Doing Damage During an Inspection: It's Your Job

by Nick Gromicko and Kate Tarasenko
Have you ever broken something at a home during an inspection?  Weíre not talking about accidentally knocking over a vase or putting a gouge in a doorframe with your toolbox.  Weíre talking about snapping the handle off a hose bibb, or putting your foot through the roof of the garage, and similar mishaps.  If this has ever happened to you and your first instinct is to calculate a discount on your service fees while offering profuse apologies, itís time you reframed the situation.  Your client shouldnít be upset with you; they should be thanking you!  A ball valve with a broken handle (photo by

According to InterNACHIís Standards of Practice for Performing a General Home Inspection (and any other state-mandated SOP youíre required to follow), youíre performing a non-invasive, visual examination of the homeís systems and components that is designed to identify defects.  When you perform any type of testing to verify functionality, youíre using normal operating controls under normal conditions, and assuming regular maintenance.

So, when the photo-electric eyes on the garage door become stuck in the ďonĒ position and the door or motorized components overheat, become disabled, or simply break, youíve just identified a major defect and serious safety hazard.  Your client should be grateful that it was a trained inspector who discovered the defect, rather than the familyís inexperienced teenage driver who may panic and try to hide the problem from mom and dad.

Likewise, although roofs arenít made to be regularly walked on the way stairs and sidewalks are, theyíre constructed to support multiple roof layers, as well as snow loads, and even workers repairing or replacing them.  So, if you manage to put your foot through the roof, youíve discovered a severely weakened area that was likely going to give the next time heavy weather hits, or when dad tries to install a satellite dish, clean the gutters, or mount a lighted holiday display.  You havenít caused damage; youíve actually spared your client from disaster.

The same logic applies to other components that the homeowner may rarely or never touch, such as the various switches and shutoff valves you inspect.  If by merely operating it under normal conditions, the switch or valve or component breaks off, malfunctions, or just falls apart in your hands, youíve just identified a serious defect and alerted your client to an immediate repair issue.  Itís truly impossible to calculate the expense and grief youíve saved your clients by encountering such a problem before they do.
Use this simple test: If it would break during normal use for your clients on the day they moved into the house, could you imagine that your clients (rightly or wrongly) might call you and complain, even if it wasn't your job to check it? If your answer is "yes," then it would not be your fault that it broke at the inspection during normal operation if you did happen to check it--and certainly not your responsibility to have it repaired.
Remember to reframe the situation the next time you think youíve caused damage during an inspection:  Itís not your responsibility to repair things; itís your responsibility to break them!
InterNACHI's Standards of Practice for Performing a General Home Inspection
Proving Negligence
14 Steps That Help Home Inspectors Avoid Lawsuits
The Comparative Negligence Defense for Home Inspectors
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