QDEAR BARRY: I'm buying a house at a time of year when it may not be possible to obtain a thorough home inspection. The ground and much of the roof are covered with snow, making inspection of these areas nearly impossible. What can an inspector do to evaluate these critical areas, and what can I do if roof or site problems are discovered after I complete the sale? -- Greg

ADEAR GREG: Snow is one of several conditions that can inhibit a home inspector's ability to observe and report defective conditions.

In any season, conditions can be concealed by furniture, storage or landscaping. Problems can also be hidden behind the walls or buried underground. Snow is a particular problem because it can prevent inspection of two sensitive and essential areas: roofing conditions and ground drainage.

Depending upon the severity of the weather and the depth of the snow, roof inspection can be significantly limited. Removing snow that has built up is usually not a good idea, because a heavy layer of snow and ice sliding off a roof could hurt someone.

However, it is possible for an inspector to gain some perspective on the roof's condition without viewing the entire surface. Exposed edges can reveal the number of roof layers, and a representative number of shingles can be inspected by scraping the snow from roofing at the eaves. Additionally, the likelihood of roof leakage can be ascertained because the slow melting of ice and snow can produce leaks more readily than rain runoff.

The inspector can also go to the attic to search for evidence of leaks. Additionally, an attic inspection can reveal when snow loads are hurting the integrity of the roof framing.

Snow also prevents evaluation of site grading and ground drainage, conditions that can have major implications. If possible, snow should be cleared at the building's perimeter to enable a reasonable inspection.

If this is not possible, you can request that some of the sellers' proceeds be withheld at the conclusion of the sale, pending further inspection during warmer weather.

Sellers may not be warm to this kind of arrangement, but such proposals are definitely negotiable. As much as possible, assume the approach that protects your financial interests and seems most reasonable.

DEAR BARRY: Our new house is under construction. The building is completely framed, including the roof, but the roof tiles are not yet installed. Recent rains soaked most of the structure, inside and out. We're wondering if this may have damaged the building. What are the effects of rain exposure during construction? -- James

DEAR JAMES: Wood framing is often exposed to rain during construction. In most cases, this does not cause damage. In fact, lumber is typically exposed to rain while it is in the lumberyard. In some cases, however, prolonged exposure to moisture can cause mold on lumber surfaces, and this can lead to health problems. To ensure that no mold problems are developing in your future home, have a professional mold inspector evaluate the building prior to installation of drywall and other finish materials.

Barry Stone is a professional home inspector. If you have questions or comments, contact him through his Web site, www.housedetective.com, or send mail to 1776 Jami Lee Ct., Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401.

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