What are the responsibilities of a home inspector?

Asked by Michael Detrich, Los Angeles, CA Fri May 22, 2009

After a recent home purchase, we've learned our HVAC system is too small-(need a 4 ton unit vs. present 3ton)-this was not noted by our home inspector-do we have any recourse to recoup expenses from the inspector?

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Joe Nernberg, , Calabasas, CA
Fri May 22, 2009
Staci and Damion gave good answers. Coincidentally, I am a home inspector and an HVAC contractor. Home inspectors are generalists whose fee is not based on the number of defects found. A contractor is motivated by profit. That's not to say the home inspector was right, just something to consider when you point fingers.

Only a few HVAC systems are obviously under-sized. System capacity should be based on the building envelope (R value), not square feet. A 1600 square foot home may be fine with a 3 ton system if the walls are insulated, the attic is large, the windows are dual glazed and built on a slab. The same size house with an uninsulated crawl space, leaking single pane windows and no attic would probably need a 4 ton system. Mechanical engineers use heat gain calculations to determine cooling system requirements. If the air conditioning must run constantly to keep the home cool, then fix the house first because it's like a bucket with a hole at the bottom. Fix the hole and stop pouring air conditioning into it.

Nevertheless, call your home inspector. If I miss something, I make amends. Most of us want to do the right thing.
1 vote
Damion Flynn, Agent, Saucier, MS
Fri May 22, 2009
I think you will find it hard to get a definite answer from anyone for fear of sounding like giving legal advice. While laws vary from state to state, this would be something that would not typically fall on the home inspector in my state (MS). Home inspectors are not typically HVAC specialists and therefore will generally only comment on their findings and not necessarily on system specifications or load requirements.

My suggestion would be to contact your real estate agent (if you had a buyer's agent) and possibly even ask the home inspector why it was not noted. Ultimately, my firt thought would be that you probably do not have any recourse on the home inspector.
1 vote
Anthony Perez, Agent, Northridge, CA
Wed Jan 6, 2010
NACHI and other national organizations DO NOT require a home inspector to size the unit in any manner, your state of Texas is probably in agreement with this general rule.

Find out, look up your Texas rules and regulations, find out what national rules his contract refers to. Generally, if the inspector turned on the unit and it appeared to work (blow hot and cold air) and was not damaged or rotted then he did his job, the contractor is liable if the unit is less than four years old he can be held liable by the license board or his bond co. you have to prove your case it is definitely undersized.

NACHI: 2.4. Heating

I. The inspector shall inspect:

A. the heating systems using normal operating controls, an describe the energy source and heating method;
B. and report as in need of repair heating systems which do not operate;
C. and report if the heating systems are deemed inaccessible.

II. The inspector is not required to:

A. inspect or evaluate interiors of flues or chimneys, fire chambers, heat exchangers, combustion air systems, fresh air intakes, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, electronic air filters, geothermal systems or solar heating systems.
B. inspect fuel tanks or underground or concealed fuel supply systems.
C. determine the uniformity, temperature, flow, balance, distribution, size, capacity, BTU, or supply adequacy of the heating system.
D. light or ignite pilot flames.
E. activate heating, heat pump systems or other heating systems when ambient temperatures or other circumstances are not conducive to safe operation or may damage the equipment.
F. override electronic thermostats.
G. evaluate fuel quality.
H. verify thermostat calibration, heat anticipation, or automatic setbacks, timers, programs or clocks.

2.5. Cooling

I. The inspector shall inspect:

A. the central cooling equipment using normal operating controls.

II. The inspector is not required to:

A. determine the uniformity, temperature, flow, balance, distribution, size, capacity, BTU, or supply adequacy of the cooling system.
B. inspect window units, through-wall units, or electronic air filters.
C. operate equipment or systems if exterior temperature is below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, or when other circumstances are not conducive to safe operation, or may damage the equipment.
D. inspect or determine thermostat calibration, cooling anticipation, or automatic setbacks or clocks.
E. examine electrical current, coolant fluids or gases, or coolant leakage.

TonyP Certified Home Inspector/Contractor
0 votes
Emmanuel Sca…, , Collin County, TX
Fri May 22, 2009
Hello Michael,

Damion is very accurate with his response. As a Real Estate Inspector we must be fluent in the laws that govern other tradespeople. For example here in Texas to perform a load calculation, even a simple one, for a HVAC system is controlled by our state HVAC Tech licensing board and a licensed Professional Engineer can do this. You would have to look at your state, and potentially local, licensing boards to see if performing HVAC calculations falls under the domain of another licensed professional. If so then the Inspector was correct not to provide you with a definitive tonnage requirement.

However having said that I would look closely at the Inspectors background. If the Inspector is also an individual licensed to perform these calculations then the Inspector should have performed that for you, whether they charge or not for the calculation. If they are licensed then they should not try to hide behind their "Inspector" title and use it as an excuse.

If the Inspector knew that the possibility was there that the unit was improperly sized then the Inspector should have at least called out for you to speak with a licensed HVAC person to perform a check and sizing calculation. The problem is proving the Inspector knew or had an idea it was undersized. One way to check is to see if the Inspector belongs to any associations that require mandatory testing to enter, since CA does not license Inspectors. The Inspector may have had to test their knowledge regarding HVAC systems and that might have been part of a test.

I ran into your very situation on an inspection today. Home had a three ton unit, older home, attic insulation significantly lacking, and an 850 Sq. Ft. addition was made in the past to it. The unit was also older. I absolutely told my client the unit was potentially well undersized and should be checked by a licensed HVAC Tech.

Good luck on your quest!

Emmanuel J. Scanlan
PS Inspection & Property Services LLC
214-418-4366 (cell)
TREC License # 7593
International Code Council, Residential Combination Inspector #5247015-R5 (Electrical, Mechanical, Plumbing and Building)
Certified Infrared Thermographer (ASNT-TC1A Standards)
Texas Residential Construction Commission, Third Party Warranty Inspector #1593
Texas Residential Construction Commission, Inspector, County Inspection Program
Texas Department Of Insurance, VIP Inspector # 08507061016
Hayman Residential Engineering Services, Field Technician
CMC Energy - Certified Energy Auditor

Knowledge is power, but sharing knowledge brings peace!!
Web Reference:  http://www.psinspection.com
0 votes
Staci Siegel, Agent, Santa Monica, CA
Fri May 22, 2009
When a defect is not reported during an inspection, the inspector could be held liable if the defects were visible and accessible during the time of the inspection. If the kitchen sink was leaking from a pipe in the cabinet below and the inspector did not catch it, he would be liable. However, if there were bricks piled up in front of the kitchen sink that could not be moved, then the inspector could not be held accountable. Usually when there is something keeping the inspector from gaining access, that will be indicated in the report by a note that says something like, "could not get access, recommend further inspection." The inspector's contract will usually state limitations on liability, what kinds of things are not within the scope of his inspection, as well as limits on monetary damages which may or may not be enforceable in every state.

I don't know if you've gotten more than one opinion on your HVAC, but if you haven't, I would get another. If you find that the next vendor tells you the same thing and you believe the unit was accessible during the time of the inspection, and there is nothing on the report that indicates otherwise, then I would call your inspector and give him the opportunity to make amends. Have him explain whether it was in the scope of his inspection and if it was, and he missed it, give him the opportunity to replace it.

If you have further questions, please ask.
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