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How many home inspectors does it take to change a light bulb?

Prescott will long remember political icon Sam Steiger. I have my own story about Sam. He unknowingly did me a favor once. We lived on Jack Drive for several years, and Sam lived around the corner from us. There is only one road into the subdivision, and it has a low water crossing that floods after a heavy rain (like many others in Prescott). The city has barricades they put up now, but in the early ’90s, they did not have these barricades.

I was on my way home one day, and a police officer had traffic stopped at the low water crossing. There were a few cars stopped, and the people were out of their cars talking. I told the officer that I could easily make it across in my big macho 4-wheel drive pickup, but he wouldn’t let me go. Right about then we all saw a car coming at us out of the subdivision. I recognized Sam’s car. The officer stepped into the road and started waving his arms. I could tell that Sam had no intention of stopping, so I slowly moved behind my truck.

When Sam got close to the water, still moving at 30 or so miles per hour, the officer kept waving his arms but moved to the side of the road. Sam hit the water and sent up a huge spray. I was already behind my truck and ducked. When I came out, everyone was wet but me, especially the officer. Nobody said anything for a moment. Then the officer asked if any of us knew who was driving that car. The officer was looking directly at me. I was the only who had gotten out of the way, so I assumed that he assumed that I assumed the car was not going to stop. I just shrugged, but someone else said he thought it was Sam Steiger. The officer nodded and just said “figures.”

I mentioned to the cop that if a sedan can make it through the water, I was positive my 4-wheel drive pickup could make it. He did not say a word; he just got in his car and drove away. So the next time I saw Sam I thanked him for getting me home that night in time for dinner.

On to a home inspection question. We are inspecting many vacant homes recently. I know I have addressed this before, but I am being asked about lighting gas water heaters. Now I am being asked by clients when they order the inspection.

Home inspectors are not required to light gas appliances. The Standards of Professional Practice for Arizona Home Inspectors (“Standards”) states “Inspectors are not required to operate any system that is shut down or otherwise inoperable.” The Standards also state, “Inspectors are not required to operate any system or component which does not respond to normal operating controls.”

The Standards do not say inspectors cannot, or should not, light gas water heaters; they simply state inspectors are not required to. So, some inspectors will light gas appliances, and some will not. I fall into the former group. I do not like having to return for a re-inspection. And I personally am a little embarrassed to tell my client I did not light a gas furnace or water heater. I always think of my grandmother – when she was 90 years old she had a water heater in an exterior closet. The pilot light would blow out occasionally, and she would go out and light it. So if my 90-year-old granny could stand in the wind and rain and light a water heater, why can’t a certified home inspector/ex -contractor light a water heater in a garage?

But some of the best inspectors I know do not light water heaters. Some home inspection companies or franchises do not allow the inspectors to light gas appliances, so the inspector has no choice. And some inspectors had something bad happen when they lit a water heater, so now they are a little “gun shy.” I have also heard inspectors say they like to collect that $75 re-inspection fee, but those inspectors were in large cities.

So, I had a call from a client last week asking why I did not change bulbs in a light fixture to check the fixture. She said she specifically asked me if I lit water heaters when ordering the inspection. I did not quite see the connection, and I told her that I did light the water heater. She said that if an inspector lights water heaters, he surely should swap bulbs around to check light fixtures. I saw the logic of her thinking. But I have my own logic. A water heater is pretty important. You cannot really live in a home with no working water heater, unless you do not mind cold showers and heating water on the stove to wash dishes. A non-working light fixture can be inconvenient, and possibly even a safety concern (if it’s over a stairway), but it does not really keep you from living in the home. Also, a water heater can be pretty expensive to replace.

If a light is not working, 99.9 percent of the time all it needs is a new bulb. And I will carry around a working light bulb and check fixtures, as long as the fixtures do not have glass globes that need to be removed. This is simply my policy. If I break a globe, I have to spend hours trying to find a globe to fit, or replacing the entire light fixture – which can cost more than the profit I made on the inspection


Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, October 05, 2012
Article comment by: I love it When

I love it when I get a home inspection report where the inspector takes a picture of the HVAC pan in the attic and says that there is insulation in it that should be removed so that it does not clog the drip line. Well, REMOVE THE INSULATION! It would take the inspector 5 seconds to remove the insulation vs. several minutes to take a picture, download the picture, put it in the report, and comment on it. Inspectors should be finding major issues. If there is something trivial, then don’t comment on it, fix it.