I get leak detection requests occasionally from prospective clients, most often in conjunction with a home they already own. I tell them leak detection is not an explicit part of a home inspection, though in the course of tracking down excess moisture accumulation leaks and their causes are sometimes obvious. The person is usually not interested in a home inspection, just someone who can detect leaks. But it raises an interesting question of how responsible a home inspector is for hunting down leaks.
To my knowledge, leak detection is not offered by any home inspector, even as a specialized service. I am aware of companies that detect leaks in swimming pools. And, of course, plumbers are well equipped to trace a pipe leak, and roofers a roof leak, back to its source. So there are experts in other fields that one can turn to. Still, though some practitioners of my trade expand their business by providing additional inspection services, such as radon testing, mold inspecting, or air pollutant sampling, there seems to be no inherent reason why leak detection couldn't be one of them.
Inspectors report on evidence of leaks, either past or present, all the time. For instance, stains on the ceiling or under a plumbing fixture are indications of leaks. But we don't do invasive testing nor venture beyond the qualifications of generalist, so we tend to leave it at that. We might speculate in the report about what is causing (or caused, if the problem has apparently been fixed) the stains (in bathroom plumbing, say), but we usually recommend further evaluation by a qualified contractor and repairs as needed.
In actuality, home inspectors are keen on detecting moisture where it shouldn't be, rather than on finding leaks per se. The primary issue is what moisture can lead to, namely, rot, microbial growth, insect infestation, and so on. So the job of inspectors is to find a problem, to reveal its implications, and to recommend attention by qualified specialists. Their job is not to stipulate the way a problem has to be fixed.
Not all moisture comes from some kind of leak. Inadequate ventilation often leads to condensation of water vapor, sometimes in out-of-the-way locations. This can be enough to induce mildew to grow and/or attract insects. Moisture can also come from what is called wicking or rising damp, which is essentially soil moisture evaporating up into wooden structural members. (This is why a crawl space vapor barrier is critically important.) And an underground spring or high water table may deceive one into believing there is a leak.
Hence, I say that leak detection is not the responsibility of the home inspector. His responsibility is to hunt for moisture and signs of leakage, but not to go out of his way to find the cause. (Visit HomeInspectionWA for more details.)
Tags: ASHI, Bathroom Plumbing, Home Inspection, Home Inspector, Inspection Services, Leak Detection, Washington State
Published on May 31, 2012 | Comments: 0