Mike's Home Inspector Blog
Michael Burfitt, CPI
Mike's Home Inspector Blog
Michael Burfitt, CPI
Like many homeowners, I have watched plenty of home related TV shows over the years. I have also mentioned previously that I have an overall positive opinion of Mike Holmes although I can certainly think of plenty of valid criticisms regarding his various shows, mostly revolving around how he blurs the line between construction and inspection. So, it goes without saying that I was excited to hear about a show focusing on home inspections starring an actual home inspector. How awesome to see our relatively unknown industry getting its own show and getting to showcase what a home inspector does and why it's important to get a home inspected! Now that I have had a chance to see a few episodes I think I have seen enough to form a fair opinion.
The show features Joe Mazza, a home inspector from New York state who definitely has a personality fit for TV even though he is a rookie to that medium. What do I think of his show? In my opinion it is a significant misrepresentation of our industry to put it mildly. Of course, actual inspection jobs would not translate well to TV, as they can take an average of over 2 hours just on site alone and can require plenty of detailed explanations of technical issues in layman's terms. My criticisms are many and mainly revolve around how Joe, who to my knowledge is an actual licensed inspector in both New York and Connecticut, does very little actual inspecting (it’s more of a show about house hunting and renovations) and much of what he states is misleading at best and flat out wrong at worst. Let me count some of the numerous issues I see just from a few episodes:
Much of the Show is Outside the Scope of a Home Inspection
Joe is seen to be touring the homes with Noel Gatts, an interior designer. Simply put, we home inspectors do not generally inspect or comment on cosmetic finishes and while it is no doubt a valuable profession, we do not “team up” with interior designers on our inspections to recommend cosmetic work.
We Do NOT Tear Out Walls or Do Renovation Work
I’m not sure what the standards in New York or Connecticut are, but all major home inspection organizations make it very clear that it is a serious ethical violation to perform repairs or renovations to any home within 1 year of performing an inspection. This show also makes the connection that home inspectors are just contractors that do inspections on the side or are just inspecting to look for ways to make money renovating. While a person can certainly do both jobs successfully, in my experience they require VERY different skillsets. We also are not invasive in our inspections, and as fun as being destructive can be I definitely do not bring a sledgehammer with me!
We Don't Make Definitive Statements in Most Circumstances
This show has many scenes where Joe says something like “that’s asbestos!” or “that’s black mold!”. While there are signs that something is very likely asbestos or mold, only a lab test can confirm it! I also got upset when while tearing out a wall, one of the workers quickly and confidently states, “this wall isn’t load bearing!”. While I agree it likely isn’t, in most areas (including here in Nova Scotia) only a qualified engineer or architect can make that statement and it can cause serious, if not catastrophic damage to remove a load bearing wall.
The Show Has Very Little to Do with Home Inspections
Overall, the show only dedicates a tiny fraction to actual home inspection work. It is unfortunate that a show that could have highlighted our industry and the incredible work I and my fellow inspectors do is just another dime-a-dozen renovation show with “Home Inspector” slapped on the title. It does a disservice to both our industry and our clients by providing very misleading information of what a home inspector does. I love to watch home inspectors in action, but this show is not an example of what we do.
Like most Canadian home inspectors, I have been asked on occasion what I think of Mike Holmes. Overall I have a positive opinion of him and have learned plenty watching his many shows over the years. My biggest criticism, however, is that he tends to exaggerate relatively minor issues and unintentionally misrepresent how easy it is to renovate a home, which given the limitations of television is understandable.
Before I became a professional home inspector, I imagined it was a lot like a TV show, where I look at an issue and loudly proclaim: “this is X, will cost Y and will take Z to complete!” The truth is that while some issues are black and white (i.e. missing safety devices) many defects I come across require me to draw upon my vast knowledge of building systems to evaluate. Here are just a few examples of symptoms that can be anything from cosmetic to catastrophic.
One of the most concerning things a homeowner can face is a home that is sinking on one side. This can be a very expensive repair and in extreme situations it may even be cheaper to rebuild the entire house! While that sounds terrifying in reality this is a rare situation: nearly every home has foundation cracks and they are generally not a big deal. There are a number of variables I look at:
Methane gas is not only unhealthy and explosive in large concentrations but smells terrible and can be very concerning. If a home smells of sewage, this could mean a sewer line clog or even worse, a break. Both are expensive to remedy and are very disruptive to a home’s occupants. Before waving the white flag and calling for a plumber, an inspector knows to check a few things first, particularly the home’s toilets. These are the only fixtures where the waste pipes do not have a trap to prevent sewer gas from escaping (they are in the toilet itself) and over time the wax seal keeping it in place to the floor will crack and loosen, leading to the unpleasant smell. This is a relatively minor repair and can be completed by the homeowner or a handyman.
I recently had a real estate agent ask me how much of a concern Asbestos is for home buyers. The short answer is that it depends on where in the home it is located. If you follow this blog, you already know that Asbestos is very dangerous to long term health but only when in a friable (easily crumbled) state, where loose fibres can coat the lungs over time. If a house has asbestos (and a significant number of homes, particularly on the Halifax Peninsula or Downtown Dartmouth likely do), my advice will vary based on where the potential asbestos is located. If it is discovered in flooring tiles or siding the best option would be to leave it alone but it is in insulation, I generally suggest either covering or preferably having a qualified abatement contractor remove it. Ideally, I would love to wave a magic wand and remove all asbestos from homes but in reality, it is very expensive and time consuming to completely remove asbestos safely from a structure.
Just like a doctor will usually suggest not searching the internet for symptoms, as a homeowner you should be cautious when looking at information online. There is a lot of scary information about topics such as Polybutylene Pipes, Flammable Insulation and Dangerous Decks but reality is far more subjective than the blanket statements I often see. These symptoms can suggest a wide variety of conditions but in my experience, they are usually on the mild end of the spectrum.