The home inspection is a really important part of the home buying process, and you may be wondering what to ask the inspector.
A good home inspector should cover all the bases, and even educate you during the home inspection. But some home inspectors tend to be more quiet, and you will have to ask them for home maintenance advice and other info on the home (outside of the report).
Don’t be afraid to ask them how to maintain the water heater, how to improve the grading, or even how to fix that item. Home inspectors are a storehouse of knowledge — so don’t be afraid to ask. You may also want to read my guide on 7 things that can fail a home inspection.
In this guide, I will go over questions to ask like…
- How much insulation is in the attic?
- Where is the main water shutoff?
- Where are the master GFCI outlets?
- And what is the electrical panel brand?
What's In This Guide?
What To Ask During The Home Inspection?
The best questions to ask during the home inspection are ones that will enhance your understanding of the home. These questions should be on home maintenance, ages of various systems, overall quality of the home, main water shutoff location, master GFCI outlets locations, and how to operate the home.
Keep reading for more details on a variety of important questions…
1. What Is The Condition Of The Roof?
Probably one of the most important questions you can ask during a home inspection is the condition and age of the roof. The most obvious roof defects are missing shingles, curling shingles, and missing flashing.
Sometimes there are roof issues that I only find what actually on the roof such as a spongy area that is indicative of a past water leak. Always ask your home inspector about the estimated age of the roof, but you may need to ask the seller directly (and hopefully get a receipt/warranty). The life expectancy for a standard 3-tab shingle roof is 15-years, and the life expectancy for architectural shingle roofing is around 25-years.
Read Also: How Do Asbestos Home Inspections Work?
2. How Much Attic Insulation Is There?
Inspecting the attic is usually the last thing a home inspector does, or at least during my home inspections — so it is important to make sure that it was inspected.
I would frequently find attics with missing or grossly inadequate insulation. And sometimes I would find urine stained insulation due to mice infestations.
Sometimes I find fiberglass insulation that is so old and compressed — it will hardly give any insulating value. It is important that the loose fiberglass or cellulose insulation is several inches higher than the top of the attic ceiling joists. If the attic has degraded, damaged, or missing insulation, it can be a costly project to fix.
3. What Does The HVAC System Look Like?
The HVAC system is such a critical component during a home inspection, and you should be clear on the condition and age.
If the HVAC system is 15-20 years old or older, there is a good chance it will need to be replaced within a few years. Most good home inspectors will verify the age of the system, take off the HVAC cover, and look at it closely. I sometimes find mold in the HVAC system, and I also frequently find heavily rusted evaporator coils.
If the HVAC system is older, it may still be using outdated R-22 refrigerant (now banned), it will likely need to be replaced within the next few years or possibly this year. R-22 is no longer in production, and it can be extremely expensive to ‘top off’ an HVAC system using this refrigerant.
4. Any Tips On Home Maintenance?
If you are walking around with the home inspector—which is highly recommended—you can ask them for tips on how to maintain the home.
For example, if you are inspecting the water heater, ask the home inspector how to maintain it. Most homeowners don’t know that you need to periodically drain the water heater to remove built-up sediment. There is also a ‘sacrificial anode rod’ that helps the interior of the water heater from rusting which needs to be periodically changed.
Home inspectors are a storehouse of knowledge in regards to home maintenance, and don’t pass it up.
5. Are The Windows Good?
The windows can be a big thing during home inspections, and I have had clients walk from homes with terrible and old windows.
Probably the biggest issue is the old single paned windows. These windows have any one ‘layer’ of glass and have barely an R-value whatsoever. Sometimes homeowners try to increase the insulation of these windows by installing storm windows — which helps a little.
Modern energy efficient windows have two panes of glass, and on the inside is an inert gas that makes them much more insulating.
Considering the cost of completely replacing all of the windows, $10,000 or more, it can be a big issue. And sometimes all of the windows don’t open properly, or fall down when opened, or have fogged glass (moisture trapped in between the glass) — it is a good idea to be clear on the condition of the windows.
6. Do You Notice Any Structural Problems?
Structural issues is a big one, and I have had to recommend further evaluation by structural engineers on many occasions.
Common structural issues can be related to oddly sloping floors, foundation cracks, foundation bowing or bulging, or even improperly cut joists.
If the home inspector even has a whiff that something may have an underlying structural issue, they should recommend evaluation by a structural engineer. If you would like more information on structural problems related to the foundation — you can read my article on home foundation inspections.
7. How Is The Grading And Drainage?
Home inspectors should be trained to diagnose grading and drainage problems. All houses should have grading (the ground around the home) that slopes away from the home. With the soil sloping away, it channels water away from the foundation.
It is also important that the downspouts are working properly and not disposing of water next to the home. I always recommend downspout extensions to get water several feet away from the foundation.
Just ask the home inspector if he thinks that water is properly draining away from the house and if has any ideas on improving drainage. If you want further input, you can get a consult by a landscaping contractor.
8. Does The Home Appear To Be A Flip?
This is a bit of a cheeky question, but it can reveal a lot about the house. Home inspectors tend to be wary of ‘flipped houses’ and we can usually tell when a renovation has been done sub-par.
If you have a sense that the home your are buying may be a ‘fix and flip’ it is a good idea to ask the home inspector and if he has any advice — especially considering it could be the largest investment you ever make.
When I get asked this question, I usually share my thoughts on the quality of the renovation. I also tend to tell my clients that they should verify that permits were pulled by the city or county for the renovation. A lot of shoddy flippers won’t even pull permits because they cut corners and want to hide it.
Read Also: How Do Home Mold Inspections Work?
9. Did You Turn On the HVAC?
It is a good idea to always ask if the home inspector turned on the heating and cooling.
Once in a while even I forget to crank up the A/C or heat and to just verify that it will turn on. Make sure that the home inspector gets a very high temperature reading at the air vent (or just feel it with your hand) and that it gets very cold when on cool. If you only get lukewarm heating or cooling, it is a sign that there may be an HVAC problem.
One exception is in the middle of winter because it can be damaging to turn on the AC system — so the inspector may not want to turn it on.
10. Did You Check The Smoke Detectors?
Ideally, home inspectors should check at least 2-3 smoke detectors to verify that they are working. Home fires are extremely dangerous and are responsible for many fatalities every year.
There should be a smoke detector in every bedroom, as well as at least one smoke detector on each home level.
When I test home inspectors, I have a small can of ‘fake smoke’ that I can spray onto the smoke detector to test it. After the alarm starts ringing, I quickly blow fresh air on the smoke detector with a folder to turn it off.
11. What Type Of Plumbing Does The Home Have?
The majority of homes have either copper or CPVC water piping but there are still a significant number of homes that have polybutylene water pipes.
Polybutylene is a defective water piping that is no longer in production. It usually has a gray or bluish color and somewhere on the pipe will be stamped PB.
It is a good idea just to ask the inspector what type of piping the home has. Copper is the highest quality type of pipe you can have, but since it is so expensive nowadays, many new homes are built with CPVC or PEX.
12. Where Is The Main Water Shutoff?
The main water shutoff is where you turn on or off the water to your entire home.
You will need to know where it is if you plan on doing a bathroom renovation, or if you need to change a whole house water filter, or just for emergencies. But sometimes the main water shutoff can be very difficult to locate, and it can be hidden behind cabinet doors, or in a weird area.
Always make sure to ask during the home inspection the location of the main water shutoff.
Read Also: How To Home Foundation Inspections Work?
13. Where Is The Main Electrical Breaker?
The main electrical breaker is the breaker that will shutoff power to the entire home. Sometimes there isn’t a “main breaker” and you will have to shutoff all of the breakers individually.
If you are changing an outlet, or doing some other type of electrical work (or just for an emergency) it is important to know how to cut off power to the home.
Ask the inspector to show you how to flip the main electrical breaker.
14. Where Are The Master GFCI Outlets?
All new homes are required to have GFCI protected outlets in the kitchen, bathroom, garage, and outdoors.
There is usually one or two master outlets for each area such as the kitchen that will trip or reset all of the outlets.
For example, if all of the power goes out in your bathroom, there will be a master GFCI outlet with a reset button. You will need to hit the reset button to get power back to those outlets on the GFCI circuit. But sometimes this master GFCI outlet is hidden, and you may have trouble finding it.
Also, the master GFCI may not even be an outlet, it may be a GFCI breaker in the electrical panel that has a reset button. Ask the home inspector how to reset the different GFCI circuits in the home.
15. Are There Any Ungrounded Outlets In The Home?
This is a good question to ask for older homes, because having ungrounded outlets can become an issue.
Ungrounded outlets are two pronged outlets that don’t have a ground wire attached. These outdated outlet were the standard back in the day, but they can now become a fire hazard, short circuit your electrical devices, and they also raise the risk of being shocked.
It can be very expensive to add grounds to multiple outlets in the home, and it may even require re-wiring the entire home.
16. What Is The Electrical Panel Brand?
The electrical panel brand is an important thing to know and your home inspector should note the brand in their report. But it isn’t a bad idea to just ask the inspector during the home inspection.
The brand itself can tell you about the system because there are a list of recalled and defective brands that are red flags. The most notorious electrical panel was made by a company called Federal Pacific. But there are other defective electrical panels such as Zinsco, Sylvania, and ITE Pushmatic.
Replacing an electrical panel, depending on the size of the system, can become a costly project. And who wants to buy a home with a defective panel box?
What To Ask Prior To The Home Inspection?
1. Do You Walk The Roof?
If you are buying an older home, you may want to find an inspector who actually walks the roof. These home inspectors may charge a bit more, but it could by highly valuable.
When home inspectors actually get on the roof, we can see things that otherwise wouldn’t be visible. We can walk on the shingles and ‘feel’ low spots, soft spots, damaged shingles, damaged roofing, and thoroughly inspect any chimneys.
Home inspectors that use binoculars or just eyeball the roof from the distance is nice — but it is inferior to actually getting on the roof.
Read Also: How Do Asbestos Home Inspections Work?
2. What Is Your Background?
It is always an advantage if the home inspector has a background in the trades. If you can find a home inspector who used to be a builder or a contractor, that can be a big plus.
You can also ask the home inspector who long he has been doing it for. Obviously, you would prefer a home inspector with over ten years of experience compared to a newbie who is just getting started. It can also be a good idea to ask for a 1-2 references from happy clients.
3. How Much Do You Charge?
This question is a no-brainer, but most home inspectors expect to receive a check, get cash, or pay by card immediately after the home inspection, so it is important to ask.
The average cost for a home inspection will depend on the size of the home and other factors — but most home inspections are in the $250 to $750 range.
It is also a good idea to ask the inspector what type of payment he requires or prefers…some inspectors may only accept checks. And if you are having any extra services performed such as a radon test, make sure to ask him prior to booking the inspection.
4. Do You Do Sewer Line Inspections?
If you are buying an old home, and you have any suspicions about the plumbing, you may want to get a sewer camera inspection. This is when the inspector removes a drain cover of the sewer line, and puts a camera snake into the pipe to try to gauge the condition of the pipe out to the street.
If you have to replace your sewer line, it can cost upwards of $20,000 or more.
But not all home inspectors do these types of inspections. It is a good idea to ask the inspector, and how much they charge.
5. Do You Provide Digital Reports With Pictures?
Pretty much all home inspectors provide digital reports nowadays, but you may still come across a home inspector who doesn’t. Personally, I would never hire a home inspector if I didn’t receive a digital report with a lot of pictures.
I want a picture record of everything.
Ask the home inspector how many pictures are usually included in the report?
With my inspection reports, I would commonly have 100+ pictures in each report.
6. Can I Get A Copy Of Your License And Insurance?
Not all U.S. states have home inspector licensing, but my home state of Virginia does. So when my clients call to book an inspection, the first thing I do is send over a copy of my license, insurance, and a ‘pre-inspection agreement’.
The pre-inspection agreement details what will be inspected along with the price and date of the inspection.
Your state may not have licensing, but your home inspector should at least have a certification from a home inspector association such as NACHI or ASHI.
7. Can I Join You During The Home Inspection?
It is always recommended that homeowners join the home inspector during the inspection. You can also read my full guide on whether sellers should be present at the inspection.
When my clients join the inspection, they will always gain a superior understanding of the home compared to clients who just skim the report. My clients can visually see the condition of the home, and they can get insights on home maintenance and other issues I come across.
Unless the home inspector has a good reason for saying you can’t join the home inspection—which should raise a red flag—you should try to find an inspector who welcomes you to join them.
8. Do You Do Radon Testing?
Depending on your region of the country, you may want to do radon testing.
Radon is a colorless and odorless gas that seeps from the earth.
It is naturally present in the air, but some homes can build up harmful levels of radon. Radon gas is associated with lung cancer and other ills when exposed to high levels for many years.
Radon testing is performed by leaving a tester in the home for 2-4 days on the lowest level of the home — usually the basement. Some home inspectors have to send the sample to the lab which can take a few more days.
If you want a fast radon test result, find an inspector who has his own testing machine so it won’t need to be sent to a lab.
9. Do You Do Lead Testing?
If you are buying a home that was built before 1978, it may contain lead paint. Lead paint is mostly an issue for children, and it can cause neurological problems if ingested or inhaled.
If the house has peeling paint, and it is an old home, it is recommended that you get it tested for lead paint. In addition, the soil itself may be contaminated with lead paint (children sometimes eat dirt).
Some home inspectors do lead paint testing, and others don’t — so you will have to ask.
Read Also: How Do Home Mold Inspections Work?
11. Do You Remove Electrical Panel Covers?
Most home inspectors worth their salt will remove the electrical panel cover.
There is some risk associated with removing the cover because the wires are exposed. It could cause sparking, which could damage the eyes, or the inspector may even get shocked. There are protective gloves the home inspectors can wear, and other ways to protect ourselves.
But for me, I always take off the electrical panel cover to get a closer look at the electrical system. I get to see if there is any rusting at the connections, any loose wires, and any undersized or oversized breakers.
You may want to ask the home inspector if he takes off the panel cover.
12. Do You Do Mold Testing?
When I inspected homes, I also offered mold testing through swab tests and air tests. You can read my full guide on whether to get a mold inspection when buying a house right here.
Sometimes sellers dispute whether something is actually mold, so the only way to verify it is to send it to a lab for analysis.
And if there is suspected mold spores in the air (maybe because of a dirty HVAC system) air tests can be performed. These air tests pull air in through a device at a fixed rate, and then the sample is sent to a lab. The lab will tell you if any of the mold spores are at elevated levels and the species of the mold.
If mold testing may be an issue for you, you should ask the inspector if he does mold testing and how much he charges.
13. Do You Do Re-inspections?
If you have an idea that you may want the home inspector to come back to the home after the repairs have been done by the seller — you need to ask them if they do re-inspections.
A re-inspection is where the home inspector verifies that the seller actually fixed the problems that were stated in the home inspection.
It usually only takes an hour or so, but not all home inspectors do re-inspections because there are liability concerns.
14. Can You Give Me References And A Sample Report?
Before you book the home inspection, you may want to ask the home inspector for a reference or two from a happy client as well as a sample report.
The sample report will give you an idea of what to expect from their home inspection, as well as how detailed the report is (and the number of pictures).
To be honest, it was pretty rare when a client actually asked me for references, but it does happen once in a while — and I’m always happy to provide it.
Read Also: How To Home Foundation Inspections Work?
15. Do you take off HVAC covers?
This is a similar to the ‘walking the roof’ question. I want to verify that my home inspector will actually take off the furnace or heat pump cover and take a look inside.
Many times I will find mold, rust issues, water problems, and all sorts of problems when I take off the HVAC cover.
Sometimes taking off the furnace cover is a big hassle due to the location (or some weird screws that are hard to remove) but other times it is really easy to remove. But it is worth the effort, and it may be a good idea to ask them if they do it.
Don’t be afraid to ask your home inspector questions during the inspection.
Home inspectors are also educators on how homes work and home maintenance.
We know that it is important to understand at least the basics of operating a home such as…
- Getting water away from the home
- Using the main water shutoff
- Operating GFCI circuits
- Maintaining the HVAC system
It is a good idea to write out some questions you have before you book a home inspectors, as well as a few good questions during the home inspection.