What To Look For During a Home Inspection

A general home inspection is essentially visual, and distinct from those of specialists such as mold, inasmuch as they do not include the use of specialized instruments, the dismantling of equipment or the sampling of air and inert materials. Consequently a general inspection and the report that follows will not be as comprehensive, or as technically exhaustive, as that generated by specialists, nor is it intended to be. The purpose of a general home inspection is to identify significant defects or adverse conditions that would warrant a specialist evaluation. You should, therefore, be aware of the limitations of a general home inspection. In addition, the general home inspection is not intended to document the type of cosmetic or obvious deficiencies that would be apparent to the average person, and certainly not intended to identify insignificant deficiencies. During the inspection, the inspector may take some pictures to help explain or document his findings. He may not take a picture of every defect. You should question your inspector if you are interested in such pictures.

Scope of Inspection

An inspector will evaluate and test conditions, systems, or components of systems, and report on their condition, which does not mean that they are ideal but that they are either currently functional or meet a reasonable standard at the time of the inspection. An inspector does not generally take into account the age of a home or allow for the predictable deterioration that occurs through time, such as cracks in concrete or plaster, scuffed or nicked walls or woodwork, worn or squeaky floors, or stuck windows. You should address any specific concerns you have about the property to the inspector before the inspection to make sure all parties understand the scope of the inspection. You should also ask the inspector what type of warranty or guarantee the inspection provides. The inspector will not normally comment on conditions such as termites, carpenter ants, carpenter beetles, carpenter bees, dry rot, fungus, mold, lead paint, asbestos, radon, methane, formaldehyde, electromagnetic radiation, etc. You should schedule any such inspections with a specialist in that field if you have any concerns about such conditions.


Mold is a microorganism that has tiny spores that are spread on the air, land and feed on organic matter. It takes many different forms, some of them benign and some of them toxic that represent a serious health threat. Some characterized as allergens are relatively benign but can provoke allergic reactions among sensitive people, and others characterized as pathogens can have adverse health effects on segments of the population such as the very young, the very elderly and people with suppressed immune systems. The molds that commonly appear on bathroom tile do not usually constitute a health threat but should be removed. Other molds that form on cellulose materials such as drywall, plaster, and wood are potentially toxic. If mold is to be found in a home it will likely be in the area of tubs, showers, toilets, sinks water heaters, evaporator coils, attics with unvented bathroom exhaust fans, and return-air compartments that draw outside air. Mold can appear as though spontaneously at any time. It is important to maintain clean air-supply ducts and to change filters as soon as they become soiled because contaminated air ducts are a common breeding ground for dust mites, rust, and other contaminants.


Asbestos is a contaminant that could be present in any home built before 1978. It is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that has been widely used in a variety of thermal insulators, including paper wraps, bats, blocks and blankets. It can also be found in products such as duct insulation and acoustical materials, plasters, siding, floor tiles, heat vents, and roofing products. Asbestos can only be identified by laboratory analysis. Single asbestos fiber is believed to cause cancer and is, therefore, considered a potential health threat. However, asbestos is considered dangerous when it is released into the air and inhaled. For this reason there is a distinction between asbestos in good condition, called non-friable, and asbestos in poor condition, called friable, which means its fibers can be easily crumbled and therefore become airborne.


Radon is a gas that results from the natural decay of radioactive materials within the soil and is believed to cause lung cancer. The gas is able to enter homes through spaces around pipes in concrete floors or through the floorboards of poorly ventilated crawlspaces, and particularly when the ground is wet and the gas cannot easily escape through the soil and disperse into the atmosphere. We cannot detect the presence of radon gas through sight or smell, and its existence can only be determined by laboratory analysis.


Lead is also a health threat. In the 1920’s it was commonly found in many plumbing systems. In fact our word “plumbing” is derived from the Latin “plumbum” which means lead. As a component of potable water pipes it can be a health hazard. Lead can be present in any home built as recently as 1940. Lead was also an active ingredient in many household paints which can be released in the process of sanding. Lead can be detected by laboratory analysis.

Most homes constructed after 1978 are assumed to be free of asbestos and many other common environmental contaminants.