How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes

Can a home inspection be done without electricity, water, or gas?

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Some inspectors will evaluate a house with the utilities off, and some will not. Ideally, you should wait for the seller to turn on the utilities—or in some cases it’s the buyers responsibility—before ordering an an inspection. The only exception is some bargain-basement foreclosures where the bank absolutely will not turn the utilities on or allow the buyer to arrange it (for more information on evaluating this type of property, see our blog Should I buy a foreclosure house if the bank refuses to turn on the utilities (electric, water, gas)?

   We discourage homebuyers from ordering an inspection unless all the utilities were on, but usually will go ahead and do the inspection if they insist they really want it—and are willing to accept the risk of having major defects we were unable to discover. 

   But the list of items we have to disclaim (indicate they were excluded from the evaluation) is so long, it would seem to someone reading our report that we were disclaiming responsibility for just about everything. Which would be close to accurate.

   Would you buy a car without driving it first? A house is no different. You have to be able make sure the toilets flush and the lights switch on, along with checking numerous other functional components,  before agreeing to purchase.

   When the water service is locked off by the local utility, or the well is not functioning or missing, here’s some of the things we can’t tell you:

  •  Do the pipes or shut-off valves  leak?
  •  Do the toilets flush?
  •  Does the washing machine work?
  •  Is the dishwasher functional?
  •  Does the refrigerator door service work?
     Is the hot water plumbed to the left faucets and the cold to the right?
  •  Does the water heater work?
  •  Do all the drains flow without backups or leakage?
  •  Is the septic system functional?
  •  Do all the hose faucets work, including at the washing machine?
  •  Is the water pressure adequate? Is there sufficient water flow at all fixtures?
  •  Is the landscape sprinkler system functional in all zones, with no damaged heads or gushers?

With electricity is locked off, here’s a list of more things we can’t tell you:

  • Are all the breakers in the electric panel functional, delivering power to their circuits?
  • Does the wiring have any short-circuits that might start a fire?
  • Are all the electric receptacles live?
  • Are the receptacles grounded and wired correctly?
  • Do any GFCI or AFCI-receptacles trip as required when tested?
  • Do the ceiling fans and lights work?
  • Is the hard-wired smoke alarm system functional?
  • Are the switches functional?
  • Does the air conditioning and electric heat work?
  • Does the refrigerator, range, and range hood fan work?
  • Is the electric dryer functional?
  • Is the well pump functional? Does it short-cycle?

   With the natural gas service locked off at the meter, or an empty or disconnected LP-gas tank, here’s more questions we can’t answer:

  • Does the gas furnace function properly?
  • Is the gas water heater working properly?
  • How about the gas dryer?
  • Does the gas range and oven work?
  • Are they any leaks in the gas lines?
  • Does the gas fireplace work?

   It’s a sensible policy for homebuyers to assume that any component of the home that can’t be tested should be assumed to be non-functional. Yes, some items will be working fine when the utilities are turned back on, but what percentage? And how much of a gambler are you?

    Also, see our blog post How can I make sure I don't get screwed on my home inspection?

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 

  To learn more strategies for getting the best possible home inspection, here’s a few of our other blog posts:

How can I make sure I don't get screwed on my home inspection? 

How thorough is a home inspector required to be when inspecting a house?

Should I trust the Seller's Property Disclosure Statement?

Can I do my own home inspection?

How can homebuyers protect themselves against buying a house over a sinkhole? 

The seller gave me a report from a previous home inspection. Should I use it or get my own inspector? 

    To read about issues related to homes of particular type or one built in a specific decade, visit one of these blog posts:

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1940s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1950s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1960s house?

• What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1970s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1980s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1990s house?

What problems should I look for when buying a country house or rural property? 

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been moved?

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been vacant or abandoned?

What are the most common problems with older mobile homes?

What do I need to know about a condo inspection?

What are the "Aging In Place" features to look for when buying a retirement home?

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