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The home inspector broke it

Dear Hugh:  

I am a realtor, and during the home inspection of one of my listings, damage was caused. The inspector was inspecting the attic from inside a closet hatch when a shelf and belongings gave way causing the ladder to crash and the inspector to fall. 

When the ladder fell it somehow tipped over and went into the adjacent bathroom and broke the vanity top. Who is responsible for the cost of repair?  

Thank you, 



Great question, Liza.

First it is important to know that during a home inspection an inspector is not required to enter any area likely be hazardous or to go where there is a potential to damage the property or its systems or components. 

In addition, home inspectors are not required to access confined spaces or spaces not readily accessible. The seller has a responsibility to provide access to areas of the home that are expected to be accessed. 

From time to time home inspectors feel obligated to overlook this exclusion because of pressure to do so, and acciden   ts can and do happen.

You may want to check with your purchase contract to see if there is a clause in the potential buyers’ contract that may hold them responsible for any damage that occurs during a home inspection. You may find that the potential buyer is liable to the seller. This, however, doesn’t necessarily absolve the inspector of liability on the basis of professional ethics. 

Most, if not all home inspectors have caused or paid for some kind of damage during their professional career. My colleagues have told stories about expensive flower vases getting broken, improperly hung paintings knocked to the floor, natural gas appliances left on, and, in rare cases, overflowed sinks.

I’m happy to report that in the above examples, the inspector accepted professional responsibility and, in some cases, made reparations. Most homeowners understand that accidents happen, and that everyone makes mistakes. Not all homeowners see compensation as the sole way to make amends.

From your description, it seems clear that the homeowners did not provide clear access to the attic hatch. Their personal belongings and the shelves from the closet should have been removed to allow the inspector access. That this was not done put the inspector in the poor position of either refusing to inspect the space, which could have upset the sale process, or potentially causing damage to the owners’ belongings or to the inspector himself.

Everyone makes mistakes, and one quality of a good person is accepting the consequences when it happens. In this case, the homeowner should share some responsibility for not providing unobstructed access, and the inspector should share responsibility as well. 

A 50/50 approach to repairs seems appropriate in this case.

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You're alive. Remember?

Usually when a commercial airs on TV from a North American big box store they show how wonderful they are at helping. It’s all smiles and shiny packaging, and the goal is, of course, to sell you stuff. 

Heck, they will even tell you that if you do it, they will help. Problem is, the salesperson can’t leave the store and go with you to help. That’s why, just after water intrusion, the biggest enemy of all homes is the big box store.

North American DIY products usually take an ‘it does exactly what it says on the tin’ approach, which means that the product does what it claims to do without further explanation needed. For example, how fast and efficient a multi-tool 15-in-1 screwdriver is.

Having been on the tools, and having visited thousands of job sites to witness the aftermath of countless DIY projects, I can tell you that they all have one thing in common: Emotion. 

Emotion reigns supreme in DIY projects. Miscuts cause heartache. Hand injuries are painful. A trip back to the store for a forgotten part is dejecting. The pure joy of reaching 90% completion is cause for a celebratory beer, while reaching 100% completion months or years later goes by unnoticed.

Men build in straight lines. A lot is achieved this way. Straight lines, square angles, power tools, and a buddy can result in an apartment building over a weekend. 

As soon as an arch or a curve is added, productivity diminishes, head scratching starts, and resentment follows. Curves and arches in DIY projects is what krypton is to Superman. 

North American DIY home improvement commercials rarely bring out the emotion of the process. However, in Germany, home improvement chain Hornbach has managed to do just that in their latest video advertisement.


Watch the video and you’ll see a naked man plunge into a metaphoric DIY project, and experience the joys and pains and the victory of his DIY journey.

But most of all, you’ll see how his journey has made him feel alive again. 

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No spig in my spigot

Sadly, I have no spig in my spigot. I have no turn in my quarter turn hose bib. 

And I'm feeling man tears coming soon.

I fell in love with my new hose bib at first sight. I’m thinking that the feeling was mutual. It’s not every day that a homeowner changes out their solid brass hose bibs from 1967 for a new shiny chrome model. 

It’s not like my relationship with my old bibs had grown stale. I could still turn them on. Oh, sure I had to change out the rubber washers from time to time, but periodic leaking happens as one ages. My fatal mistake was not asking Larry for permission before embarking on this union, but hey, I was under pressure.

Every homeowner needs good solid expert advice from time to time. Larry is my go-to guy for everything plumbing. You see, he’s been there and plumbed that. That’s why I have bought thousands of dollars of plumbing supplies from his aisle tucked far in the back of my local big box store. 

There is no glory in the plumbing aisle, and even worse, his strategic command centre is dimly lit. At the front of the store it’s all glitzy, flyers, contests, promotions, and giveaways. It’s all about air miles. In the plumbing department it’s just plain business, and the customers can be tough.

Larry is the first and only line of defence in the plumbing department. Homeowners with plumbing problems wander to his aisle much like zombies out of water. 

Larry is unique, valuable and irreplaceable. Not because he knows the answers to every plumbing question on earth, but because he can take the nonsensical gibberish, the, “I need a which-me-call-it”, or a “do-dah”, or a “which-ma-jiggy”, and make the translation into an actual plumbing solution. God knows how the average homeowner will survive when he pulls the drain plug. Larry is old school, a real straight shooter.

Regrettably, Larry was on days-off that very day when I decided to swing by the plumbing aisle to explore my bib options. On a previous visit, he told me about quarter turn bibs. 

I felt sure my wife would love them. Instead of turning, turning and turning the handle, she could get full blast water at a quarter turn of the handle. Quarter turn bibs offer the ultimate control when using hose based watering techniques. That day, without Larry, I was like a hungry fish in the water, I was attracted to the chrome flash of that bib, and took the bait. 

I went home with a sexy new model, and it promised to be a lead free, non-freeze lawn faucet with a self-draining vacuum breaker, but that’s what they all say. 

Later, a few short weeks after my purchase when my bib failed me, I learnt from Larry that the make of the bib that I had errantly chosen has a ceramic part that could break. 

I know the return defective merchandise game at big box stores. It goes like this: Bring back the defective item with the original receipt. But my bib is permanently installed inside my wall assembly behind drywall vapour barrier and insulation. Removing the bib would be invasive and costly and not practical to return. So, my first solution was to purchase a duplicate for parts from the very same store. 

Surprise, since my original purchase, my bib has been discontinued by head office. 

I called the manufacturer for help. I told them my story, and it turns out that I don’t qualify for their customer service for their product. They don’t help the actual end user of their product, they only help the stores that sell their stuff. Since my local store doesn’t carry the product anymore they won’t help. 

The spig is up - I am stuck in the proverbial customer service waste pipe without a bib.

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Detect the defect

Defects overlooked during building inspections

Dear Hugh:  We are so happy to have moved to the Okanagan. We recently bought a brand new home, and the builder assured us that nothing was wrong with the house because it was given an occupancy permit. After we started to discover problems, we hired a home inspector and got some big surprises. He found plumbing problems in the crawlspace, and a venting problem with the furnace. In addition, the attic wasn’t vented properly. What we would like to know is, how could these problems have been overlooked despite that the municipal building inspector from the city did their final inspection? ~ Stacey

Dear Stacey: Each year there are a few thousand new homes entering the housing market in the Okanagan Valley. Each home takes months to build, with several tradespeople involved. The potential for the perfect home is low.

So, the question is: How do defects escape discovery by local municipal building inspectors? 

Well, the short answer is: Incompetency is not the problem. 

The better answer is: Systemic limitations with the municipal inspection process, and the experience and commitment of builders to a quality product.

With only a handful of inspectors to cover hundreds and hundreds of new homes, municipal building inspection departments simply don’t have the resources to investigate a home at occupancy as thoroughly as a professional home inspection service.

Some jurisdictions may be an exception, but in general, although they have the skill set, municipal building inspectors do not crawl into attics or crawlspaces, as they don’t pack ladders or equipment to do so. 

I’m not aware of any municipality that equips their building inspection professionals with thermal imaging cameras. This means that defective conditions may never be subject to the final inspection. In the end, problems with plumbing, wiring, heating, framing, insulation, etc., in those places that are never seen during the final inspection remain as-is until they cause a problem or are otherwise discovered. This is why inspection by a qualified home inspector is always a good investment.

Municipal building inspectors look for code compliance only, and there are items like gutters and downspouts that are not subject to building codes that rely on best practice. A professional home inspection follows a straightforward process to evaluate the overall home. What is more, home inspectors are required to view areas that most municipal inspectors don’t see. 

Buying a home is unlike most things. You don’t get to return it when something goes wrong. Municipal building inspections should be regarded as a preliminary final inspection. Having you home inspected by a qualified home inspector will give you an unbiased opinion of the home, and can be viewed as the final inspection before the home embarks on its working life.

Elementary, my dear Watson.

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About the Author

When you need advice or guidance with DIY home improvement and repairs, Hugh Cairns can help you with the answers.

Home improvements can be rewarding, turn your home into a nicer more comfortable place to live, and increase its value.

Whether you are renovating your kitchen, converting a loft, giving a room a lick of paint or making improvements to your home’s energy efficiency, this column is here to guide you with useful information and key things to remember.

Do you have a renovation question or concern? Please feel free to send Hugh your questions. Contact him through www.subject2homeinspections.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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