The Canadian Standards Authority have release the long awaited A770 Standard for Home Inspections. Having now had a chance to read the document in its entirety, there are a number of issues that exist with the document. These issues have impacts in the following areas of the Home Inspection.
- Issues of copyright
- Liability to Home Inspector, Consumer and Realtor
- Scope of the Home Inspection
- Time for a Home Inspection
- Cost of a Home Inspection
- Complexity of the Contract
The first and foremost is the issue of copyright. Recently the CSA brought a copyright action against P.S. Knight. P.S. Knight has written electrical codes for years, and at one time the CSA used information from these codes to build it’s own. Now the CSA has produced a “National Standard” and from what I can see it plagiarises much from the Standards already in play. The fact that the standard is copyrighted by the CSA means that the individual clauses for the inspection components can no longer be entered into the inspection report. This means that clients can no longer refer the inspection narrative to the required inspection criteria, and instead have to make reference back to the original CSA standard.
The second issue with the CAN/CSA A770 standard , and one that poses serious liability to home inspectors, and a widening of the scope of litigation that can be engaged, is the terminology around the “visual” inspection.
To wit: In section 4, General Inspection Requirements, the CAN/CSA standard says “Inspections are not required on systems and components that are” … “readily accessible to a visual inspection, except as explicitly required in this Standard” similarly in section 4.2.1. it states “Inspection of systems and components shall be conducted using methodologies and techniques appropriate for identifying the conditions specified” and “Sufficient information shall be obtained, evaluated, and presented to support the inspector’s conclusions”.
In section 4.2.2 the standard goes on to say “One or more of the following inspection methods shall be used, as appropriate, for each system or component and as required” and goes on to list borescopes, electrical circuit analysers, moisture meters, photography (not limited to visual light photography), testing or probing. In section 4.2.4 the standard states that the “home inspector shall provide all equipment and tools required to conduct the home inspection”. Because of the wording of the standards, it could be argued that unless the scope of the contract specifically states that specialist tools will not be used in certain circumstances, the tool kit of the home inspector is required to increase exponentially because of this standard.
Section 5 then goes on to establish all the areas that need to be tested and for what defects. It refers back to defects in section 188.8.131.52 which is an extensive list of defect PLUS a subjective opinion, of the adequacy of the performance of a component.
The components sections do not specify “visual” as part of the inspection process, and furthermore go on to state that components should be inspected for things such as “instability”, “weathertigthness”. The former of these requires physical pressure that could result in breakage and can in no way be considered “visual”. As the weather is unpredictable, and time relative, identifying the “weathertightness” of a home or any of it’s components goes well beyond the bounds of a visual inspection. Determining the “weathertighness” of a home would require specialist equipment to determine the amount of energy leakage caused by weather as well as likelihood of ice damming, heat stress and wind deflection. All of these are well beyond the scope of what is considered a “Home Inspection”
The third issue is in the the scope of the inspection. for example in a rural property, that has many hundreds of fence posts and large tracts of land the standard as it is written will increase both the time and cost of any inspection. The term “Representative sample” comes into play to allow the inspector to judge how many components would be considered representative, but again this is subjective and open to legal argument, once again opening up the liability on the Home Inspector.
For example: The term itself “Representative Sample” is defined as “an unbiased subset that accurately reflects the whole”. But the Bias is subjective. Take the case of a farm, where there may be thousands of fence posts around the property. The inspector would have to be careful in the sampling of which posts to representatively sample, to ensure he opines on the side of caution, rather than just picking a few random posts. Upon that decision, should the Inspector suggest wholesale replacement of the fencing, or further inspection from the very contractor who would stand to benefit from replacement of the fence? What may appear unbiased to a Home Inspector may appear to be completely biased to their client or indeed the property owner.
The fourth issue with the standard, is in it’s contradiction of itself. For example, in section 4.2.2 above, the standard mentions that the inspector, supplied with the tools required, such as borescopes should inspect areas that would presumably be visual using those tools. A borescope would give the inspector the ability to inspect the flue of a Chimney, yet the standard suggests that “Due to limitations of the inspection, it is not typically possible to inspect the flue”. This is patently arguable to the casual reader and will not doubt lead to legal argument at some point in the future.
The fourth issue comes about in some of the technical representations of the required inspection mandates. Again, for example, section 5.7.1.suggests that the inspection of the electrical service, main disconnect and earth grounding system shall include an examination for inadequate service capacity. This shows a lack of understanding on the part of the CSA, which is highly amusing when you consider they also author the Electrical Safety Code in Canada. Every inspector has at some time or other come across an electrical panel with breakers of fuses with a combined capacity that exceeds the main fuse or breaker. Indeed this combined capacity, if ever full realised could exceed the capacity of the main breaker by 4-500%. Now logic tells us that if this was to happen the main disconnect would blow or trip. however the very wording of the standard suggest that we should report every single panel found like this as having a defect. If the combined capacity of the breakers of fuses exceeds the main breaker of fuse, then the service capacity would fail this simple inadequacy test.. In order to be considered “adequate” The main disconnect and service drop or lateral should be of the capacity to supply all the required current that could be drawn in the home. This test should have been worded that the test is to ensure the panel has sufficient capacity for the supply and the over-current protection is adequate for the conductors. Worded as per this standard is likely to raise more than many queries on home inspectors and likely a few punts at a financial recovery for larger panel/service from those less education in the electrical arena.
The fifth issues is the requirement for the Home Inspector to act as a police to the local jurisdiction having authority. for example, extending the basic home inspection scope to incorporate swimming pool safety duplicates the effort that should be tasked to the local building inspectors. Swimming pol inspections are normally considered ancillary to a standard home inspection. Again, the poor wording of the standard, using terms such as “The inspection shall include, but not be limited to, an
examination for” requires a detailed scope to be entered into the contractual agreement for the home inspection. This is the case for other items that would normally be considered outside scope. Rather than make the agreement with the client simpler, this standard is going to require extensive contracts in order to protect the Inspector and Client, and where involved Home Owner and Realtors, from expensive and unnecessary litigation.
The opinion of the author is that this standard will lead to a multi-tier inspection service, similar to that which exists in the U.K. and will be based upon the contractual agreements which provide for exclusions leading to an even larger list than is in the general Standards of Practices of the majority of Home Inspector Associations at present.
Now all of that said, the standard does show that there is much an Inspector can do to improve the services to the consumer in an inspection, and for those that want to include all that the CSA standard has, there is the opportunity for a greater income and, if handled correctly, greater defence against frivolous claim.
In addition, the failings identified in the CSA document itself can be addressed by careful wording in any regulation that refers to the Standard. Areas where the Standard is too prescriptive and seen to create a liability for the consumer or an necessary liability to the professional can be negated, omitted or varied in the regulations. It is well known in academic circles that in order to get professional advice about a profession, one is best to consult a professional working in the profession. It is with the regulations that the regulators have the opportunity to correct the CSA standards. It is also advantageous to all concerned that, at least here in Ontario, the politicians realise the advantages of the expert advice, and are looking to reconvene the home Inspection Panel to assist with these regulations.
In the meantime, we will develop Inspection templates for HomeGauge, Home Inspector Pro and NoticeWare Reporter and any other software we can get licenses for so we can make these changes.
The templates will be available for download to members only on the Members Only web links.