• John Edginton


I hear that prospective buyers ask this question of their real estate agents on a regular basis. What some home buyers don’t understand is that the construction of homes is a constantly evolving process. Through this evolution building practices change and materials come and go. Often economics drives the choices in what is used. Home inspectors are trained to recognize materials and practices and identify when a no longer acceptable material or practice is in place and inform the buyer or owner. That is where a home inspector becomes worth the investment.

Over time there are construction materials that seemed perfectly acceptable and cost effective that have turned out to be unreliable and in some cases hazardous. I’d like to outline three that can represent serious issues to the home buyer/owner that often are difficult to spot.

A good inspector should catch them. In all three cases the home insurance industry has determined that the risk to them may be more than what they are will to take on. This doesn’t mean a home is un-insurable but as is often said, “You can insure anything, but at what cost?”

Polybutelene piping:

When it came out it was thought to be a boom to the industry. Flexible, easy to install and cost effective, it was a wonder of modern plastics. In short order it became clear that there were issues with the connectors that resulted in unexpected leaks.

Polybutelene pipe behind a water heater.

The industry improved the product over time but the earlier versions resulted in class actions lawsuits that became an burden to the insurance industry to the point that it was not worth the risk anymore. The product is no longer used but there are a great number of homes that contain PB pipes. Part of the problem is that sometimes it is very difficult to identify. That’s where a licensed home inspector can be a help.

Chinese Drywall: In the early 2000s there was a housing boom in the US and domestic producers of drywall could not keep up. The industry looked for other sources. The Chinese were producers and the construction industry was able to take advantage of the supply. Over time it became clear that the Chinese were using fillers that came from contaminated materials.

The drywall contained a caustic sulfur containing chemical that leached into the home where it was in place. This gas was corrosive and an irritant. Once more, lawsuits were engaged and again it became clear that these products were not acceptable.

Corrosion on a AC line as a result of the caustic gas from Chinese drywall

The problem is that once in place, it is difficult if not impossible to identify by labeling. However the results of the caustic gas is readily visible and a good home inspector will able identify the results. Once identified, the buyer would want to carefully consider if they are going to go forward with the purchase.

Aluminum Wire:

There was a time when the price of copper skyrocketed, as did the price of copper based wire, and the construction industry was looking for a replacement. The replacement that was found was aluminum. Aluminum is a good conductor of electricity. It does have some properties that make it less attractive than copper but the thought at the time was those differences would not be an issue and the cost was acceptable.

Over time it became clear that aluminum wire has the potential to work loose in some connections and cause arcing that could cause a fire. The insurance industry, again, decided that the risk to them was too great. Aluminum wiring is now considered a hazard and should be corrected before most homeowners can get coverage.

These are just three of the many issues home inspectors are trained to identify. Think of a home inspection as an “assurance” policy. The inspector is there to help assure that the current or prospective home owner knows better the state of the home. Knowing the condition of the home in detail allows for better decision making. Ultimately “knowledge is power” and inspectors share that power with their clients.


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