Most of us in the Washington region survived Superstorm Sandy with limited damage to our homes. Next time we might not be so lucky. How well prepared is your home for the next natural disaster?

We asked Tim Bills, an American Society of Home Inspectors certified home inspector, about what homeowners can do to make sure their home is structurally sound. Bills, president of Sentry Home Inspections, has been conducting home inspections in the District, Maryland and Virginia for nearly a decade.

The recent storm left many people wondering how safe their homes are. How often should homeowners have their houses checked by an inspector to make sure they can withstand the effects of a strong storm?

Inspectors cannot predict what may happen to any residence when a strong storm blows in. However, a maintenance inspection can help to safeguard against things such as leakage and damage from trees. Many homeowners know that during a heavy storm, trees and water can be the biggest problems. Maintaining trees that are overhanging roofs, keeping roof gutters clear of debris and extending downspouts away from the foundation are all recommended. Providing a positive grading or slope away from foundations so water sheds away from the foundation will also help to prevent intrusion. Keeping drains clear of debris will also help prevent basement flooding.  

I would suggest getting an inspection after a storm to ensure that any non-obvious damage is identified.

 What is a maintenance inspection? What do you check as part of this inspection? 

Maintenance inspections are geared toward those items or systems that a homeowner should be maintaining as a matter of routine. For example, we would check the exterior of the home for any signs of wood rot in trim work, pealing paint and caulking around windows, gutters for blockages. We would also inspect the roof for signs of leakage. On flat roofs, we would inspect to see if the roof needed sealant. On the interior, we would check the plumbing for signs of leakage, and bathrooms for deteriorating caulk. We would also check basements for signs of leakage.
Why should homeowners get an inspection before and after a renovation? 

Getting an inspection before a renovation is a good idea to ensure there are no “big ticket items” that an average homeowner may not be aware of. Oftentimes, we find issues with foundations or supporting framing members that can cost a significant amount of money to have repaired. It is better to repair these items during a renovation than find out after and have to tear out renovated areas.  

Getting an inspection after a renovation helps to ensure that your contractor has done the job right. A common misconception by some homeowners or buyers is the local code enforcement officials are sufficient to ensure the job has been done correctly. While the majority of contractors and builders are credible, some are not. After the code enforcement leave, anything can happen. Additionally, there are renovations being done without permits or code inspections. Some of the worst inspections I have completed have been renovations.

What are warranty inspections and who should get them? 

 Warranty inspections are inspections completed on homes that are approaching one year of age. Builders provide warranties that in many jurisdictions are required by law. After one year, builders will repair items that are covered under the warranty. However, it is up to the homeowner to provide the deficiencies. This is where a licensed home inspector comes in. We inspect the home for deficiencies and provide a written report to the owner so they can in turn provide a report to the builder.
When hiring a home inspector, what are some things a homeowner should consider? What’s the best way to find a good home inspector? 

The most important consideration is to ensure the inspector is an ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors) certified home inspector. ASHI certified inspectors are held to the highest of standards by the organization and are required to adhere to the ASHI Code of Ethics. If homebuyers do not have an inspector, the best way to find one is through the ASHI Web site.
What is the one thing about your job that most people don’t realize? 

It takes many years to become a good home inspector.  There is no substitute for experience. While we do have entry-level classroom courses for inspector trainees, there is no college degree in home inspections. The majority of our initial training is done in the field under to guidance of a certified home inspector. Certification is gained by completing specific minimum requirements including classroom training, completing a specific number of paid inspections, and by successfully completing a challenging, written national exam.