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  • 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:

Polybutelene pipe behind a water heater.

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:

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.