It goes without saying but is worth repeating: home inspections are limited to the state of a property at the time of inspection only. This means a very short couple or few hour timeframe in relation to the much, much longer (decades long) life of the home. Anything can go wrong with any of the many components of a home at any time, so it is important to remember that an inspection is a short snapshot to provide the client with a detailed and general overview at one specific time (usually shortly before the home is bought and sold).
One of many things that could go wrong after an inspection (that is especially alarming) is sewage backup. If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having a backup problem after your inspection and feel it’s something your inspector should have caught, I’d like to take a moment to address why backup often goes unnoticed during a general home inspection.
During an inspection, the inspector runs the water from individual fixtures and from multiple fixtures simultaneously to check for consistent water pressure/flow and verify that no backup issues are observed. By only running water through the drain piping, though, a backup issue may not be immediately apparent. Once a family moves into the house and starts using fixtures in a normal way, many additional things are forced down drains. Waste, toilet paper, food from a disposal, and numerous other materials get sent down drain piping – all of which do not (and cannot) be placed in the drains by the inspector.
Needless to say, these many additional items take up a lot more space than water alone, so if a backup issue exists it will often become evident much sooner to the homeowner than it would the inspector. Indeed, the backup may not be evident at all to the inspector without being able to introduce solid materials into the waste piping.
That being said, a good inspector will run water from fixtures long enough to ensure that if a major backup problem does exist it will be more likely to appear. Ask the inspector you are considering hiring how long he or she typically runs the water to ensure it is long enough to possibly observe backup. Consider also asking him or her for guidance regarding best practices for preventing backup problems (like not flushing inappropriate items as many people do).
So, understand the limitations of an inspection – especially regarding issues like sewage backup – and take time to ask questions and ensure your inspector is doing everything possible (within their limits) to identify defects. It is often not the inspector’s fault that backup wasn’t apparent at the time of inspection; but good inspectors will do the best they can to identify problems and educate their clients.
After you’ve moved in and started using the plumbing system in a more normal way, day after day, be sure to avoid common mistakes that can cause backup. Last but not least, always have the contact information for a good plumber nearby in case you do run into a problem and need your waste piping repaired. Sewage backup is obviously not an issue that can wait to be remedied.
*To visit our main website, go to http://www.hillinspections.com