A certified home inspector doesn’t comb every square interior inch of a house, but certain systems should be included in every report. Defects that affect the comfort and safety of the new owners, as well as the structural integrity of the home, take top priority.
If you’ve wondered what inspectors look for, here are 10 common areas that always get attention. This is just a sampling of the many things you’ll learn about home interiors when you enroll with ICA School.
#1: Which Type of Roof Sheathing is Installed?
Roof systems have at least one type of flat sheathing material installed over the rafters. Sheathing helps give permanent stability to the rafters, creates a sturdy surface to protect the home from impact damage and gives the roofing underlayment as well as shingles or another roofing material a supporting foundation.
Common types of sheathing
- Oriented Stand Board (OSB)
- Planks or boards installed horizontally with close spacing
- Skip sheathing (Similar to planks, but widely spaced. Used for shakes and shingles)
Common sheathing defects
- Evidence of a fire
- Paint (Sometimes used to seal out odors from a house fire or as a mold treatment)
- Open spaces between lower floors and the attic
- Evidence of animal or insect infestation
#2: Is the Attic in Good Condition?
You’ll view the roof sheathing from inside the attic, but this space holds a lot more clues about the integrity and condition of the home. For example, you can learn whether ice dams are a problem in winter, discover ventilation and moisture problems and whether the home has safe adequate insulation.
Common attic defects
- Missing firebreaks
- Evidence of animal or insect infestation
- Chimney damage
- Insulation defects
- Dryer vents that terminate in the attic
- Ventilation defects
#3: Are the Interior Living Spaces Obstructed?
Not everyone has a well-organized home. Some people are clutter bugs, and that can interfere with your inspection process. Make a note in your report to indicate areas where clutter or an overabundance of belongings restrict your access to inspect. You might not mind moving a small box to access an attic panel, but you probably won’t take on a piano or a bulky armoire. Remember, an inspection is limited to what’s visible and accessible.
Common obstructions include
- Freestanding armoires or cupboards
- Fixed panels
- Anything that’s too large to move
- Belongings that you could break or otherwise damage by handling
#4: What is the Condition of the Ceiling?
Interior inspections work from the top down, so the ceiling in every room should get your attention first. Ceilings might be plaster, drywall, paneling, tiles or you might find a drop-ceiling installation with acoustic tiles.
Common ceiling defects
- Low ceilings (They should be at least 7 feet tall)
- Touch-up paint, which can indicate an old leak
- Plaster lost key or plaster that’s popped away from the lath
- Asbestos ceiling tiles
- Nail pops
#5: Are the Walls Sound and Stable?
Walls are usually fabricated from the same types of materials as ceilings and they can suffer from some of the same issues. Wood paneling, plaster, drywall and tiles are the most common finishes and they may be painted, wallpapered or left bare.
Common wall defects
- Impact damage
- Missing tile grout
- Sealant gaps
- Soft wall areas in bathrooms and kitchens
#6: Are the Floors Sound and Flat?
Floors take more abuse than any other large, flat surface in the home. They’re prone to damage from impacts, wear, strain and inferior structural components. Floors begin with joists, over which subfloor sheathing such as OSB, plywood or wide boards such as planks are installed. Flooring material such as tiles or hardwood isn’t structural, but it can indicate defects with the subfloor or framing.
Common floor defects
- Loose flooring
- “Soft” floors that feel unstable or bouncy, especially in wet areas
- Trip hazards
#7: Is the Staircase Safe for Children and Foot Traffic?
Staircases in older homes might be oddly steep and narrow, making them difficult for children and adults to climb. Handrails might seem oddly low. Balusters might have wide spacing, which is a special danger for small children. Home inspections don’t necessarily report on code issues, but staircase code issues are often safety hazards that should make their way into your report.
Common staircase defects
- Handrails lower than 30 inches or higher than 37 inches
- Balusters spaced more than 6 inches apart
- Wobbly handrails or balusters
- Loose stair treads
- Risers taller than 8 inches or shorter than 7 inches
- Tread depth less than 8 1/4 inches
- Inconsistent tread depth and riser height
- Staircase doors with no landing
#8: Are Cupboards Sturdy?
Cupboards or cabinets and countertops are usually installed in bathrooms, kitchens and laundry areas, but might also be elsewhere such as a craft room or garage. They’re heavy and often bear a lot of weight, especially where dishes and cookware are stored, so the condition is as important for aesthetics as it is to safety.
Common cupboard and countertop defects
- Loose cupboards
- Loose doors
- Drawers that stick or won’t close properly
- Physical damage
- Loose tiles
- Missing grout
- Water damage such as warping under the sink
- Mildew around wet areas
- Poor fabrication or installation craftsmanship
- Loose countertop
#9: How do Interior Doors Perform?
Interior doors also take a lot of use and abuse from ordinary opening and closing to the occasional ill-tempered slam. Older doors tend to be well-made, but they can separate at the joints or warp over time. Hollow-core doors are easy to damage. It’s not uncommon to find holes through the center and jagged bottom edges.
Common door defects
- Rubbing at the jamb
- Poor or inoperable latch
- Loose hinges or other hardware
- Out of plumb (The door swings open or closed on its own)
- Loose Luan panels on hollow-core doors
#10: Are Windows Functional and in Good Condition?
Older windows can last centuries with good care. Newer, high-tech windows provide excellent insulation. Both types of windows leave the home vulnerable if they’re in poor condition, including one of the most annoying issues in an older house: windows painted or nailed shut.
Common window defects
- Cracked or missing glass
- Broken multi-pane window seal (Look for foggy glass)
- Failing paint, putty and sealants
- Lower sash falls closed (This usually indicates broken sash weight rope inside the jamb)
- Sash won’t open (The window might be nailed, screwed, sealed or painted shut)
- Upper sash won’t lower
- Missing locks
- Missing or peeling paint
- Water stains around the window
- Egress fire safety issues such as too-small windows in bedrooms or bars that prevent egress
When you become a home inspector, your impression of dwellings will probably change. Homes are complicated and sometimes sprawling structures that can feel overwhelming on your first inspection. Over time, you’ll develop your own system and worry less about overlooking something vital.
Enrolling in the ICA School home inspection training program prepares you for a career that’s often challenging and rarely dull. If you’re ready to take the plunge, enroll now and learn at your own pace.