QDEAR BARRY: Do you research the issues you write about, or do you simply shoot from the hip?

In a recent column, you spoke about a home inspector's liability for unreported safety violations involving a water heater flue pipe. You failed to mention that home inspectors are not required to cite code requirements or even to know what a flue pipe is.

You should have explained that inspections are for informational purposes only. Inspectors cannot certify anything. They can only state opinions. Buyers should hire licensed experts to verify the true extent of defects, rather than relying on generalist home inspectors. How about some honest clarity? -- Chris

ADEAR CHRIS: A measure of "honest clarity" is definitely in order. Our views of home inspection are not as different as your comments imply. However, some of your opinions are sorely misinformed.

Home inspectors, as you point out, are not required to cite building codes, and it is not their job to "certify" aspects of a building or its components systems. But that is where the agreement ends and the clarification begins.

The purpose of a home inspection is to report visible defects. Such disclosures, as you noted, are statements of opinion.

But it should not be assumed that these opinions are merely subjective viewpoints. When reported by a truly qualified inspector, opinions are professional findings that are substantive and verifiable; they are supported by visible evidence. If reported conditions warrant further evaluation and repairs by a licensed expert, the inspector's job is to recommend hiring such an expert.

When the defects reported by a home inspector involve building code violations, they are disclosed as conditions that warrant further evaluation or repair, without specific reference to the code. For example, common safety violations involving a water heater flue pipe include loose or detached connections, substandard piping, contact with combustible materials, venting near an openable window and insufficient height above the roof. Each of these issues represents a violation of the plumbing or mechanical code, but home inspectors report them as "defects," without citing the code by name.

As a final note, home inspectors do in fact "know what a flue pipe is." Without such elementary knowledge, the practice of home inspection would not be possible.

DEAR BARRY: My fireplace provides aesthetic warmth, but not much actual heat. I would like to install a wood-burning insert and would like to know if this can be done safely in a mobile home. -- Earlene

DEAR EARLENE: Fireplace inserts, whether they are installed in mobile homes or in conventional dwellings, must be compatible with the built-in fireplaces into which they will be inserted. To verify compatibility, consult the manufacturers' specifications for both fixtures.

But beware: The manufacturers of many fireplace inserts list their fixtures as compatible with all existing fireplaces. Fireplace manufacturers, on the other hand, often disclaim such compatibility. Exceeding the design specifications of a fireplace can overheat the chimney, thereby posing a fire hazard.

For a combination that incorporates maximum fire safety, fixtures should be mutually compatible. A qualified professional installer can further advise you.

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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