Doing Damage During an Inspection: It's Your Job

by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Kate Tarasenko
Have you ever broken something at a home during an inspection?  We’re not talking about accidentally knocking over a vase or putting a gouge in a doorframe with your toolbox.  We’re talking about snapping the handle off a hose bibb (see image below), turning on a dishwasher that leaks all over the floor, putting your hand through the water-damaged tile wall in a shower, making a big hole in a rotten window sill with your screwdriver, 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, it’s time you reframed the situation. Your client shouldn’t be upset with you; they should be thanking you!  A ball valve with a broken handle (photo by

According to InterNACHI’s Home Inspection Standards of Practice (and any other state-mandated standards you’re required to follow), you’re performing a non-invasive, visual examination of the home’s systems and components that is designed to identify defects.  When you perform any type of testing to verify functionality, you’re 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 “on” position and the door or motorized components overheat, become disabled, or simply break, you’ve just identified a major defect and serious safety hazard. If the GFCI receptacle tripped and won't reset, you have found a defect. If the bottom sash of a window falls out of its frame after you opened it, you've found a defect. Your client should be grateful that it was a trained inspector who discovered the defects, rather than themselves experiencing major problems and safety hazards with their house.

Likewise, although roofs aren’t made to be regularly walked on the way stairs and sidewalks are, they’re 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, you’ve 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 haven’t caused damage; you’ve 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, you’ve just identified a serious defect and alerted your client to an immediate repair issue.  It’s truly impossible to calculate the expense and grief you’ve 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 you’ve caused damage during an inspection:  It’s not your responsibility to repair things; it’s your responsibility to break them!