Big problems missed when relying on moisture detection device

Barry Stone
Inman News

Dear Barry,

We bought our home one year ago. When we had our home inspection, we asked the inspector about a small water stain on the ceiling. He pointed some kind of sensor at it and said it was not an active leak. Recently, the ceiling stain became wet again, and that portion of the drywall fell down. It turned out that the water came from the old air conditioner in the attic. But according to the inspection report, the A/C was “new and in good working order.” Do we have any recourse against the inspector? –Deanna

Dear Deanna,

Your home inspector apparently committed three errors. The first was to evaluate a ceiling stain on the basis of current wetness or dryness. The second was not conducting a follow-up investigation of attic and roof conditions directly above the stain. The third was to misidentify the age and condition of the air conditioner.

When asked about the stain, reliance on a moisture detection device was inconclusive because stains caused by seasonal roof leaks or by intermittent mechanical leakage are not always wet. The proper approach would have been to inspect the attic and roof areas directly above the stain to investigate possible causes. Had this been done, the inspector might have discovered related water stains near the A/C system and could have recommended repairs by a licensed HVAC contractor.

The fact that your inspector described the A/C unit as “new” indicates three things: first, that he did, in fact, take a look at the system; second, that his ability to evaluate the system was so inadequate that he could not distinguish between a new or old fixture; and third, that he failed to notice evidence of condensate leakage.

On this basis, the inspector appears to have been negligent and should accept some liability for ceiling and A/C repairs. You should contact him and ask that he reinspect and discuss these issues.

Dear Barry,

Rainwater gathers on my deck at the beginning of each rainy season, and the pooling remains throughout the season. This problem did not begin until the deck surface was redone about three years ago. Are roofs with negative slope allowed, and will this be a concern when I sell the home? –Kathleen

Dear Kathleen,

Inadequate slope of flat roofs and of decks is a common construction defect. Although it violates the building code, it is generally regarded by home inspectors as a condition that warrants disclosure rather then repair, unless leakage or other related problems are observed. The reason that correction is not always prescribed is that repair can be very costly, and if the integrity of the deck membrane prevents leakage, it is hard to justify the reconstruction that would be needed to provide adequate slope for drainage.

When you sell your home, this condition could be raised as an issue by the buyers’ home inspector. Rather than awaiting the possible fallout of that disclosure, the better approach, as a seller, would be to include this condition in your disclosure statement to the buyers. Defects disclosed in that format are often accepted on an as-is basis.

Copyright 2008 Barry Stone

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