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What does a home inspector mean by calling something not readily accessible?
Thursday, July 12, 2018
The Florida Home Inspection Statute’s Standards of Practice (61-30.801), which defines what is required to be examined during a home inspection, states that “the inspector shall inspect readily accessible, installed systems and components of homes listed in Standards of Practice by using normal operating controls and readily operable access panels.” This is intended to define the limits of how far a home inspector is required to go in entering areas like the attic and crawl space, opening access panels and testing equipment.
But what exactly do the terms readily accessible, installed systems, readily openable, and normal operating controls mean, and at what point does something cross the line and not get inspected? It depends on who you ask. Let’s start with defining readily accessible. Here’s a few different definitions from industry sources:
International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) - A system or component that, in the opinion of the inspector, is capable of being safely observed without the removal of obstacles, detachment or disengagement of connecting or securing devices, or other unsafe or difficult procedures to gain access.
American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) - Available for visual inspection without requiring moving of personal property, dismantling, destructive measures, or actions that will likely involve risk to persons or property.
International Residential Code (IRC) - Signifies access without the necessity for removing a panel or similar obstruction.
National Electrical Code (NEC) - Capable of being reached quickly for operation, or inspection without the necessity of using tools (other than keys) to remove covers, resorting to portable ladders, or climbing over or under or removing obstacles.
The term accessible is not as restrictive as readily accessible. It means that the area or equipment can be reached and opened without causing damage, and allows using tools to gain access. Most home inspectors, however, consider a panel that requires removing only a few screws as readily accessible.
Here’s a few examples of situations at home inspections that are defined as not readily accessible:
1) A gas water heater had been installed directly under the only attic hatch opening. While the seller of the home insisted that “lots of service people” had climbed on top of the water heater to get into the attic, both the home inspector and the termite inspector disclaimed the attic access as dangerous and potentially damaging to the water heater.
2) Access panels that have been heavily caulked and/or nailed shut, which would be damaged if opened. Spa tub compartments often have this problem, as shown below.
3) Doors and rooms that are locked or blocked by stored items.
4) An electric panel without a clear area directly in front of it so that the inspector can stand back from the panel and move freely while removing the dead front (cover plate) and examining “live” electrical components. Being able to reach across stacked boxes and open the panel door is not enough.
5) An attic or crawl space with an undersize access opening or insufficient headroom once inside. The one shown below, with 10” vertical clearance and concrete blocks wedged in the opening would be one example.
6) Installed shelving or stacked boxes up to the ceiling, directly under an attic hatch opening in a small closet, sometimes makes it impossible to get in without risking damage to the shelving or stored items.
If you do not have to use tools to open a panel, resort to a ladder, or remove any obstacles then it is readily openable. A panel secured with a thumbscrew or sliding bolt latch would be considered readily openable, for example.
If a component requires tools to remove, then it is considered an installed system. An over-the-range microwave that is bolted in place is an installed system, while a countertop microwave is not. Wall-mounted air conditioners are considered an installed system, but a window unit is not. Also, a washing machine that is connected to plumbing and electricity is an installed system, whereas a washing machine simply being stored in the corner of the garage is not inspected.
Things like switches, valves, thermostats, and hand-held remotes that are intended to be used by the homeowner are considered normal operating controls, while any internal switches or valves used for testing and diagnostics by a service technician are not. Any control that appears to be damaged, or not intended for the appliance that it is connected to, may not be tested or inspected. Safety of both the inspector and the property is always the overriding issue in any decision as what areas are readily accessible and components acceptable to test.
Also, see our blog post What is a "cosmetic" defect in a home inspection? and What does "serviceable" mean in a home inspection report?
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