QDEAR BARRY: The last two inspectors I hired inspected the roofs from the ground only, and neither reported any defects. That's problem No. 1.

I have also found that home inspectors won't admit to errors made during their inspections. When problems are discovered after the purchase, they often dismiss them as "normal conditions." For example, when I found that my main water shut-off valve was leaking, I called my home inspector, and he said that was normal.

How would you rate this kind of performance? -- Gary

ADEAR GARY: Some home inspectors are definitely more professional than others, and your inspectors have apparently been on the lower end of that spectrum. All home inspectors miss a random sampling of property defects. That's the human aspect of doing business.

But when errors and omissions are discovered, inspectors should respond in a forthright manner, rather than making excuses. That is the honest and acceptable standard in any business.

Inspecting a roof from the ground is little better than not inspecting it at all. Walking the roof, or at least inspecting it from a ladder, is essential to an adequate evaluation.

The only acceptable excuse for not walking on a roof is inaccessibility due to steepness, height, roof type or weather conditions. When a roof walk is not possible or is deemed unsafe -- when it might cause damage to the roofing material or injury to the inspector -- a ladder provides the best perspective. By placing it against the eaves, at various positions around the building, most roof surfaces can be reasonably viewed.

Common roof defects of all kinds can go unnoticed when viewed from the ground. Examples of unapparent roof problems include weathered and worn shingles, cracked tiles, displaced tiles and shingles, rusted flashing, and packed gutters. This is a matter of common knowledge among home inspectors, leaving no plausible excuse for those who perform ground-view roof inspections.

Home inspectors who compromise the quality of their work in this way should clarify this in their reports by stating that the roof inspection was limited and that further evaluation of roofing conditions is recommended before the property purchase is completed.

DEAR BARRY: Our house is about 15 years old and has a brick fireplace. Whenever it rains hard and long, the bricks get wet and water sometimes drips into the firebox. How should we address this problem? -- Jackie

DEAR JACKIE: The solution to fireplace leakage depends upon the specific cause of the problem. If there is no chimney cap, the solution may be simple: Have an approved cap installed by a qualified fireplace specialist.

If there is a design flaw in the fireplace construction, evaluation by a qualified expert is necessary to determine what repairs are needed. This can be done by a licensed masonry contractor or other fireplace specialist.

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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