QDEAR BARRY: Last year, we bought a house built in 1947. We have since noticed a lot of new cracks in the plaster walls and some unevenness of the floors. Before we bought the house, we had a home inspection, but our inspector did not check the foundation crawl space. He said that he had forgotten to bring his overalls and would have to skip that part of the inspection. Am I being overly paranoid or is there a potential foundation settlement problem that our inspector failed to see? -- Paul

ADEAR PAUL: Inspecting the crawl space is a vital part of a thorough home inspection. Your inspector's omission of this procedure, on the slim excuse of forgotten overalls, begs for an appropriately outrageous analogy. He might have omitted the roof inspection because he had forgotten to bring his ladder. He could have disclaimed poorly lighted areas because his flashlight batteries were dead. Lack of a screwdriver might have prevented inspection of the electric service panel. He could have declined to provide a written inspection report because he had forgotten to bring a pen, or he could simply have explained that he wouldn't be inspecting the house at all because he had forgotten to get out of bed that morning.

There are a few acceptable excuses for not inspecting a crawl space, such as rattlesnakes, skunks or flooding. Forgetting overalls does not qualify.

Failure to inspect a sub-area is professionally negligent because there are so many vital components there. The most obvious, of course, is the foundation itself, to check for cracks or other signs of settlement, deterioration or instability. Inspection of the area also includes a review of the wood framing and sub-floor for faulty construction, moisture damage and inadequate ventilation. A competent inspector also looks for signs of faulty ground drainage and evaluates the electrical wiring, water lines, gas lines, drain lines, air ducts and more. A home inspection that does not include a complete crawl of the sub-area is incomplete at best.

Now that you've observed cracks in the building, the foundation is suspect, and the lack of a sub-area inspection looms as an omission with major consequence. Notify the inspector of your concerns and give him the opportunity to inspect the sub-area now. However, his credibility as a qualified professional is suspect, given his questionable performance. I strongly recommend a second inspection by a more thorough inspector.

DEAR BARRY: We're about to buy a house that has a ventless gas fireplace. We're concerned about health and safety hazards with the unit, in spite of assurances that the exhaust is completely safe. What do you advise? -- Joel

DEAR JOEL: Ventless gas fireplaces are legal in most states. Those who make and sell them swear by their safety and the impossibility of venting carbon monoxide into a home. Given this assurance, you might conclude that these fireplaces are the only inventions in human history that are incapable of malfunctioning. Who would like to stake his life on that assumption?

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 Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401.

Distributed by Access Media Group