Exhaust vents should be inspected for proper functioning, as they may simply be making noise and not actually doing anything, or just be recirculating air.
  1. Most home inspectors examine built-in appliances to make sure they function properly. These include dishwashers, food disposals, ovens, and oftentimes, washing machines.


  1. The type of beams and floor framing used in a home should be noted, along with the condition they are in. They shift the weight of the house to the foundation. Even small defects in framing need to be reported, as serious issues such as significant cracks or settling may follow. Unless a framing or pre-drywall inspection is being done, then most of the wall and floor framing is not visible, so the framing can only be inspected via an assessment of any unfinished areas in the house. These usually include attics, unfinished basements, and crawlspaces. When inspecting foundation walls, things to look out for are leaning and bowing. If there is a great deal of pressure or damage, an engineer may need to be called in.
  1. Columns were often used in the building of older homes to carry weight to the ground. They should be examined, and any past repairs should be reviewed to make sure they were conducted properly. Some types of columns were meant to be used temporarily. These need to be identified and replaced by acceptable materials.
  1. When many signs of rust abound in the basement, there is a good chance there has been water entry there. Rusty dry wall screws and nails, rust at the bottom of steel beams, and rust stains on the bottom of heating equipment are all warning signs of water and moisture invasion in the basement.

. Rusty dry wall screws and nails

  1. Check the point of water entry and shut-off at the house, the type and condition of piping material that is running from the street to deliver water to different areas in the home, and the meter box to make sure there are no leaks. If there is a well, the accessible equipment should be   reviewed.
  1. The type and condition of the water supply piping should be noted and all plumbing fixtures should be turned on and checked for flow and leaks and to be sure the hot and cold water are connected properly. During the exterior part of the inspection, the hose connections should be tested.

water supply piping

  1. Close attention should be paid to water heaters, as issues relating to them often appear in inspection reports. If they were installed by anyone other than a licensed plumber, there could be problems. The age, size, type, and condition of the water heater all need to be noted. Its location is important as well. If there is a gas water heater in a home, it is extremely important to assess the availability of air supply and ventilation of the gases. If any defective aspects are identified, they should be noted along with recommendations for the needed repairs.
  1. Plumbing systems need to be accompanied by proper ventilation. This releases sewer gases and protects water from being sucked from drain traps. The type and condition of these vents should be noted, and their functionality tested. If there are basement fixtures that need to be drained but the rest of the plumbing of the house drains above ground, there must be a pumping of the    basement material to the main drain pipe. This requires a sewer ejector. Sewer ejectors need to be reviewed, as they are often found inoperable during an inspection, or are discovered to have been incorrectly installed.
  1. In homes that have been vacant for long periods of time, there is usually not enough water in the system to be able to assess whether or not there is proper drainage. In these cases, the septic system can be reviewed by exploring the yard to see if there are sewage smells, abnormal weed growth, or noticeable wet areas.
  1. Beginning inspections on the top floors can be very beneficial. Since plumbing fixtures should be tried out during the inspection, any leaks that are present will be evident by the time the lower floors are reached. Also, it is easier to spot structural problems like cracks or settling on the higher floors of the house, so these issues are revealed more quickly and easily than by starting at the bottom.
  1. Things to look out for when inspecting doors and windows are making sure they open and close properly, contain the proper installation of hardware, and do not have settling. The type of doors and windows should be noted, along with their operability. It is crucial that at least one window is operable in each room, especially bedrooms. The presence of bars on the windows should be noted as well, as they are a hindrance to emergency exiting.

when inspecting doors and windows

  1. Walls and ceilings often have flaws that aren’t necessarily signs of serious problems. What needs to be given attention is settling in ceilings, which is often not easy to spot. If there is settling, joists may be over-spanned, and this problem can worsen if not addressed. Settling in ceilings can be difficult to spot but it is an important observation that must be made. Also note the type of flooring used and what condition it is in. It is not always easy to notice sagging or lack of evenness, since furniture and carpets are often hiding these issues, so the floor inspection often requires a close examination.
  1. Stairs should be thoroughly examined for safety assurance. Falls are common risks with stairs, especially among children and the elderly. If the spacing between stairs is not even, tripping can easily occur. Railings should be inspected for proper height installation, and the stairway lighting should be reviewed.
  1. Attics need to be inspected, as they are common breeding grounds for leaks, pests, insulation hazards, ventilation constrictions, and framing damage. If an attic is not walkable due to storage or such, the inspection may need to be done from the top of a ladder, and that needs to be noted. Obstructed areas that prevented a full inspection should be reported, along with the accessibility of the attic by stairs or ladder.
  1. Attics can also give a good indication of the energy efficiency of the home. The attic is often the only place that insulation (such as fiberglass) is exposed and can be closely examined. Older homes may often benefit from additional insulation, so the need can be easily assessed from an attic inspection.

energy efficiency of the home

  1. An HVAC system should be thoroughly inspected. Its location, type, and condition all need to be reported. Air filters can be clogged if they are not washed or replaced when necessary. The result             is insufficient air flow and the freezing and shutting down of the A/C unit. Furnaces need to be             examined to make sure they are working properly and do not have a problem with rust. The size, type, age, and condition need to be noted.

Air filters

  1. If ducts in an HVAC system are not properly sealed, air can be drawn into the system, and if it is coming from a damp area that has produced mold, it can create a delivery of hazardous air to the rest of the home. The ducts must be checked for proper sealing and operation. The vents need to be inspected for air flow. Also, inspecting the ducts for the presence of asbestos is important, as using asbestos tape for duct sealing used to be common, before the dangers of asbestos were known.
  1. A problem that is often overlooked by home inspectors is a leaking roof. Roof leaks are often hidden and end up surprising home owners with a great deal of damage that requires expensive repairs. The roof must be inspected extremely closely to make sure that the materials are in good condition and are strong enough to prevent water entry. The style and height of the roof also play   an important role in leak prevention, so they should be noted as well. Walking on the roof is the ideal way to conduct an inspection. When this is not possible due to the height and slants of a roof, its condition can be assessed by looking at it from the ground with binoculars, looking out   windows, or viewing as much as possible while perching on a ladder.
  1. Before determining whether or not the covering of the roof is in good condition, many observations can be made. Broken, deteriorating, and missing shingles are common issues that can occur due to improper installation or simply from the natural wear and tear caused by heat, wind, rain, hail, ice, and snow. Ponding sediment and sagging of the roofline are also indicators   of problems that are visible to the eye. All roofs on the house and roofs on any detached   structures need to be inspected also.
  1. Roof flashings should be examined to see if they are functioning properly. Flashings are usually metal and are used to keep water from flowing down the siding or entering a home from the chimney or roofline. Some materials, such as stucco, have prevented the functionality of flashings in the past.

Roof flashings

  1. Some customers may be eager to know how long a roof may last, but that is something that is difficult to determine. Some roofs leak soon after being built, while some last years and years without leaking. If the weather is not extreme, the chances of a lengthy survival are greater, but the timeline of a roof is not easy to predict. Providing the information of the materials used and  an assessment of the weather in the area should provide insight, but not a guarantee.
  1. A roof inspection should also include an examination of its underside, which can usually be done by examining the attic ceiling. Staining or cracks are often present if there have been previous leaks. A strong indicator of a currently active leak is excessive moisture in the attic, which can be seen and felt.
  1. Gutters need to be inspected to make sure they are not cluttered with debris and are allowing for water flow away from the house. Missing or removed gutters need to be noted in an inspection. Shingles should be in place to prevent water from flowing behind the gutter into the fascia. An underground drain may be used for a downspout to direct water away from the house, but it  cannot be inspected, so that needs to be noted in a report, along with a recommendation to check    the connection points of the downspouts to the drains during a deluge of rain.

water flow away from the house

  1. Sloping floors could be benign in older homes, but abnormal in newer homes. If a newer home has extreme slopes, that could be a problem. The floor dipping in the middle is usually a sign of joist deflection, which is not a huge problem. If a slope runs in only one direction, however, it could be a sign of serious problems with the foundation. Keep an eye out for cracks in the walls or ceiling near floor slopes. If a crack is old and has not worsened over time, it is usually   nothing to worry about. A newer crack should be given attention, though. Cracks in ceramic tile   are often an indicator of a persistent problem.
  1. The proper connection of wires behind electrical outlets needs to be ensured. Unfortunately, incorrect installation is often found, so wiring should be thoroughly inspected to make sure reverse polarity (when the wiring is misaligned, attaching socket threads to the wrong wires) is not present.
  1. The grounding of wires is another important aspect to look out for in an inspection. Outlets are often discovered that have ground holes without ground wire connections. Some electrical devices require a ground connection in order for their safety features to function properly, so it is worth noting when there isn’t one. Recommending alterations by an electrician will help to    ensure the prevention of safety hazards in the home.