As thorough as a general home inspection is, the home you’re hoping to buy might also need a more specialized exam, such as from a structural engineer or a septic system expert. That’s because, general home inspectors may not be certified to evaluate structural issues, for instance, or have the specialized equipment necessary to get down and dirty with septic components.
To be sure, general home inspections cover a lot. But the inspector can only inspect what they see, such as:
- Plumbing systems (what’s exposed)
- Electrical systems (what’s exposed)
- Kitchen appliances
- Heating, ventilating, and air conditioning equipment
- Doors and windows
- Attic insulation
- Foundation and basement (what’s exposed)
- Exterior (for example, siding, paint, outdoor light fixtures)
On the other hand, a basic home inspection doesn’t routinely include a thorough evaluation of:
- Swimming pools
- Septic systems
- Structural engineering work
- The ground beneath a home
- Fireplaces and chimneys
Wood-burning fireplaces are a good example of what an inspector can and can't do. The home inspector will make sure the dampers are working, check the chimney for obstructions like birds’ nests, and note if they believe there’s reason to pursue a more thorough safety inspection. Then if you’re concerned about the safety of a fireplace, you can hire a certified chimney inspector; find one through the Chimney Safety Institute of America.
For all these reasons, it’s important to interview prospective inspectors and ask them, among others things, What do you check, exactly? What don’t you check, specifically? Are you licensed or certified? Inspector certifications vary. Not every state requires home inspectors to be licensed, and licenses can indicate different degrees of expertise. The American Society of Home Inspectors lists each state’s requirements here.
Finally, your inspector and agent can advise you if you need a specialist for any aspect of your prospective home. And remember, even big issues may not be deal breakers -- many repairs can be negotiated with the sellers.