Home Inspector Versus Engineer
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In the late 1980s, some Home Inspectors claimed they were providing Engineering home inspections in print advertising. The Yellow Pages added a statement in their print ads that New York State law only allowed only Licensed Professional Engineers to advertise as Licensed Engineers.
The most flagrant offenders were told to change their advertising by the New York Office of Professions. Others continued to deceive the public.
With the popularity of the internet, some Home Inspectors have posted untrue statements about Engineer. Other Home Inspectors advertised as if they were Engineers. For example, a non-Engineer will use the keyword engineer in a Google AdWords campaign. Since no law is clearly violated, these misstatements remain on the Web and deceive members of the public seeking home inspections.
It is a minority of non-Engineer Home Inspectors who engage in deceit. In many parts of the country, there are no Licensed Engineers available to perform home, building, condo, and co-op inspections, so the non-Engineer Home Inspector plays a vital role. Fortunately, the lack of qualified Engineers is not an issue in the Metro New York area.
A Home Inspector describes what is seen in the home or building, while a Licensed Engineer describes what is seen in the home or building and analyzes, using Engineering principles, the systems of the home or building. The Engineer does everything that a Home Inspector does, and adds a Engineer's analysis of the examined systems. This Engineer's analysis helps you find defects that a Home Inspector cannot find. Because of extensive training, the Engineer can apply Engineering principles to situations he or she has never seen before. Because every home and building is different, the ability of a Engineers to analyze new situations is critical.
Posted False Information
About Licensed Engineers
Some Home Inspectors have posted nonsense about Engineers on their websites. Listed below are some of the more misrepresentations of Engineers that have been posted by inspectors nationwide. Unfortunately, some people believe these claims and make poor choices as a result. All of the following are based on publically accessible web pages for United States based firms claiming to perform home inspections. We have omitted any reference to the actual page and to other private information.
Inspector's Blog Statement: (The following was posted in a publically accessible home inspector blog/comment/question site). When clients ask me if i'm (sic) an engineer, I tell them an engineer will cost them $5,000 for the inspection. If they don't hang up, I tell them I can do whatever an engineer does, only better. I tell them that an engineer will take three week (sic) to get you the report, and that is because they wait to make you think it is worth the $5,000. It's corporate greed. Then I tell them that the engineers (sic) not even doing an engineering inspection. Hes (sic) doing a home inspection and fooling them. I tell them that there is no requirement to become and ENgineer (sic) home inspector, and they aren't even licensed. The clients buy this all the time. Theyll (sic) believe anything I say because they think I saved them money. THey (sic) don't even ask for my license. I think I get em (sic) with the $5,000. Who wants to spend $5,000 for an inspefction (sic).
The Truth: The absurdity of this post speaks for itself. I am sure that this is not typical of most home inspectors, and the inspector (who never identifies himself by name) does not appear to be from New York based on the post.
The Truth: Becoming a Licensed Engineer requires a minimum of 12 years relevant experience, as determined by the State of New York Office of Professions.
Inspector's Website Statement: Engineers provide a 3 or 4 page flimsy report (sic) compared to a home inspectors (sic) 15-page report.
The Truth: Heimer Engineering's inspection reports are typically more than 80 pages, and include detailed information and Web references.
Inspector's Website Statement: Engineers are not allowed by law to perform home inspections.
The Truth: There is no law in the State of New York prohibiting Licensed Engineers from performing home inspections. The State of New York law says:
444-j. Practice of architecture and professional engineering. A person regulated by the state of New York to engage in the practice of architecture when acting within the scope of that practice, a person licensed in the state of New York to practice professional engineering when acting within the scope of that practice or a person who is employed as a code enforcement official by the state or a political subdivision thereof when acting within the scope of that government employment may perform home inspections without need of licensure pursuant to this article.
The Truth: An initial report is provided at the inspection. The full report is typically emailed within two business days after the inspection.
Inspector's Website Statement: Engineers don't understand homes.
The Truth: Engineers who perform inspections understand homes and buildings. Because of their Engineering background, they have a better understanding of homes and buildings than non-Engineers, especially when unusual situations are encountered.
Inspector's Website Statement: You don't need an engineer. All you need to do is the old bounce test. I jump up and down on the floor. If it bounces, the house is unsound and shouldn't (sic) buy it. If the floor doesn't bounce, buy the house..
The Truth: There is no Engineering validity to this statement. Statements like this are part of the reason one needs to be licensed as an Engineer to offer Engineering services to the general public. A Licensed Engineer assesses the structural soundness, and uses his or her Engineering judgment to advise you about the potential real estate purchase.
Inspector's Website Statement: Engineers walk a fine line. They cannot do engineering while performing home inspections. So you don't get what you pay for.
The Truth: This statement makes no sense. Part of an Engineer's assessment is Engineering, including assessing structural soundness, sufficiency of heat, hot water, plumbing, electric service, etc.
The Truth: This is not true according to the laws of the State of New York. Only a Licensed Professional Engineer can represent himself or herself as a PE.
Inspector's Website Statement: Inspectors know more about homes then (sic) engineers
The Truth: There is no basis in reality for this statement. An Engineer performing inspections knows more about the home or building than a non-Engineer. This is because a Licensed Engineer also applies Engineering judgment to evaluating the home or building, including situations that are unique to the home or building.
Inspector's Website Statement: A home inspector is licensed to inspect homes. An engineer is (sic) a general license.
The Truth: There are restrictions on a Home Inspector's license. The Home Inspector is licensed to inspect homes. An Engineer is licensed to perform multiple Engineering services, including inspecting homes, buildings, condos, and co-ops. See the following excerpt from the State of New York law:
7201. Definition of practice of engineering. The practice of the profession of engineering is defined as performing professional service such as consultation, investigation, evaluation, planning, design or supervision of construction or operation in connection with any utilities, structures, buildings, machines, equipment, processes, works, or projects wherein the safeguarding of life, health and property is concerned, when such service or work requires the application of engineering principles and data
Inspector's Website Statement: A home inspection does not involve engineer (sic) analysis.
The Truth: A Home Inspector's inspection does not include Engineering analysis. An Engineer's inspection includes analysis of the structure, sufficiency of heating, sufficiency of hot water, sufficiency of electric service, etc.
The Truth: An Engineer is inspecting the house or building just like a Home Inspector. An Engineer will point out roof leakage, leaking pipes, an old heating system, or that the house has fuses. In addition, an Engineer can tell you about structural soundness, etc.
The Truth: How will the Home Inspector determine that you need an Engineer? Determining whether you need an Engineer requires Engineering judgment. Only an Engineer can make a judgment as to whether an issue involves Engineering.
Inspector's Website Statement: By definition, an engineer will only tell worst case-scenario (sic).
The Truth: By whose definition does an Engineer provide only the worst-case scenario? An Engineer provides his or her professional opinion as accurately as possible. Engineers do not give you the worst-case scenario. And anyone who went through Hurricane Sandy now knows that there are reasons to plan for infrequent events. Engineers give you the most probable scenario(s).
Inspector's Website Statement: Old houses may have structural problems, and you should not depend on any engineer to find them. Home inspectors will find the old home structural problems.
The Truth: Under the laws of the State of New York, only a Licensed Engineer or a Registered Architect can render an opinion regarding structural soundness. The Home Inspector who posted this may be in violation of the laws of the State of New York.
The Truth: There is no definition in the Engineering law or Home Inspection law as to what the "big picture" is. If one takes the common usage of this phrase, then it raises a question: How can one get the "big picture" without determining if the house or building is structurally sound, if the electric service is sufficient, etc.?
Inspector's Website Statement: A good home inspector can sniff out carbon monoxide.
The Truth: Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas. It cannot be smelled or tasted. An Engineer has a professional obligation to make every effort to provide accurate information. An Engineer does not make up something just to sell you an inspection.
Inspector's Website Statement: An engineer will charge you $5,000. And for what?
The Truth: A home inspection by an Engineer does not cost $5,000. An inspection by an Engineer is competitively priced with a Home Inspector's inspection.
Inspector's Website Statement: If you hire an engineer, they scare you and you won't buy the house.
The Truth: An Engineer finds and discloses the defects with the house or building, both from an Engineering point of view and a home inspection point of view. The purpose is not to scare you, but to make you an informed real estate purchaser.
Whether you choose an Inspector an Engineer is up to you. Inspectors provide a service similar to an Engineer, with significant limitations. A Home Inspector cannot provide you with a Licensed Engineer's assessment of the real estate that you are considering purchasing. If those limitations are acceptable to you, then consider a non-Engineer.
Before choosing between an inspection performed by a Home Inspector and an inspection performed by a Professional Engineer, examine the example pictures below. The top line (highlighted with green) lists only descriptions, as you would get with a non-Engineer Home Inspector. The bottom line (highlighted with red) shows the engineering analysis you receive when you use the services of an Engineer.
You are buying the home, building, condo, or co-op. If you choose poorly, you and your family will be affected.
What Will A Home
Inspector Not Tell You?
Inspector's Description: The sill plate is sagging. Have an Engineer check to see if this is a structural defect.
Engineer's Analysis: The sill plate is sagging because the foundation has sunk into the earth. This is because the foundation is insufficient to support the house. This house is structurally unsound.
Inspector's Description: The floor joists are small and spaced far apart. Have an Engineer check to see if this is a structural defect.
Engineer's Analysis: These floor joists do not provide sufficient capacity to support the floor loads. This house is structurally unsound. Adding sister floor joists to provide sufficient structural support is recommended.
Inspector's Description: The door frame is sagging. Have an Engineer check to see if this is a structural defect.
Engineer's Analysis: Although the doorframe is sagging, the door operates normally and there are no cracks or signs of recent repairs. The structure settled in the past, but has been reinforced. There is no sign of recent settlement. The door should be monitored for further settlement, but there is no need for repairs at this time. This house is structurally sound.
Inspector's Description: The floor joists are charred. Have an Engineer check to see if this is a structural defect.
Engineer's Analysis: The floor joists are charred and their structural strength has been compromised. The damage to these floor joists makes this house structurally unsound. Adding sister floor joists to properly support the floor is recommended.
Inspector's Description: An extra beam and Lally column were added to this house's basement. Have an Engineer check to see if this is a structural defect.
Engineer's Analysis: An extra beam and Lally column were added to support the floor joists above. This was apparently done to help stabilize the floor above and reduce floor creaking. The house is structurally sound.
Inspector's Description: The wall and floor are sagging. Have an Engineer check to see if this is a structural defect.
Engineer's Analysis: Although the floor and wall are sagging, there are no cracks or other signs of recent settlement. The structure settled in the past, but has been reinforced. The floor and wall should be monitored for further settlement, but there is no need for repairs at this time. This house is structurally sound
Inspector's Description: The roof rafters, ridge beam, and sheathing are charred. As viewed from the outside, the roofline is sagging. Have an Engineer check to see if this is a structural defect.
Engineer's Analysis: This roofline is sagging because the structure has been weakened due to fire damage. This house is structurally unsound, as the roof rafters cannot support the roof properly. Rebuilding the roof is recommended.
Inspector's Description: A temporary steel column was added to support the wood beam. Have an Engineer check to see if this is a structural defect.
Engineer's Analysis: The main wood girder is supported by both screw-jacks and Lally columns. Because of the short spans, either column provides sufficient support. This house is structurally sound.
Inspector's Description: There is a steel column under the main beam and supported on a concrete block. Have an Engineer check to see if this is a structural defect.
Engineer's Analysis: The concrete block under the steel column is an inappropriate footing, and the span between columns is too wide. This house is structurally unsound. Additional support of the main wood beam is recommended.
Inspector's Description: This house has 60-Amp, 240 volt service.
Engineer's Analysis: The 60-Amp, 240-Volt service is insufficient for the existing electrical needs in this house. The electrical loads in this house require at least 100-Amp, 240-Volt service.
Inspector's Description: This house has a tankless hot water heater. The water temperature went from 123 degrees to 95 degrees in one minute.
Engineer's Analysis: The hot water temperature dropped from 123 degrees Fahrenheit to 95 degrees Fahrenheit in one minute. This hot water system provides insufficient hot water for normal needs. A separate hot water heater should be installed.
In five of the above cases, a Licensed Engineer was needed to determine what structural defect existed. In four of the above cases, the Home Inspector recommended an Engineer when there was no structural defect. In two of the above cases, the Home Inspector never flagged the presence of a defect.
Imagine that these photographs represent conditions in the home, building, condo, or co-op you are planning to purchase. Based on the descriptions by a non-Engineer Home Inspector, could you tell that the described conditions were serious defects? Be safe, and choose a Licensed Engineer.
Contact Heimer Engineering 24/7
We are happy to help you. To set up an appointment for a pre-purchase inspection, or to find out about Engineering services or expert court testimony, click below for a contact form, send us an email, text us at 6602 0091 55, or call 800.605.1500. If no staff member is in the office, leave a message. Remember to ask about a web discount.
Heimer Engineering serves the Metro New York area, including New York City (Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island), Long Island (Nassau County, Suffolk County), and Upstate New York (Rockland County, Putnam County, and Westchester County).
Heimer Engineering respects your privacy. Some inspection firms share information with insurance, landscaping, home maintenance, moving, cable, mortgage, and other companies. Some inspection firms sell their client lists. These practices are unethical. You will not receive phone calls or solicitation emails from third parties as a result of providing personal information.
In the event of a life-threatening emergency (fire, building in danger of collapse, facade with loose bricks, debris falling from a building, gas leak, etc.) do not call Heimer Engineering. If there is a life-threatening emergency or other hazardous condition, call 911. Emergency situations need to be handled immediately by first-responders who can evacuate buildings, have utilities shut off, and take other steps necessary to preserve life.
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Heimer Engineering performs home inspections, building inspections, condominium inspections, and co-op inspections in the State of New York. We do not perform inspections or recommend Inspectors or Engineers in the areas outside of the State of New York. We also provide Licensed Professional Engineer consultation services including hurricane and storm damage and damage from adjoining construction. Expert witness services are provided regarding playground injuries, parking lot, walkway, and stairway slip, trip, and fall.
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