By Bud Coburn
Home inspectors are actually required to use only a few types of equipment. In theory, an inspector could perform an inspection that complies with the InterNACHI Standards of Practice using only two pieces of equipment: a ladder and an electrical tester capable of testing ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) devices.
However, there is equipment an inspector needs in order to perform inspections safely.
Inspectors should have a respirator for the times when they must enter areas containing materials that may introduce particulates into the air that are potentially hazardous if inhaled. Dust masks are inadequate. Respirators must be equipped to filter out both particulates that represent biological hazards, such as viral, bacterial and fungal organisms, and hazards caused by material lodging in the respiratory system, as with asbestos and other carcinogens. Other particulates that are small enough to become airborne may not be carcinogens but may cause other types of respiratory illness. Gloves and safety glasses used when working around exposed electrical components are other common safety items.
Inspectors use many other types of equipment because their use allows the inspector to offer an inspection of enhanced value. Moisture meters and infrared cameras are good examples. Both of these pieces of equipment allow inspectors to identify unacceptable conditions that cannot be identified visually. Although not required by the Standards of Practice, inspectors sometimes feel that offering inspections using these tools will allow them to provide a more valuable inspection, giving them an advantage in the competitive inspection business.
Some types of equipment are used because they make the inspection process easier or faster for the inspector. Telescoping ladders are a good example. They can be collapsed and carried through a home with less risk of bumping into walls and furniture. Infrared thermometers allow inspectors to check the temperature of heating and cooling system registers located in inaccessible places, such as under beds and other large, heavy furniture.
Inspectors are free to use whatever equipment they choose, as long as their inspections comply with the InterNACHI Standards of Practice. Here are examples of some of the equipment used by home inspectors.
This photo shows an example of the equipment typically used by an inspector. Equipment is taken to the inspection in two cases. Inspectors may use a bag, a bucket or a general-purpose toolbox.
Inspectors use a variety of electrical testers according to their preference and how much they are willing or can afford to pay. Generally, the more expensive testers identify a wider range of defects than less expensive testers.
Electrical tester: This type of tester is widely used but indicates only the more common defects. The button is for testing GFCI devices and the three colored lights indicate various defects. It does not test for defective AFCI devices that are often required in certain rooms in new homes. It tests 120-volt electrical receptacles but not 240-volt receptacles. Almost every inspector has one and many inspectors use only this tester when checking electrical components. The photo also shows one mounted on a retractable key chain for easy use and costs between $10 and $15.
AFCI/GFCI tester: This type of electrical tester checks for proper operation of both arc-fault and ground-fault circuit interrupter devices. It is used by some inspectors. This is the SureTest Ideal 61-059 tester and costs about $170.
AFCI/GFCI tester for arc-fault and ground-fault circuit interrupters: This circuit tester tests arc fault- and ground fault-protected electrical circuits to confirm that protection devices are working properly. It is used by some inspectors. This SureTest Ideal 61-164 tester costs about $260.
Voltage indicator: This very simple device is used to determine whether voltage is present in a device or in wiring. It has limited accuracy and may give positive readings where no house current is present but levels of generally harmless static electricity are present. The cost is about $10.
Electrical tester: This tester tests for the presence of both 120-volt and 240-volt electrical current. It is useful for testing electrical receptacles for dryers when no dryer is installed in the home at the time of the inspection.
A half-face respirator
A full-face respirator
Half-face and full-face respirators are good for respiratory protection but not very comfortable, especially in the heat. Many inspectors may own them but may not actually use them on a regular basis. They are important to have available because some areas are dangerous to enter without respiratory protection. Some types of organisms can even enter the human body through the mucus membranes around the eyes.
A combustible-gas detector detects small amounts of combustible gases. Most inspectors use their noses since the most common combustible gases – natural gas and propane – have odors that are easy to detect. This Bacharach brand costs $350.
Moisture meter in “search” mode
Moisture meter in “measure” mode
Moisture meters come in two types: search and measure. Using the meter in search mode, inspectors can find elevated moisture levels hidden behind a variety of materials, such as tile and vinyl. This feature helps locate plumbing leaks hidden beneath shower and bathroom floors. Using the meter in search mode allows inspectors to find areas with elevated moisture levels but does not provide a measurement of those levels. Using the meter in measure mode allows inspectors to actually measure levels in materials by touching the material with the two pins. Some moisture meters have both search and measure features. Most meters have either one or the other. Used by most inspectors, they cost between $350 and $550.
Carbon monoxide analyzer: Carbon monoxide (CO) is a tasteless, odorless, toxic gas produced by combustion appliances, such as water heaters, furnaces and boilers. CO can accumulate in the human body over time to a point at which it can be fatal. Excessive levels can be produced when combustion appliances operate inefficiently and need servicing or when they are improperly vented. Analyzers measure CO levels and give results in parts per million (PPM). Used by some inspectors, they cost between $250 and $500.
The digital readout on an infrared thermometer tells the temperature of whatever you point it at using an infrared beam. It’s used for checking the temperature of heating and cooling equipment, including registers, hot water, etc., and the temperature of electrical equipment, such as circuit breakers. Infrared thermometers are also convenient for checking the temperature of items that are difficult to reach. Most home inspectors use these and they cost up to $100.
Continuous radon monitors test for the radon. Radon testing is an ancillary inspection for which clients pay an additional fee. Radon levels in homes vary by area. Some areas have little or no radon, and some can have high levels. Continuous radon monitors sample the air once an hour. At the end of the 48-hour minimum test period, the monitor gives a result that is the average of all samples. This model costs about $550.
An infrared camera
An image taken by an infrared camera
Infrared (IR) cameras form images using infrared radiation in a manner similar to the way a conventional camera forms images using visible light. Different colors correspond to different temperatures, so an inspector is able to identify areas that are abnormally hot or cold. The image above shows cold areas at the top of the walls caused by settling of the insulation. The ability to offer it as an ancillary inspection varies among inspectors.
Microwave testers confirm that the magnetron that powers microwave ovens is working. It does not read microwave levels. Some inspectors use them. They cost less than $10.
Telescoping magnets make it easier to retrieve dropped items, such as screws from the main electrical panel cover. They are used by some inspectors and cost about $10.
Telescoping adjustable mirrors are easy to carry and useful for looking into areas where accessibility is limited, such as behind siding and stucco to confirm the presence of housewrap.
The wick of a smoke pen produces smoke that shows the movement of air. A smoke pen can be used to check combustion appliances for back-drafting that can pull toxic exhaust gases out of an exhaust flue and into the living space. It might also be used to show that return-air vents are operating properly. They are used by some inspectors and cost about $15.
A compass is used to determine the home’s directional orientation, which can be helpful if the home has energy-efficient features or if the client requests that the home’s elevation be described by the direction it faces. Some inspectors carry them and they cost less than $10.
High-traction roof boots with replaceable soles make it easier for inspectors to walk roofs without slipping. They run about $80. When the soles become worn, they can be changed out.
Toolkits: Although inspectors are not required by InterNACHI’s Standards of Practice to disassemble anything, sometimes the removal of a few screws can allow easier inspection of various items, such as furnaces. They cost about $10 each.
Collapsed telescoping ladder
Extended telescoping ladder
Telescoping ladders are easy to carry through homes without bumping into walls and can be carried in the trunk of a car. They can be more dangerous than other types of ladders because it cannot be visually confirmed that the locking mechanisms are fully engaged. They are used by some inspectors and cost about $170.
Collapsed articulating ladder
Extended articulating ladder
Articulating ladder in step-ladder configuration
Articulating ladders can be used as both step ladders and extension ladders and will fit in the trunk of many cars. They are used by many inspectors and cost about $300.
Tool vest: Inspectors need to carry a variety of tools while they inspect a home. Flashlights, a moisture meter, infrared thermometer, electrical testers, cell phone, and a mirror are just some of the equipment they commonly carry. A vest allows inspectors to work hands-free and gives them quick access to their equipment. They are used by some inspectors and cost between $60 and $140.