Question for/about Home Inspectors?

So I’m working for a company that uses a local house as a workplace, and the house is pretty scary in terms of age, cleanliness, electrical, heating…I’m in the position of having to document the safety issues with it and I’m wondering about getting a home inspection done to document things that I can take to management.

While I’ve found wiring issues, black mold and other red flags, I don’t know about radon or asbestos - though the house is so old that I wouldn’t be surprised if they were there. My question is:

If an inspector turns up evidence of radon, asbestos or other scary things, would I just get a report or would that inspector be obligated to notify the local government?


Where are you (the building) located? Laws will vary by jurisdiction.

It’s in Iowa.

I don’t think a run of the mill home inspector will test for radon. The test involves leaving a collector in the basement or lowest part of the house for a number of days, since radon levels can fluctuate. Then you send the collector into a lab for analysis. An inspector may advise you to get a test, and that might be based on knowledge of the area and whether or not radon is a common problem.

How about asbestos?

And if I’m interested in determining whether or not the safety of the house is within limits, is a house inspector the way to go? Or should I be looking at another kind of inspection?

When I bought my house, the inspector offered it for an additional fee. I declined since he said he hasn’t had many positive results in the area so we didn’t get into it, but I assume he would have left a collector and come back for it a week or so later.

Having said that, you can get a radon kit from Home Depot if you want to check yourself. I believe you let it collect in the basement for a week or so and then mail it in to a lab.

Unless you hire an abatement specialist, a home inspector will probably only do a visual and date-based inspection for asbestos, and they’ll weasel that to death.

The visual part is straightforward - If they see stuff that looks like asbestos on steam pipes, furnace ducts, etc, they’ll note that the cladding may be ACM (Asbestos-Containing Material) and that further testing by a licensed asbestos abatement professional may be warranted and leave it at that. They won’t poke holes into walls to look for it and they certainly won’t be scraping off pieces off the pipes to test it.

The date-based part is more of a “Buildings of this vintage often contain ACM in floor tiles, mastic, drywall joint compound, textured ceilings and other various materials. Testing by a licensed asbestos abatement professional may be warranted.” notation. Again, they won’t be chipping up tiles or sampling the popcorn ceiling. It’s a rather broad statement that mainly covers the inspector’s butt and does not definitely say one way or another that the building does or does not have asbestos in it.

As far as person health goes, asbestos is a phoney issue. Mold and bad wiring can be real issues. Radon is seldom much of a problem. Less so in an old building with a high air exchange rate. I think your average home inspector would pick up the worse of the electrical and mold problems.

I wouldn’t call asbestos a “phoney issue” but it is mostly an issue if you’re going to be doing work to the property. Most asbestos applications are safe and stable as long as you’re not disturbing it by scraping, cutting, breaking, etc.

I have a pretty low opinion of home inspectors. Their reports limit their liability to what they see. While they might find something the OP misses, they’ve got no obligation or liability regarding whatever they don’t see, and there don’t appear to be any minimum due diligence standards. (Personal example: previous owners of my home did the re-roofing themselves and nailed the shingles wrong. The home inspector didn’t notice and when we developed a leak that winter, he pointed to the fine print that says “We’re not roofing specialists and can’t really give you an opinion on roofing.” WTF?! There was a similar clause for fireplaces, plumbing and electrical.)

Personally, my advice for the OP is to start with a worker’s comp insurer, OSHA or a state agency that’s in charge of workplace safety. Ask them how they would proceed. They may even provide some services as part of the premiums/taxes you’re already paying, since they have an incentive to make sure things are safe before there’s a problem. Of course, that route means you’ve already attracted “official” attention.