A home inspection is very important when preparing to buy, sell, or finance real estate. For the buyer, it ensures that the lending bank has solid collateral. For a seller, it can help substantiate the asking price. Finally, when you are looking to refinance a mortgage or to borrow against your home’s equity, you will need a current inspection to help prove the value of your home. It’s also a good idea to have periodic home inspections, as part of your preventative maintenance routine for your home. Whichever of these situations you are contemplating, here are some guidelines for understanding what is involved in a home inspection process and what to expect on the home inspection report.

magnifying glass over the words home inspection

Who will be inspecting my home?

A professional home inspector will hold a license. He may be a member of the National Association of Home Inspectors or a local association. You can get recommendations from the American Society of Home Inspectors, and use their website as a guide for evaluating the person you chose to hire. If you are working with a mortgage lender or bank, they may have a person or company that they use for home inspections. Your realtor may have some reputable inspectors that they have worked with, as well. It is important if you are hiring the inspector yourself, that you evaluate them the way you would a potential job candidate. Interview them, ask about their experience with homes of your type and in your market. Ask for references – and check them.

You should expect a written report from your inspector upon completion of the evaluation. This report may affect the sale or purchase price of your home, so treat it as an important tool for improving the value of your home. Expect the visual inspection to take a few hours. The entire structure of the home will be checked, as well as any outlying structures (pool, etc) that would be included in the value of your home.

Heating and Cooling Systems

The home inspector will examine the HVAC (the heating and cooling systems in your home) – usually the heat pump, gas heater, and air conditioning unit. They will describe the energy source(s) for each unit and the type of unit it is. The inspector will then run the unit as is it intended – usually using the home’s thermostat. They will open the access panels on the unit that are used for homeowner maintenance to inspect and test that they are accessible and do not have any broken parts or hazard potential (such as loose wires or broken fuses) that would cause damage to the house or harm a person.

The inspection does not require the inspection of portable window and smart air conditioner or ensure that the airflow is uniform throughout the house – simply that the air flow does occur. Due to the amount of education required to merely “understand” the operation of the HVAC equipment, not much beyond the observation that each unit is in working order and operable by a resident is required in the inspection. Full HVAC maintenance requires a background in electrical (supply voltage and control circuits), plumbing and mechanical contracting. If you suspect that there is a problem with the operation of your HVAC unit(s), contact a licensed HVAC technician.

Roof, Attic, and Insulation

The attic is one of the few places in the home where the framing is exposed. This is important, as the inspector can get a good look at the type, quality, and condition of the house’s frame. In addition to inspecting the roof for leaks and damage, inside the attic is where evidence of water leaks and past damage can be found. If a leaky roof has been patched and repaired, that will prevent more water damage to the house, but previous leaks can still create problems inside the house. Homeowners rarely go into the attic or crawlspace, and when they do, they don’t linger. Because of this, issues discovered in these areas may be a surprise to the homeowner.

In the attic, the inspector will cite the means by which you enter, as well as walking the attic. If that space is not able to be walked, then the reason(s) for that will be documented, as well. The information gathered in the attic usually falls into five categories, insulation, ventilation, framing, leaks, and pests. The inspector will also examine the insulation of the house. The type of insulation will determine the energy efficiency of the home. In addition, older homes (those built before 1972) will be inspected for the presence of asbestos.

HM Expert Demonstration – Attic from HouseMaster on Vimeo.

Although the ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors) and NAHI (National Association of Home Inspectors) have the standard that the roof must only be inspected at the ground level or the eaves, many inspectors will walk the roof whenever they can. This can give valuable insights into the level of protection from the roof, and possible leak areas, that are present.

Interior Plumbing and Electric

picture of the inside of an electrical panelThe electrical system of a house receives a careful inspection. The source of the electricity coming into the home (overhead or underground) and its point of entry will be documented. The inspector will locate and examine the electrical meter to ensure it is in safe working order. He will then examine the main circuit board, and ensure that the emergency disconnect is useable. Finally, he will inspect all of the outlets and fixtures in the home, paying close attention to locating GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets near plumbing fixtures.

inspector checking out plumbing pipes for potential leaksDuring the plumbing survey, the inspector will determine the water source – municipality or well. All pipes that are able to be visually assessed will be. They will be checked for leaks, and to ensure that outdated materials, such as galvanized pipes, are not in use. He will locate the main water shut off, then examine the flow and operation of all faucets, drains, and toilets.


Walls, Ceilings, and Floors

Part of the wall inspection of a house will be to determine if any load bearing walls have been altered or removed. This can cause structural issues of the renovations were done improperly. The condition of the walls, as well as the type of paint (for older houses that may have lead paint) will be listed. The inspector will pay special attention to any cracks in the walls, or places where cracks may have been plastered or painted over. The presence of cracks could simply be a home settling into its foundations, or indicative of foundation issues.

The ceilings will be examined for leaks caused either by the plumbing or exterior damage. If the inspector has found issues with the roof or attic, he will make a very detailed inspection of the ceilings below the damage. If there are heavy plaster ceilings, those will be examined for weakening. Any alterations to the ceiling, such as putting in or removing a drop ceiling, will be inspected, as well as any skylights.

The flooring of the home is checked for sagging, cracks, or “rippling.” Uneven flooring is generally a sign that there is foundation or structural damage to the house, and will clue an inspector to look further at the structure. The inspector may even use infrared technology to look “inside” the walls and “under” the floors for insulation issues or other damage.

Windows and Doors

inspector inspecting a window from the outsideExterior doors will be examined for their condition, overall operation and fit, and for the functionality of their hardware. The type of door – wood, steel, etc – will be documented, as well. Some areas require a peephole or other visual access for all exterior doors (and regulations may be different for investment, “rental,” properties – your inspector can tell you), as well, and this will be noted. The type(s) of locks and security of each door will be noted. The weather sealing of exterior doors will be examined, and the tracking of any sliding doors checked for functionality. Any sills for the door frames will be checked, as well as the frames themselves, to ensure adequate weather protection. Inside the home, the doors will be checked for “sticking,” which could indicate a foundation issue. the knobs and hardware will be examined too.

The windows will receive similar treatment as the doors – checking the sills and frames, ad well and the hardware and the ability to open and close the windows. The security of the windows will be checked, also, especially for windows on the ground floor. The type of panes – double, single – will be cited, and if the windows are non-functional or decorative. The glazing or putty around the glass will be checked, as this is where the most wear and damage can occur. It is also a time consuming and expensive fix.

Any weather stripping, shutters, and awnings will be inspected, especially for older homes, as some regulations may have changed. They will be checked for stability and function. Finally, the garage doors, if present, will be checked to ensure that they are in working order. The type of closing mechanism will be noted, as well as its electrical supply ad any emergency overrides.


house numbers indicating areas that a home inspector inspects

Basement and Foundation


An experienced home inspector can usually pick up on several hints that there are problems with a home’s foundation. Cracks, in the walls, uneven floors, and doors that stick in the frames when being opened or closed are very good indications that something is wrong. The walls will be checked to ensure that they follow a linear path, and a level also. Problems with a house’s foundation are very serious – a foundation that is settling unevenly has the potential to skew or pull apart the framing of the entire structure.

If there is a slab foundation, the home inspector will assess visible cracks and make a determination based on size, the direction of movement, and location, or if a structural engineer is needed to determine whether these signs point to normal settling or to structural damage. Remember, home inspectors are generalists, and will tell you when you need the services of a niche expert.

The basement will also reveal whether the structure is sound. A home’s foundation problems may include a system of posts and concrete supports, or piers. Posts should stand straight and be firmly planted completely underneath the beams they support. Bottoms of posts should rest firmly on concrete. Knowing the type of ground and soil that the house is built on will make the inspector’s job easier, as different types of ground require different types of support.

Improper drainage at the ground level can cause just as much damage from water as leaks at the roof level. A basement with standing water or dampness can indicate that there are drainage issues or leaks into the home. As with the attic, the framing of a house tends to be more visible in the basement. The quality and condition of the frames will be examined, and the inspector will look for signs of pests or termites.

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What Is Involved In A Home Inspection [RVA 2017]
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What Is Involved In A Home Inspection [RVA 2017]
A home inspection is very important when preparing to buy, sell, or finance real estate. For the buyer, it ensures that the lending bank has solid collateral. For a seller, it can help substantiate the asking price.
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The Wilson Group
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