Home inspectors play an important role for homeowners and homebuyers. These professionals help consumers make informed decisions about real estate and help homebuyers determine the true state and condition of a property they are considering buying.
Home inspection first became part of real estate purchases in the 1950s and by the 1970s it was considered a very important step. After all, someone purchasing a home cannot tell from merely looking whether a house or condo has any problems with plumbing, electricity, structural integrity or any other major systems. Inspectors help prevent unpleasant surprises after move-in day. In 1976, The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) was established. This organization created the ASHI Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics to help ensure everyone in the real estate purchasing and selling process had access to accurate and credible information.
What Are the ASHI Standards of Practice?
The ASHI Standards of Practice set mandates for home inspectors. These standards are regularly reviewed and updated. They have been developed through a review of consumer concerns and conditions in the market. Professional groups outside of ASHI as well as governments use these standards when outlining expected professional performance for inspectors.
Under the ASHI Standards of Practice, home inspectors are required to provide unbiased information about the condition of a home’s systems and components at the time of the inspection. As part the process, professionals are to report any inspected components and systems which are found to be deficient, not working correctly, unsafe or close to the end of their service. In their reports, inspectors are to indicate any systems or components which were not inspected and report why an inspection did not occur. Inspection reports may also recommend monitoring or correcting any problems, although reports generally stop short of making specific suggestions for remedies. If it is not clear why a specific component or system was found to be unsafe or deficient, the report will offer an explanation.
These systems and components are generally included in inspections under ASHI standards:
- Structural components, such as framing and foundation
- Interior and exterior steps and stairways (including their railings)
- Some of the installed cabinets and cupboards
- Some of the windows and doors
- Garage doors and the systems for operating the garage doors
- The distribution system and the central and through-wall equipment associated with the home’s central air conditioning system
- Attics (unless they are not easily accessible)
- Insulation in unfinished spaces
- Vapor control components and vapor retardants in unfinished areas
- Ventilation, including mechanical systems and systems installed in foundation and attic areas of the home
- The system components of fireplaces
- The system components of the home’s sold fuel-burning appliances
- Under-floor crawl spaces (unless they are not easily accessible)
- Floor structures
- Wall structures
- Ceiling structures
- Roof structures
- Roof drainage
- interior water distribution and supply
- Fixtures and faucets
- Vent systems
- Drain and waste systems (including their fixtures)
- Hot water supply system
- Water heating equipment
- Fuel storage
- Fuel distribution systems.
- Drainage sumps
- Sump pumps
- Piping related to the water systems and drainage systems
- Roof penetrations, skylight and chimneys
- Flashing and trim
- Exterior doors
- Any decks, balconies, patios, porches, steps, stoops and the railings with these structures
- Soffits (if accessible from ground level)
- Eaves (if accessible from ground level)
- Fascias (if accessible from ground level)
- Retaining walls
- Drainage, vegetation and grading which could affect the buildings
- Electrical service drops
- Raceways, conductors and cables at the service entrance
- Main disconnects and service equipment related to the electrical power supply
- Components associated with service grounding
- Installed heating equipment
- Service panels and subpanels (and their interior components)
- Devices deigned to offer overcurrent protection
- A portion of the home’s switches, lighting fixtures and receptacles
- Ground fault circuit interrupters.
- Entryway walkways and driveways
A homebuyer or other party requesting the inspection may ask for specific items not to be inspected. Under the standards, inspectors may also choose not to inspect specific components if they are not accessible readily or if accessing the component could cause damage. For example, when probing to determine the state of a foundation might lead to damage to siding or surfaces, the inspector may choose not to probe and note this on the report. In addition, inspectors are not required to provide any option or analysis based on architecture or engineering. In reports, inspectors will indicate how they inspected specific hard-to-reach areas such as under-floor crawl spaces.
An inspector will not have to inspect:
- Uninstalled items
- Underground items
- Common spaces in condo buildings or other shared buildings
- Antennae and satellite dishes
- The inside of flues or chimneys (if they are not easily accessible)
- Seasonal or holiday décor or accessories
- Window air conditioning units
- Heat exchangers
- Electronic air filters
- Fire doors for fireplaces
- The seals, combustion make-up air devices, automatic fuel feed device, heat distribution assists, and gaskets of fireplaces and solid fuel-burning appliances
- Fireplace mantles
- Fireplace surrounds
- Solar heating systems
- Soil conditions or geological features
- Outhouses and outbuildings (except carports and garages)
- Recreational structures
- Measures taken on the property for earth stabilization or erosion prevention
- The connections associated with clothes washing machine or the machines themselves
- Wells, well pumps and related equipment associated with water storage
- Solar-powered water heating systems
- Low voltage wiring systems and their components
- Ancillary wiring systems and their components (if they are not part of the primary electrical system)
- Water conditioning systems
- Remote control accessories devices
- Safety or burglar alarm systems and their components
- Paint, wallpaper, and other décor or finishing options
- Home appliances
- Blinds or window treatments
- Central vacuum systems
- Recreational devices, appliances or facilities
- Fire sprinkler systems
- Lawn sprinkler systems
- Private waste disposal systems
The standards established by ASHI are meant to be used on residential buildings only and are not meant to be exhaustive or technical. They are not designed to diagnose issues which are concealed. The standards also protect inspectors by clearly stating that they are not expected or required to:
- Inspect the systems or components that cannot be easily accessed
- Predict future performance or conditions of components or systems
- Assess the presence of hazardous environmental conditions or materials or comment on the effectiveness of any systems designed to deal with these hazards
- Offer an opinion on the value of the home or the potential use or suitability of the home for a specific use
- Determine the future costs or operating costs of the home’s components or systems
- Comment on the acoustical properties of anything in the home
- Determine whether the home complies with regulations, including building codes, bylaws and other regulations
- Guess how long a specific system or component will last
- Tell the homebuyer whether they “should” buy the home or not
- Find any possibly harmful animals and plants (including mold)
- Evaluate the likely costs or specific methods of correcting and found issues
- Determine the effectiveness, strength or efficiency of any home’s component or system
- Speculate on what has caused a deficiency
- Offer any warranties or guarantees
- Perform any action or service which is illegal or not allowed by law
- Place themselves in danger to conduct an inspection
- Attempt to inspect any components or systems which would require damage to the property or would require the inspector try to access something which is not readily accessible
- Perform any unreasonable action in order to complete an inspection (for example, move property, furniture, snow, ice, debris or equipment to access an area)
At the end of the inspection process, professionals will provide the seller or buyer of the home a report which outlines the basics of the inspection, what was inspected and the findings. The report will include details about any deficiencies found, the date of the inspection and a description of some of the home’s components and systems.
Changes to the Standards
Changes to the ASHI Standard of Practice are made regularly to address new homebuyer and seller concerns and to address the changing marketplace. The latest set of changes was announced in 2006 and went into effect on March 1, 2014.
One of the biggest changes made involved installed kitchen appliances. Under new standards, inspectors must operate one basic function of installed kitchen appliances to test them. Laundry appliances and refrigerators do not have to be inspected, but other major appliances (including microwaves, dishwasher, food disposals, ovens, ranges and other appliances are to be inspected. The goal is to determine whether the appliances work and inspectors are not required to determine efficiency. They do not need to ensure that sensors work on these devices or that specific levels of heat are reached in an oven, for example.
The changes also require inspectors to test all solid fuel-burning fireplaces made from factory-made or masonry components. Inspectors should inspect:
- Gas burning fireplaces
- Liquid fuel-burning fireplaces
- Fuel-burning stoves
- Any chimneys and vent systems which are easily accessible
- Fireplace accessories (gas logs)
- Fireplace inserts
Inspectors are required to report whether carbon monoxide alarms are present in a home. They do not need to determine the type of alarm, its effectiveness or its age. They do not need to test the alarms.
The instructions about probing have also been clarified. Inspectors are not to probe any components if it may cause damage. Under the new rules, however, probing is allowed if a professional feels there is deterioration or if probing may reveal important material facts.
Wiring is a key issue in many home inspections and after March 1, 2014, inspectors no longer need to report if solid-conductor branch circuit wiring is found in a home. They do need to report the home’s main branch circuit wiring method. If knob and tube wiring methods or other wiring methods are used and are found to have a deficiency, the wiring method can be reported (even if it is solid-conductor branch circuit wiring).
Access to attics and crawlspaces has also been addressed. Under the new standards, professionals do not need to go into a crawlspace if the entrance is lower than 24 inches or if the opening is smaller than 24 inches by 16 inches. They also do not need to enter an attic area hidden or covered by any material, including insulation. Inspectors have more options when choosing to enter or not enter crawlspaces or attics under these new guidelines.
The new standards also mean inspectors no longer need to report small cosmetic flaws or service voltage. They do not need to test for leaks by filling shower pans. They no longer need to inspect:
- Hermetic seals and coatings on glazing
- Geothermal heat pumps
- Solar photovoltaic systems
- Heat/energy recovery ventilation systems
- Renewable energy systems
One interesting change has been the shortening of the official name of the standards. Instead of “ASHI Standards of Practice” the official term is now the “ASHI Standard of Practice.” The “s” on “standards” has been eliminated.
The Code of Ethics
Part of the ASHI Standards of Practice is a code of ethics, which requires inspectors to act in an honest fashion with clients. The code of ethics prohibits inspectors from having an undisclosed conflict of interest or accepting money from more than one interested party in a way which might impact the impartiality of the inspection. The code of ethics also requires inspectors to act in the best interests of the client and to act in good faith.
Who Uses the ASHI Standard of Practice?
Some states require home inspectors to be licensed and to use state-specific standards. In states without these requirements and in states where inspectors choose their own standards of practice, professionals may choose to use the ASHI Standard of Practice to protect both themselves and the people they serve. Many professionals also have their own company mission statements or may use the ASHI standards because most states standards do dovetail with the ASHI standards.
Becoming a Member of the American Society of Home Inspectors
Membership in ASHI is subject to strict regulations. To qualify, professional inspectors must:
- Have completed a minimum of 250 paid inspections which meet the requirements of the ASHI Standards of Practice
- Have passed written exams
- Meet continuing education requirements
Membership is voluntary, but many residential home inspectors do seek membership in ASHI for professional development or to seek new opportunities.
The ASHI Standards of Practice Exam
To become members of ASHI and to show knowledge of ASHI’s Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics, inspectors must pass an examination. In addition to testing standards of practice, this exam also tests:
- Ability to recognize defects
- Understanding of residential construction
- Knowledge of inspection techniques
- Report-writing skills
The ASHI Standard of Practice helps everyone in the home buying and selling market get the information they need about the general state of a property during a sale or purchasing transaction. Inspectors play an important role in his process, and the ASHI Standard of Practice ensure buyers, sellers and inspectors are protected by clearly outlining what is and is not covered in a home inspection. The ASHI Standard of Practice also ensures inspections are carried out in a thorough and effective manner.
If you are applying for membership in ASHI or wish to implement ASHI standards in your inspections, contact StateCE for robust support designed to help you meet your education requirements. StateCE supports professionals with educational services to help them excel.