You have recently been crunching the numbers, negotiating offers, adding up closing costs, shopping for mortgages, and trying to get the best deals. Do not stop now. Do not let your real estate agent, a “patty-cake” inspector, or anyone else talk you into skimping here. InterNACHI-certified inspectors perform the best inspections by far.
InterNACHI-certified inspectors earn their fees many times over. They do more, they deserve more, and — yes — they generally charge a little more. Do yourself a favor… and pay a little more for the quality inspection you deserve.
- have to pass InterNACHI’s Online Inspector Examination every year. (This general, not association-specific exam, is open and free to all);
- have to complete InterNACHI’s online Ethics Obstacle Course. (This open-book Ethics course is open and free to all);
- have to take InterNACHI’s online Standards of Practice quiz (This open-book Standards of Practice quiz is open and free to all);
- have to sign and submit an Affidavit;
- have to adhere to InterNACHI’s Standards of Practice;
- have to abide by InterNACHI’s Code of Ethics;
- have to continue seeking skills and education (24 hours per year), per InterNACHI’s Continuing Education policy;
- have to maintain a Member Online Continuing Education Log (free), per InterNACHI’s Continuing Education policy;
- have to submit four mock inspections to InterNACHI’s Report Review Committee (free) before performing their first paid home inspection for a client (if the candidate has never performed a fee-paid home inspection previously);
- within 30 days of joining, have to successfully complete InterNACHI’s comprehensive online Standards of Practice course (free);
- within 60 days of joining, complete InterNACHI’s comprehensive online Roofing Inspection course (free), including all the quizzes within, and pass its final exam;
- within three months of membership, apply for a member photo I.D. (free);
- have to re-take and pass InterNACHI’s Online Inspector Examination again, every year (free);
- have to attend at least one chapter meeting or educational seminar every two years (reasonable exceptions apply);
- have access to Inspector’s Quarterly, delivered to their doorstep;
- have access to InterNACHI’s free Visual Aid Inspection Frames to help them learn;
- have access to InterNACHI’s free library for improving their inspection skills;
- have access to InterNACHI’s message board for exchanging information and tips;
- have access to InterNACHI’s “What’s New” section so they can keep up with the industry;
- have access to InterNACHI’s specific-topic advisory boards;
- have access to “Dear InterNACHI” for detailed advice;
- have access to a time-tested Inspection Agreement, which keeps them (and you) away from lawsuits;
- have access to InterNACHI’s Report Review/Mentoring service;
- have to submit passport photos for their membership I.D.;
- have access to InterNACHI’s free online inspection courses;
- have to carry E&O insurance (if their state requires it);
- have access to a real estate agent hold-harmless clause;
- have access to InterNACHI University;
- have access to the InterNACHI Mall;
- have a consumer hotline for their clients;
- have access to an Arbitration and Dispute Resolution Service; and
- have access to a Client Satisfaction Survey.
Most people don’t know how easy it is to make their homes run on less energy, and here at InterNACHI, we want to change that. Drastic reductions in heating, cooling and electricity costs can be accomplished through very simple changes, most of which homeowners can do themselves. Of course, for homeowners who want to take advantage of the most up-to-date knowledge and systems in home energy efficiency, InterNACHI energy auditors can perform in-depth testing to find the best energy solutions for your particular home.
Why make your home more energy efficient? Here are a few good reasons:
- Federal, state, utility and local jurisdictions’ financial incentives, such as tax breaks, are very advantageous for homeowners in most parts of the U.S.
- It saves money. It costs less to power a home that has been converted to be more energy-efficient.
- It increases the comfort level indoors.
- It reduces our impact on climate change. Many scientists now believe that excessive energy consumption contributes significantly to global warming.
- It reduces pollution. Conventional power production introduces pollutants that find their way into the air, soil and water supplies.
1. Find better ways to heat and cool your house.
As much as half of the energy used in homes goes toward heating and cooling. The following are a few ways that energy bills can be reduced through adjustments to the heating and cooling systems:
- Install a ceiling fan. Ceiling fans can be used in place of air conditioners, which require a large amount of energy.
- Periodically replace air filters in air conditioners and heaters.
- Set thermostats to an appropriate temperature. Specifically, they should be turned down at night and when no one is home. In most homes, about 2% of the heating bill will be saved for each degree that the thermostat is lowered for at least eight hours each day. Turning down the thermostat from 75° F to 70° F, for example, saves about 10% on heating costs.
- Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat saves money by allowing heating and cooling appliances to be automatically turned down during times that no one is home and at night. Programmable thermostats contain no mercury and, in some climate zones, can save up to $150 per year in energy costs.
- Install a wood stove or a pellet stove. These are more efficient sources of heat than furnaces.
- At night, curtains drawn over windows will better insulate the room.
2. Install a tankless water heater.
Demand-type water heaters (tankless or instantaneous) provide hot water only as it is needed. They don’t produce the standby energy losses associated with traditional storage water heaters, which will save on energy costs. Tankless water heaters heat water directly without the use of a storage tank. When a hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit. A gas burner or an electric element heats the water. As a result, demand water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water. You don’t need to wait for a storage tank to fill up with enough hot water.
3. Replace incandescent lights.
The average household dedicates 11% of its energy budget to lighting. Traditional incandescent lights convert approximately only 10% of the energy they consume into light, while the rest becomes heat. The use of new lighting technologies, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), can reduce the energy use required by lighting by 50% to 75%. Advances in lighting controls offer further energy savings by reducing the amount of time that lights are on but not being used. Here are some facts about CFLs and LEDs:
- CFLs use 75% less energy and last about 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.
- LEDs last even longer than CFLs and consume less energy.
- LEDs have no moving parts and, unlike CFLs, they contain no mercury.
4. Seal and insulate your home.
Sealing and insulating your home is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a home more comfortable and energy-efficient, and you can do it yourself. A tightly sealed home can improve comfort and indoor air quality while reducing utility bills. An InterNACHI energy auditor can assess leakage in the building envelope and recommend fixes that will dramatically increase comfort and energy savings.
The following are some common places where leakage may occur:
- electrical receptacles/outlets;
- mail slots;
- around pipes and wires;
- wall- or window-mounted air conditioners;
- attic hatches;
- fireplace dampers;
- inadequate weatherstripping around doors;
- window frames; and
- switch plates.
Because hot air rises, air leaks are most likely to occur in the attic. Homeowners can perform a variety of repairs and maintenance to their attics that save them money on cooling and heating, such as:
- Plug the large holes. Locations in the attic where leakage is most likely to be the greatest are where walls meet the attic floor, behind and under attic knee walls, and in dropped-ceiling areas.
- Seal the small holes. You can easily do this by looking for areas where the insulation is darkened. Darkened insulation is a result of dusty interior air being filtered by insulation before leaking through small holes in the building envelope. In cold weather, you may see frosty areas in the insulation caused by warm, moist air condensing and then freezing as it hits the cold attic air. In warmer weather, you’ll find water staining in these same areas. Use expanding foam or caulk to seal the openings around plumbing vent pipes and electrical wires. Cover the areas with insulation after the caulk is dry.
- Seal up the attic access panel with weatherstripping. You can cut a piece of fiberglass or rigid foamboard insulation in the same size as the attic hatch and glue it to the back of the attic access panel. If you have pull-down attic stairs or an attic door, these should be sealed in a similar manner.
5. Install efficient showerheads and toilets.
The following systems can be installed to conserve water usage in homes:
- low-flow showerheads. They are available in different flow rates, and some have a pause button which shuts off the water while the bather lathers up;
- low-flow toilets. Toilets consume 30% to 40% of the total water used in homes, making them the biggest water users. Replacing an older 3.5-gallon toilet with a modern, low-flow 1.6-gallon toilet can reduce usage an average of 2 gallons-per-flush (GPF), saving 12,000 gallons of water per year. Low-flow toilets usually have “1.6 GPF” marked on the bowl behind the seat or inside the tank;
- vacuum-assist toilets. This type of toilet has a vacuum chamber that uses a siphon action to suck air from the trap beneath the bowl, allowing it to quickly fill with water to clear waste. Vacuum-assist toilets are relatively quiet; and
- dual-flush toilets. Dual-flush toilets have been used in Europe and Australia for years and are now gaining in popularity in the U.S. Dual-flush toilets let you choose between a 1-gallon (or less) flush for liquid waste, and a 1.6-gallon flush for solid waste. Dual-flush 1.6-GPF toilets reduce water consumption by an additional 30%.
6. Use appliances and electronics responsibly.
Appliances and electronics account for about 20% of household energy bills in a typical U.S. home. The following are tips that will reduce the required energy of electronics and appliances:
- Refrigerators and freezers should not be located near the stove, dishwasher or heat vents, or exposed to direct sunlight. Exposure to warm areas will force them to use more energy to remain cool.
- Computers should be shut off when not in use. If unattended computers must be left on, their monitors should be shut off. According to some studies, computers account for approximately 3% of all energy consumption in the United States.
- Use efficient ENERGY STAR-rated appliances and electronics. These devices, approved by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR Program, include TVs, home theater systems, DVD players, CD players, receivers, speakers, and more. According to the EPA, if just 10% of homes used energy-efficient appliances, it would reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of 1.7 million acres of trees.
- Chargers, such as those used for laptops and cell phones, consume energy when they are plugged in. When they are not connected to electronics, chargers should be unplugged.
- Laptop computers consume considerably less electricity than desktop computers.
7. Install daylighting as an alternative to electrical lighting.
Daylighting is the practice of using natural light to illuminate the home’s interior. It can be achieved using the following approaches:
- skylights. It’s important that they be double-pane or they may not be cost-effective. Flashing skylights correctly is key to avoiding leaks;
- light shelves. Light shelves are passive devices designed to bounce light deep into a building. They may be interior or exterior. Light shelves can introduce light into a space up to 2½ times the distance from the floor to the top of the window, and advanced light shelves may introduce four times that amount;
- clerestory windows. Clerestory windows are short, wide windows set high on the wall. Protected from the summer sun by the roof overhang, they allow winter sun to shine through for natural lighting and warmth; and
- light tubes. Light tubes use a special lens designed to amplify low-level light and reduce light intensity from the midday sun. Sunlight is channeled through a tube coated with a highly reflective material, and then enters the living space through a diffuser designed to distribute light evenly.
8. Insulate windows and doors.
About one-third of the home’s total heat loss usually occurs through windows and doors. The following are ways to reduce energy lost through windows and doors:
- Seal all window edges and cracks with rope caulk. This is the cheapest and simplest option.
- Windows can be weatherstripped with a special lining that is inserted between the window and the frame. For doors, apply weatherstripping around the whole perimeter to ensure a tight seal when they’re closed. Install quality door sweeps on the bottom of the doors, if they aren’t already in place.
- Install storm windows at windows with only single panes. A removable glass frame can be installed over an existing window.
- If existing windows have rotted or damaged wood, cracked glass, missing putty, poorly fitting sashes, or locks that don’t work, they should be repaired or replaced.
9. Cook smart.
An enormous amount of energy is wasted while cooking. The following recommendations and statistics illustrate less wasteful ways of cooking:
- Convection ovens are more efficient that conventional ovens. They use fans to force hot air to circulate more evenly, thereby allowing food to be cooked at a lower temperature. Convection ovens use approximately 20% less electricity than conventional ovens.
- Microwave ovens consume approximately 80% less energy than conventional ovens.
- Pans should be placed on the matching size heating element or flame.
- Using lids on pots and pans will heat food more quickly than cooking in uncovered pots and pans.
- Pressure cookers reduce cooking time dramatically.
- When using conventional ovens, food should be placed on the top rack. The top rack is hotter and will cook food faster.
10. Change the way you do laundry.
- Do not use the medium setting on your washer. Wait until you have a full load of clothes, as the medium setting saves less than half of the water and energy used for a full load.
- Avoid using high-temperature settings when clothes are not very soiled. Water that is 140° F uses far more energy than 103° F for the warm-water setting, but 140° F isn’t that much more effective for getting clothes clean.
- Clean the lint trap every time before you use the dryer. Not only is excess lint a fire hazard, but it will prolong the amount of time required for your clothes to dry.
- If possible, air-dry your clothes on lines and racks.
- Spin-dry or wring clothes out before putting them into a dryer.
A Pre-Listing Inspection Can Prevent A Missed Sale
Knowing about potential problems with a home before you list it will prepare you to deal with requests from potential buyers.
A home inspection can be nerve-wracking for the seller, especially in a market like this. Potential buyers aren’t afraid to demand that long lists of problems be addressed before the sale is finalized. This is happening more and more frequently, as I’m sure you’ve witnessed.
No matter how much you do to prepare the home, realize that a home inspector is always going to find something wrong.
More times than not, problems are minor and easy enough for the seller to either fix or credit towards the sales price. It’s the not knowing and discovery of major deficiencies, coupled with the unwillingness of the seller to negotiate — that can kill a deal.
It’s always in the sellers (and your) best interest to be aware of anything that a home inspection might turn up. It can cost more to address a problem by lowering the sale price than it would have if it had been known and addressed before the buyers home inspector found it. For every $100 of cost, the buyer thinks it’s worth a $1000 in price reduction. “The nature of the beast, so to speak.”
The thorough way to prepare is to have your seller get an unbiased inspection before you list the home on the market. A pre-listing inspection will tell you exactly what needs to be fixed before you begin your search for a buyer.
But sellers often don’t spend the money for a pre-listing inspection for numerous reasons. Whether it be financial or the belief that there is nothing wrong with their home, a pre-listing inspection will address everything that is ultimately going to be addressed – and usually at a fraction of the cost.
A seller should know everything there is to know about their home so they can easily address it and talk about it if asked. Simple things like addressing and OLD water stain can make a world of difference. As we have all been told over the years – “There’s no second chance at a first impression.”
A home owner should walk out of the house, turn around and walk back in with fresh eyes as if they were the buyer.
Inspectors will be looking for problems with the home’s mechanical systems such as HVAC, electrical & plumbing. Signs of water damage, mold, leaks, termites and structural or mechanical problems will always be a top priority. They’ll also look at projects the homeowners have done themselves, including for example, that upgraded electrical outlets are grounded and working properly, ceiling fans were installed correctly and decks were built with proper structure.
As much as you can, have your seller get their house as ready as possible by fixing the problems or at minimum, have a plan on how you will address them when the buyer brings them up. Little things are just as important as the major things I have mentioned. Make sure that everything is clean and operable such as gutters, windows and peeling paint. Also, replace any leaky faucets, broken windows and squeaky doors and cabinets. You might also want to have the septic tank pumped and the furnace and air-conditioning systems serviced (as the should be every year).
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The Home Inspection Contingency
Your first clue that a home inspection is important is that it can be used as a contingency in your purchase offer. This contingency provides that if significant defects are revealed by a home inspection, you can back out of your offer, free of penalty, within a certain timeframe. The potential problems a home can have must be pretty serious if they could allow you to walk away from such a significant contract. (For more on closing on your home, read Understanding The Escrow Process.)
What a Home Inspection Examines
Inspectors vary in experience, ability and thoroughness, but a good inspector should examine certain components of the home you want to purchase and then produce a report covering his or her findings. The typical inspection lasts two to three hours and you should be present for the inspection to get a firsthand explanation of the inspector’s findings and, if necessary, ask questions. Also, any problems the inspector uncovers will make more sense if you see them in person instead of relying solely on the snapshot photos in the report.
The inspector should note:
- whether each problem is a safety issue, major defect, or minor defect
- which items need replacement and which should be repaired or serviced
- items that are suitable for now but that should be monitored closely
A really great inspector will even tell you about routine maintenance that should be performed, which can be a great help if you are a first-time homebuyer. (To learn more, read First-Time Homebuyer Guide.)
While it is impossible to list everything an inspector could possibly check for, the following list will give you a general idea of what to expect. (Home maintenance can cost you more than you bargained for. Read Four Overlooked Homeownership Costs to learn more.)
- Exterior walls – The inspector will check for damaged or missing siding, cracks and whether the soil is in excessively close contact with the bottom of the house, which can invite wood-destroying insects. However, the pest inspector, not the home inspector, will check for actual damage from these insects. The inspector will let you know which problems are cosmetic and which could be more serious.
- Foundation – If the foundation is not visible, and it usually is not, the inspector will not be able to examine it directly, but they can check for secondary evidence of foundation issues, like cracks or settling.
- Grading – The inspector will let you know whether the grading slopes away from the house as it should. If it doesn’t, water could get into the house and cause damage, and you will need to either change the slope of the yard or install a drainage system. (Read about managing the expense of a yard in Save Money On Summer Bills.)
- Garage or carport – The inspector will test the garage door for proper opening and closing, check the garage framing if it is visible and determine if the garage is properly ventilated (to prevent accidental carbon monoxide poisoning). If the water heater is in the garage, the inspector will make sure it is installed high enough off the ground to minimize the risk of explosion from gasoline fumes mingling with the heater’s flame.
- Roof – The inspector will check for areas where roof damage or poor installation could allow water to enter the home, such as loose, missing or improperly secured shingles and cracked or damaged mastic around vents. He or she will also check the condition of the gutters. (The roof offers opportunities for energy-conscious homeowners. Read Building Green For Your House And Wallet to learn more.)
- Plumbing – The home inspector will check all faucets and showers, look for visible leaks, such as under sinks and test the water pressure. He or she will also identify the kind of pipes the house has, if any pipes are visible. The inspector may recommend a secondary inspection if the pipes are old to determine if or when they might need to be replaced and how much the work would cost. The inspector will also identify the location of the home’s main water shutoff valve.
- Electrical – The inspector will identify the kind of wiring the home has, test all the outlets and make sure there are functional ground fault circuit interrupters (which can protect you from electrocution, electric shock and electrical burns) installed in areas like the bathrooms, kitchen, garage and outdoors. They will also check your electrical panel for any safety issues and check your electrical outlets to make sure they do not present a fire hazard.
- Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) – The inspector will look at your HVAC system to estimate the age of the furnace and airconditioner, determine if they function properly and recommend repairs or maintenance. An inspector can also give you an idea of the age of the home’s ducting, whether it might have leaks, if your home has sufficient insulation to minimize your energy bills and whether there is any asbestos insulation.
- Water heater – The home inspector will identify the age of the heater and determine if it is properly installed and secured. The inspector will also let you know what kind of condition it is in and give you a general idea of how many years it has left.
- Kitchen appliances – The inspector will sometimes check kitchen appliances that come with the home to make sure they work, but these are not always part of the inspection. Be sure to ask the inspector which appliances are not included so that you can check them yourself. (Energy-efficient appliances can save you big bucks. Read Ten Ways To Save Energy And Money to learn more.)
- Laundry room – The inspector will make sure the laundry room is properly vented. A poorly maintained dryer-exhaust system can be a serious fire hazard.
- Fire safety – If the home has an attached garage, the inspector will make sure the wall has the proper fire rating and that it hasn’t been damaged in any way that would compromise its fire rating. They will also test the home’s smoke detectors. (Learn more about protecting your home from fire in Insurance Tips For Homeowners.)
- Bathrooms – The inspector will check for visible leaks, properly secured toilets, adequate ventilation and other issues. If the bathroom does not have a window and/or a ventilation fan, mold and mildew can become problems and moisture can warp wood cabinets over time.
Home Inspection Shortcomings
A home inspection can’t identify everything that might be wrong with the property – it only checks for visual cues to problems. For example, if the home’s doors do not close properly or the floors are slanted, the foundation might have a crack – but if the crack can’t be seen without pulling up all the flooring in the house, a home inspector can’t tell you for sure if it’s there.
Furthermore, most home inspectors are generalists – that is, they can tell you that the plumbing might have a problem, but then they will recommend that you hire an expert to verify the problem and give you an estimate of the cost to fix it. Of course, hiring additional inspectors will cost extra money. Home inspectors also do not check for issues like termite damage, site contamination, mold, engineering problems and other specialized issues. (Learn how to find qualified experts in The Better Business Bureau’s Tool Belt For Saving Cash.)
After the Inspection
Once you have the results of your home inspection, you have several options.
- If the problems are too significant or too expensive to fix, you can choose to walk away from the purchase, as long as the purchase contract has an inspection contingency.
- For problems large or small, you can ask the seller to fix them, reduce the purchase price, or to give you a cash credit at closing to fix the problems yourself – this is where a home inspection can pay for itself several times over. (Read 10 Tips For Getting A Fair Price On A Home.)
- If these options aren’t viable in your situation (for example, if the property is bank-owned and being sold as-is), you can get estimates to fix the problems yourself and come up with a plan for repairs in order of their importance and affordability once you own the property. (To learn more, read Do-It-Yourself Projects To Boost Home Value.)
A home inspection will cost you a little bit of time and money, but in the long run you’ll be glad you did it. The inspection can reveal problems that you may be able to get the current owners to fix before you move in, saving you time and money. If you are a first-time homebuyer, an inspection can give you a crash course in home maintenance and a checklist of items that need attention to make your home as safe and sound as possible. Don’t skip this important step in the home-buying process – it’s worth every penny.
Amy Fontinelle is a financial journalist and editor for a variety of websites, public policy organizations, and book publishers. She has written hundreds of published articles and blog posts on topics including budgeting, credit management, real estate and investing. Her articles have been featured on the homepage of Yahoo! and on Yahoo! Finance, Forbes.com, SFGate.com and numerous local news websites.