15 Types of Specialized Home Inspections That Tell You More About a House

Let’s say you go to your family doctor for a check-up. They notice something based on your symptoms or blood work that warrants a closer look and refer you to a specialist who’s best qualified to diagnose and treat the problem. Do you say “Nah, I’m good” and trust that all is well?

Let’s hope not!

The same logic applies to the home inspection process you’ll go through when buying a home.

Money saved from types of home inspections.
Source: (Ibrahim Rifath/ Unsplash)

Spend now to save later

Today 84% of homebuyers request a home inspection as part of their purchase contract.

However, a home inspector is a generalist, and sometimes they’ll say things like, “I’d recommend calling in a specialist to check out this sign of wood rot” or “Let’s get a structural engineer in here; I’m a little concerned about that foundation crack.”

In addition, there will be issues common to homes in your area (such as radon or pest problems) that you should check for before you buy and a general inspector won’t cover.

Considering nearly 1 in 5 buyers expressed regret about their home purchase because of unexpected maintenance or hidden costs, now’s not the time to hem and haw over a couple hundred bucks that an extra inspection will cost.

An inspection allows you to escape a contract if there are serious structural, mechanical, or safety defects discovered about the house. You also can negotiate with the seller about fixing serious deficiencies, or reduce your offer to cover you handling the repairs yourself.

Robert Greenblatt, a real estate investor turned agent for 12 years who is a top seller in Springdale, New Jersey, gives the example of testing for high radon levels, which can increase the risk of lung cancer to those exposed:

Testing for radon costs about $150 in his area. If testing detects elevated levels, the buyer can ask the seller to foot the bill for mitigation, which averages about $1,200 nationwide and in Greenblatt’s area costs as high as $2,000. “To me, that’s an extra $150 well spent,” Greenblatt says.

No kidding!

A house with a chimney needing a home inspection.
Source: (Philippe Brems/ Pexels)

Beyond the general home inspection

With that said, let’s dive into 15 specialized types of home inspections that help you look under the hood of the house, so to speak, before a property and all of its flaws are yours alone to deal with.

Most likely, a home won’t need every inspection on this list. Radon, for instance, is typical in areas with basements, which aren’t common in regions with a lot of swampland. A home’s age also plays a huge role. But it’s best to know all your options so you don’t leave any stone unturned.

Here’s a general overview of the different types of home inspections that cover your home from top to bottom.

1.  Chimney inspection

A chimney inspection assesses whether the chimney and fireplace are venting properly, if the mortar is cracked or deteriorating, and if there’s a heavy buildup of creosote (a byproduct of burning wood), which can combust. This prevents chimney fires and smoke or odors from seeping inside when you’d go to light the fireplace on a chilly day.

Costs:
About $360 to $400 on average nationwide

Who to hire:
A CSIA (Certified Chimney Sweep) technician

When to get it:
You’ll need to inspect the chimney before you use the fireplace anyway. If a house has a chimney, inspect it so that you don’t have to worry about unwanted guests (birds or bats) nestled up there, the risk of starting a fire, or extremely dangerous carbon monoxide poisoning.

Unless the sellers of the home have paperwork to show they’ve inspected the chimney recently, go ahead and get this inspection before closing if time allows.

2. Roof Inspection

Preventive roof maintenance can save homeowners thousands of dollars on average each year throughout a roof’s lifespan. A roofing contractor can examine a roof and ceilings for signs of leaks or damage, flag trouble spots such as mold growth that might mean rotting wood underneath, and even use a handheld infrared scanner or drone inspection to look for spots where heat is escaping.

Costs:
About $205 on average nationwide

Who to hire:
Ask your agent for a referral; be sure to double check for the roofer’s license and insurance

When to get it:
If a house has a roof that’s 20-25 years old; shows visible signs of damage such as loose shingles, cracks in the structures, or algae growth; or your real estate agent or inspector expresses concerns over the roof’s lifespan, then consider a roof inspection.

Consider asking for a roof certification, a document from a roofing professional that identifies the need for any roof repairs and provides an estimate of the roof’s lifespan. Roof certifications are typically valid for 2 to 5 years after inspection.

3. Lead-based paint inspection

The federal government banned the use of lead-based paint in 1978, but older homes and even some built since then still can contain it.

Lead is a naturally occurring toxic metal that poses many risks to the human body, including damage to blood cell production, calcium absorption, and muscle movements, while high levels of lead can even cause kidney and brain damage, according to KidsHealth.org.

The CDC notes that kids are especially vulnerable to the risks of lead exposure while the substance can also pose harm to pregnant women and their unborn children.

During a lead-based paint inspection, a lead inspector will do a visual inspection and look for chipped or peeling paint around the house. The inspector will then collect paint samples of each room using swipe clothes that are later evaluated in a lab.

Costs:
Around $300 on average nationwide. (If lead is identified, lead-based paint can be encapsulated, or covered with a specially formulated liquid compound, for $55 to $75 per gallon; removing lead paint costs from $5,000 to $10,000 on average.)

Who to hire:
Depending on your state:

(See the EPA guidelines for more information on the right route for your state).

When to get it:
Recommended for any home built before 1978.

A pest inspector conducting a home inspection.
Source: (PPC Photography Cologne/ Shutterstock)

4. Pest, termite, or rodent

During a pest inspection, an inspector checks the exterior and interior of your property for any signs of infestation, damage, or areas that are attractive to pests. This can involve taking moisture readings with a meter and looking for other signs, such as mud tubes (small tunnels that subterranean termites build to access food); piles of wings; damaged wood (crushed joints; sounds hollow when tapped); moist wood; bubbling and buckled paint; gnawed wiring; or droppings, especially from mice.

Costs:
Some home inspection companies will bundle into their services a pest inspection for an additional $75 to $125. An independent inspection from a licensed pest inspector or pest management company costs about $100, although it can range from $30 to more than $200, depending on the company you use.

Who to hire:
Licensed pest inspector or local pest control expert

When to get it:
Ask your agent about which types of pest inspections are standard for the area (in the Midwest, you might want to check the crawl space for signs of mice; whereas in Arizona, it’s the scorpions that roam.) Some financing, such as VA and FHA loans, requires a termite or pest inspection.

5. Radon inspection

The EPA estimates that nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the United States has elevated radon levels, which can increase the risk of lung cancer. Scientists estimate that 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer deaths nationwide each year are related to radon. You need to be concerned when the radon level in your home registers 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter of air).

Two short-term tests of two to three days each, or a long-term test of 90 days are certified ways to measure the radon in your home. The test needs to last for such a long time because interior radon levels can fluctuate based on the ground shifting and other factors. To be valid, the test should be recent, e.g., within two years, especially if the home you’re buying has been renovated or altered since a previous test.

(Depending on where you live, your home inspection also may include testing for methamphetamine, which when produced permeates surfaces of a home and property. Sellers in more than half the states nationwide are supposed to disclose whether a home was used to manufacture meth.)

Costs:
Radon can be bundled into the cost of a standard home inspection for $90 to $250 on top of the home inspection fee. Radon tests separate from the home inspection average $450 nationwide.

Who to hire:
Sellers can test for radon themselves by purchasing a DIY kit at a home improvement store or from National Radon Program Services, but buyers frequently want an independent party to handle the test, in which case they can find a qualified company a few different ways:

When to get it:
Radon is most likely to be elevated in the lower levels of a home, so if the property has a basement and crawlspace, test for it so you can potentially ask for remediation in those areas.

6. Electrical inspection

Your home’s electrical system is a vital component of protecting your family. Electrical distribution or lighting equipment in the home remains the 4th leading cause of home fires, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. An electrical inspection goes so far as to check for ungrounded outlets, exposed wiring, spliced wires, improperly modified electrical panels, and other issues that could pose a risk.

Costs:
An electrical inspection can cost a national average of $75 to $125, although some companies offer free basic checkups for residential clients.

Who to hire:
A licensed electrician or electrical contractor

When to get it:
The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) of Rosslyn, Virginia, the premier nonprofit authority dedicated to promoting electrical safety at home and in the workplace, recommends an electrical system inspection for anyone purchasing a home that was previously owned.

The ESFI also recommends this inspection if a home is 40 years old or older, has undergone major renovations, or added major appliances within the last 10 years.

A radiator that needs a type of home inspection.
Source: (GRÆS Magazine/ Unsplash)

7. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC)

An HVAC inspection can be a great way to determine how well a homeowner has maintained the central heating and cooling system of their home and what kind of shape it’s in. A dirty or neglected HVAC is a major cause of system failure down the line. During an HVAC inspection, a professional will look at the system’s thermostat calibration, heat pumps, electrical connections, air filters, safety controls and quality of installation, among a long list of other checks they can do just for this one house component.

Costs:
About $321 on average nationwide

Who to hire:
A reputable heating and air conditioning company in your area (ask your agent or inspector for a recommendation)

When to get it:
If a home inspector measures a questionable temperature reading from your furnace or air conditioner or flags any other issues, an HVAC specialist can determine whether the unit needs to be fixed or replaced, or other issues such as whether a home’s thermostat’s sensors are blocked.

8. Asbestos Inspection

Before 1980 many roofing, paint, tiles, and other building materials in residential homes were made with asbestos before researchers discovered that exposure to asbestos, when damaged or disturbed, can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and abdominal pain, leading to longer term health problems. However, asbestos only poses a health threat when it’s disturbed and the fibers are released into the air, which could happen with a renovation or home improvement project.

If a general home inspector thinks a home may have asbestos, the inspector typically will only identify it as “asbestos-like material” because asbestos can only be positively identified under a microscope, according to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. Testing for asbestos can be highly dangerous with the risk of releasing harmful fibers so you’re better off working with professionals who will use a special tool to cut into any materials in question and gather a sample for testing.

Costs:
Onsite sampling from a team of specialists ranges from $250 to $750 while air monitoring after removal can cost $300-$1,200.

Who to hire:
Asbestos abatement company

When to get it:
Sellers are required to disclose the presence of asbestos in a house if they know about it. If the home you’re buying was built before 1980 (and especially if any floor tiles are those 9 by 9 inch squares) ask your agent if it’s a good idea to test for asbestos. If asbestos is identified you may be able to negotiate for a repair credit or request the asbestos be removed (or the more likely case) contained but the seller is not obligated to do so.

9. Mold inspection

Left to multiply, mold can cause a host of health concerns. It commonly causes allergic reactions, such as hay-fever-like symptoms and rashes, as well as upper respiratory issues such as coughs, sneezing, wheezing, runny nose, and shortness of breath. A mold inspection involves tactics such as a visual assessment, surface sampling, and air sampling to determine the type of mold as well as tests for humidity levels and water intrusion. Some mold inspectors also may use thermal imaging devices to find damp or cold spots behind walls, assess any damage from the spread of the mold, and recommend how best to remove it.

Costs:
A comprehensive mold inspection costs on average about $651.

Who to hire:
A mold remediation specialist with IICRC (Institute of Inspection Certification and Restoration Certification credentials and who has environmental insurance coverage, which provides liability insurance in case contamination occurs during remediation.

When to get it:
A general home inspector can pick up on a mold problem if there are stains or growth on furniture, walls, and ceilings; standing water around HVAC units; and earthy or musty odors, all signs that warrant further investigation. Any sign of water damage or visible mold is enough reason to get an inspection.

10. Plumbing and water systems inspection

A professional plumbing inspection can involve either a visual check or a diagnostic camera. With a visual inspection, a plumber reviews all connections under the sinks and the shutoff supplies, verifies that all fixtures and appliances are installed to code, checks the water pressure and water heater, and confirms everything is draining properly.

Costs:
Costs range from about $150 to $300; add about $200 for the plumber to run a camera through the pipes to examine their condition.

Who to hire:
A professional plumber will be qualified to perform this type of inspection

When to get it:
A plumbing inspection is a good idea for homes built before 1990 (when builders used plumbing materials that are no longer used today) or if you notice issues like signs of leaks, slow drains, or low water pressure in the house.

A septic tank getting a home inspection.
Source: (KaliAntye/ Shutterstock)

11.  Sewer or septic system inspection

A septic system inspection will check for items such as when the tank was last pumped, the sludge level, proximity of the tank and drainfield to wells and streams, and whether the tank is the right size for the house, according to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors.

Costs:
A septic inspection can cost $100 to $250. Add an additional $50 to $250, based on the depth of the tank, if the inspector has to uncover the tank.

Who to hire:
A qualified wastewater professional typically inspects these systems, although some health departments do as well for a fee. Some plumbers may also combine a plumbing inspection with a sewer system inspection.

When to get it:
If a home has slow-flowing toilets or backflow in the drains, or there’s a question about whether the size of the tank appears proportionate in size to the house, the home inspector might request a sewer or septic system inspection.

12.  Foundation or structural inspection

A structural engineer looks for foundational issues, such as if the house has a distinct slope, there are cracks above the doorways, or doors are out of alignment. Structural issues can lead to sagging roofs, angled floors, or cracks that leave your home vulnerable to pests and water damage.

Costs:
The national average cost for a structural home inspection is $600. (Compare that with the average cost of a foundation repair, which in 2016 ran between $5,000 and $6,000.)

Who to hire:
Structural engineer

When to get it:
If there’s a suspected issue with the home’s foundation, frame, or other weight-bearing areas.

13.  Landscaping/soil analysis

A soil analysis can outline drainage, grading, and other maintenance recommendations, as well as help determine whether a home’s foundation adequately counteracts the shifting and settling of a particular soil type.

Costs:
Professional soil testing costs between $700 and $1,500.

Who to hire:
Soil engineer or landscaping professional

When to get it:
If you’re looking at a hillside property, which can experience erosion, mud flows, gullies, and other weather-related complications, a soil analysis may be advisable.

A pool that needs a home inspection.
Source: (Pixabay/ Pexels)

14. Pool and Spa

This inspection can include safety checks, such as noting whether any latches and fencing are working properly, as well as whether electrical wires and devices are away from the pool. It also includes reviewing the vinyl liner and plaster, along with any decorative or functional tiling and components such as the filter, pump, and heater.

Costs:
A pool or spa inspection ranges from $250 to $600, depending on the size of the pool or spa, the surroundings that need examination, and where you live.

Who to hire:
Look for a certified pool and spa inspector or you can ask your local American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) chapter for a swimming pool inspector referral.

When to get it:
It’s a good idea for any home with a pool to check for the condition of the pool’s heater, pump, and filters which the general inspection won’t cover.

15.  Underground oil tank inspection 

Soil testing can aid in the search for underground oil tanks on a property, which were used for heating homes during the 1960s and 1970s before natural gas became customary. Some of these tanks were thought to be decommissioned properly, but any tank older than 20 to 25 years has a significant risk of rust and leakage, according to LookSmart Home Inspections of Rockaway, New Jersey.

“You’re talking about seven-figure insurance claims when they leak,” Greenblatt said, noting that when a home is found to have such an underground tank, “I usually advise people to run.”

Costs:
Screening soil for environmental toxins can start at about $30, with additional costs of up to $100. But this is small compared with the average cleanup of these oil tanks, which according to ATS Environmental costs from $8,000 to over $100,000.

Who to hire:
Some home inspectors will offer this specialized inspection, or you can search for an oil tank testing and removal company in your area. (Environmental organization ATS Environmental serves New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania).

When to get it:
If the house was built between 1945-1975 when oil tanks were routinely installed or you identify fill and vent pipes in the yard indicating the house was once heated with fuel oil.

Specialized home inspections for the rigorous homebuyer

Although getting your inspections in order can add to the stress of homebuying, experts emphasize that it’s better to be safe than sorry. When in doubt, consult your general home inspector or your real estate agent about any additional inspections they recommend and which professionals in the area they trust to get the job done.

“There’s always a way to test further for any concern that’s found,” Greenblatt said.

Header Image Source: (only_kim/ Shutterstock)

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