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Home Inspection Is the Buyer’s Choice

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

QUESTION: I purchased my home one year ago, but no one advised me to have a home inspection. As a result, a lot of problems became apparent after the close of escrow. It is now my understanding that disclosure laws require a home inspection whenever a house is sold. What can you tell me about this requirement?

ANSWER: In California, disclosure laws require sellers and real estate agents to disclose defective conditions of which they are aware. But there is no statute requiring a home inspection when a property is sold.

Home inspection is an option, available to buyers upon request. Most agents make it a practice to strongly recommend an inspection but, unfortunately, some buyers remain unaware of the value of a home inspection or make the mistake of declining an inspection.

Consequently, a surprising number of homes still close escrow without adequate disclosure of physical defects.

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Mortgage lenders routinely require termite inspections before they approve purchase loans, demonstrating their concern for damages caused by termites, fungus, dry rot and other wood-destroying threats. Yet these same lenders express no particular interest in faulty conditions pertaining to the foundation, roof, electric wiring, plumbing, heating or other physical circumstances affecting the value, use and safety of a home.

Until lenders demand full disclosure as part of the purchase process, prudent buyers will need to initiate the process for their own protection. Home inspections are available to wary buyers, but they remain a matter of choice, not a legal requirement.

Pilot Lights Must Be Raised Above Fumes

Q: I am a first-time home buyer and bought my house without having it inspected. Shortly after escrow closed, my plumber noticed that the water heater was installed on the garage floor. He said this is unsafe and illegal, and he charged nearly $100 to raise the fixture onto a wood platform. Was this repair really necessary?

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A: Your plumber was right to make this recommendation and repair. By law, pilot lights are required to be elevated at least 18 inches above the floor of a garage.

The purpose of this requirement is to prevent ignition of gasoline fumes. Gasoline spills occur from time to time in garages. The resultant fumes are heavier than air and will flow invisibly across the floor. Once they make contact with a spark or flame, your home could be quickly converted to a usable building site.

Plumber May Have Left Vertical Pipes in Place

Q: Our home is about 40 years old and was originally plumbed with galvanized steel pipe. Five years ago, we replaced the piping with all new copper. Now that we’re selling the house, a home inspector says we still have some galvanized pipes in the building. I’ve looked in the crawl space and can see only copper. Do your think the inspector has made a mistake?

A: When piping an older house with copper lines, a plumber will sometimes replace only the horizontal pipes beneath the building, while leaving the old vertical pipes within the walls.

The reason for partial pipe replacement is to minimize the cost. Because the vertical pipes are installed within the walls, replacement often entails major surgery and cosmetic repairs to the interior of the home.

Obviously, the most effective and long-lasting approach would be to replace all of the piping at the same time, since the pipes within the walls will eventually become corroded and require replacement.

If the water flow is still strong, replacement of the remaining galvanized pipe is not necessary at this time. A practical test would be to observe the shower flow when other plumbing fixtures are in use. If a flushing toilet or a sink faucet causes a significant volume reduction at the shower, this is a sign of excessive corrosion within the lines. If no flow drop occurs, then repairs are probably not necessary.

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As a side note: It would be prudent to ask the inspector if dielectric unions were installed where the copper pipes join the old galvanized lines. The lack of dielectric unions can result in accelerated corrosion because of electrolysis.

Corrosion Can Reduce the Flow of Water

Q: Before purchasing my home, I tested the water pressure and found it to be 60 pounds per square inch, which I understand is more than sufficient for normal home use. But something is wrong: If someone flushes a toilet or turns on the washing machine while the shower is running, the pressure at the shower head is reduced to a dribble. How can 60 pounds of pressure not be sufficient?

A: Your question is a familiar one, because high water pressure along with low volume seems to contradict common sense.

The fact is, the amount of water delivered by your plumbing system depends not so much on pressure as on the size of the pipes. If the interior dimension of the pipes is small, no amount of pressure can force them to deliver a large flow of water.

If you purchased an older home with galvanized steel piping, corrosion within the lines may be the problem. With older steel piping, interior corrosion reduces the interior pipe size, thereby restricting the flow of water. If this is the case, it may be time to replace your pipes with copper lines. Copper is the best kind of water pipe because of its long-term resistance to corrosion.

Replacing the pipes can be very costly and disruptive. To determine whether such extensive repairs are truly warranted, have the water supply system fully evaluated by a licensed plumber.

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Got a question about any aspect of the home inspection? Send it to Barry Stone, Los Angeles Times, 540 Atascadero Road, Morro Bay, CA 93442. Queries can also be sent via e-mail to: inspector@fix.net

All questions will be considered for use in “Ask the Inspector” but cannot be answered individually.


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