What is a home inspector?
A home inspector performs building inspections on homes, townhomes, condos, and other residential properties before they are sold to assess their value and condition, ensuring that they are up to code and safe to inhabit. They may inspect homes for a seller or buyer, or they may perform inspections of new construction to ensure they meet local ordinances and codes.
Home inspectors carefully inspect the structure of a home, including the foundation, walls, windows, doors, and roof. They also look at major systems in the home, such as the air conditioning unit, electrical wiring, plumbing system, and security system. They also check any major appliances in the home and all fixtures to make sure they are working properly and free of leaks or clogs. They look for any issues or potential issues and write up inspection reports outlining any repairs that need to be done. They generally take photos to include in the report and provide reports to their clients.
An inspection by a home inspector may include uncovering cracks in the foundation, roof leaks, insufficient insulation, cracks or holes in walls, or doors that don’t close properly. They might find faulty wiring in the electrical system or exposed wires, leaks or bad pipes in the plumbing system, or drainage problems with the heating/cooling system. They check the codes and permits and report systems that aren’t up to date. They also might find signs of termite damage, mold, asbestos, lead paint, radon gas, or other hazardous materials. An inspection of the yard might uncover poor drainage, broken sprinkler systems, or improper landscaping. They typically meet with the client after the inspection, show them the report, offer explanations as needed, address any questions or concerns, and give recommendations for repairs or other actions to remedy issues found during the inspection.
Qualifications and eligibility
To be eligible to work as a home inspector, you will need to have a high school diploma or equivalent. Some employers prefer candidates who have a bachelor’s degree in construction, building science, engineering, or a related field. Typically, these professionals receive on-the-job training.
Many states require home inspectors to be licensed or certified. They typically have to complete training courses on how to inspect a home, how to report findings, safety precautions, and more. To earn a license or certification, you are required to pass an exam administered by the American Society of Home Inspectors or the National Association of Home Inspectors. The requirements vary by state and can include a combination of education and experience. Check the license or certification requirements in the state where you live. Most states also require liability insurance if it isn’t offered by your employer.
Home inspectors must have excellent technical knowledge as well as an in-depth understanding of building materials, methods, tools, construction principles, and home repair. They need to read and interpret building plans, construction documents, and other technical documents. Communication and customer service skills are a necessity as they write up reports, verbally relay findings to their clients, explain potential risks, and address client questions or concerns concerning technical issues in a way that the client can understand. Good listening skills and empathy are also needed.
Home inspectors need excellent problem-solving skills as they may encounter a variety of different problems from day to day and need to find and report on solutions to problems they find. Exceptional organizational skills are essential as well to keep track of many different types of information.
A current driver’s license is required as home inspectors travel to locations they inspect. These individuals must have a good understanding of basic home systems, including plumbing, HVAC units, electrical, and security alarms. They should be comfortable climbing into dark, tight, and/or confined areas such as attics and crawl spaces. They also must be able to climb onto roofs and walk around without fear of heights. Another essential qualification needed for them is attention to detail as they must closely inspect home systems for flaws or problems.
Home inspectors need a strong understanding of building codes, local ordinances, and government regulations as they apply to home construction.
Home inspectors work in a wide range of settings, which can include office buildings, homes, apartment complexes, or other buildings. They travel to different locations every day and may travel extensively to cover a wide area. They can be exposed to a variety of traffic and weather conditions. They may have to climb into cramped or uncomfortable spaces, on roofs, or damp crawl spaces on any given day. The work can be physically challenging and stressful at times. Some are self-employed, while others work for home inspection companies.
Typical work hours
Home inspectors typically work a standard 40-hour week. However, they may have to work evenings and/or weekends to accommodate client schedules or needs. Some may do on-call work where they respond to emergencies at any time.
Types of home inspectors
Home inspectors typically conduct general inspections that cover structural components, exterior components, the roof, plumbing, heating and air conditioning, major appliances, ventilation, insulation, and windows and doors. But there are times when a specialized type of home inspection is needed. Some common types of special home inspections include:
Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that gets released from well water, building materials, and soil, and can enter your home through cracks. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that radon exposure is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. and is found in elevated levels in about 1 in 15 homes. Home inspectors perform Radon testing to determine if a home is at risk of high radon levels.
Plumbing and water systems inspection
A plumbing inspection goes deeper than a general inspection to detect issues with connections under the sinks, shutoff values, fixtures, and appliances. Inspectors check that the installation is up to code, check the water pressure, and the water heater, and verify everything is draining properly.
Termites can cause serious damage to a home. A termite inspection can ensure that your home is safe from infestation. Inspections cover not only termites, but also wood-boring beetles, carpenter ants, and other wood-destroying organisms. Many states require a termite inspection to close on a home.
Typically, if you see mold, you need to remedy the situation immediately. Mold inspections are recommended if a homeowner or potential homeowner is concerned that mold might be present.
Inspectors check the foundation during a routine inspection. If they find potential issues such as drainage problems, nearby tree roots, cracks, or indications of foundation movement, they generally recommend having a foundation inspection completed by a residential structural engineer.
This type of inspection verifies that the chimney and fireplace are venting properly and may uncover cracks or other issues with the chimney. Chimney inspectors also find unwanted guests such as birds or bats nesting in chimneys that haven’t been used in a while.
Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) inspection
An HVAC inspection determines how well the system is working and what kind of shape it’s in. Inspections cover thermostat calibration, heat pumps, electrical connections, air filters, safety controls, quality of installation, and many other checks.
Roof inspections detect signs of leaks, damage, mold, or rotting wood underneath the shingles. They can also find areas of poor insulation where heat is escaping. Roof inspections are recommended if the roof is 20 to 25 years old or shows visible signs of loose shingles, cracks, etc.
An electrical inspection goes beyond a general inspection to check for ungrounded outlets, exposed wiring, spliced wires, improperly modified electrical panels, and other electrical issues that could pose a risk to homeowners.
Lead-based paint inspection
The use of lead-based paint has been banned since 1978. Inspections are highly recommended for older homes as inhaling lead fumes can cause serious health issues, especially for children.
Sewer or septic system inspection
Septic system inspections check how close the tank is to drainage areas, wells, and streams, verify when the tank was last pumped, check the sludge level, and determine whether the tank is the right size for the house.
Many homes built before 1980 used asbestos in the construction process. An inspection of an older home can determine whether asbestos is present or not.
The earning potential for a home inspector can vary greatly depending on geographic location, education, and experience.
- According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for construction and building inspectors was $61,640 in May 2021. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $38,110, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $100,520.
- As of Aug 2022, the highest-paying cities are:
- Atkinson, NE – $75,919
- San Francisco, CA – $72,971
- Bolinas, CA – $72,514
- Marysville, WA – $70,664
- Ramblewood, PA – $69,830
- The top-paying salaries by state are:
- New York – $67,859
- California – $65,965
- Idaho – $65,671
- New Hampshire – $64,196
- Vermont – $62,700
Employment of construction and building inspectors is projected to decline by 3% from 2020 to 2030 per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The increase in the number of virtual, remote inspections is the main reason for the projected decline in the number of home inspectors needed.
Your career path as a home inspector depends on your education, experience, and location. Here are some career opportunities:
- Architectural inspectors
- Bridge inspectors
- Building code inspectors
- Coating inspectors
- Construction inspectors
- Electrical inspectors
- Elevator inspectors
- Highway inspectors
- Mechanical inspectors
- Plan examiners
- Plumbing inspectors
- Public works inspectors
Steps to becoming a home inspector
1. Get a high school diploma
You will need a high school diploma or a GED to work as a home inspector. Some employers prefer some college courses or a college degree in construction, engineering, or a related field.
2. Check the licensing requirements in your state
Because the requirements vary from state to state, it is important to find out what the requirements are in your state. Most states do require a license or a certification, which entails a certain number of coursework hours and passing an exam. The coursework, number of hours needed, and the exam can vary by state. Many states also require a certain number of on-the-job training hours under the supervision of an experienced inspector.
Check out the licensing and experience requirements and get application documents for your state.
3. Get training
Even if your state doesn’t require home inspectors to be licensed, you should still take courses to learn more about home inspection. This can help give you an edge over your competition and better prepare you for your career. If your state does require a license, make sure you complete the necessary coursework in the time frame allotted, which can vary by state. Many training schools offer online, in-class, and flexible training options. Some top training schools include:
- American Home Inspectors Training (AHIT): Before paying, you can attend a free live webinar. Then, you can choose between online courses or in-person courses across the country. This training will teach you everything you need to know about inspecting homes.
- Inspection Certification Associates (ICA): For just $695, you can get all the training you need. The best part about this course is that you will have lifetime access to it. So even if you forget something, you can go back to it.
- International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI): They offer the yearly Pro Inspectors Convention, which is well known in the industry. By becoming a member, you get training, certification, business coaching, and marketing support.
- Kaplan: Kaplan’s home inspection education offers a comprehensive home inspector licensing and certification preparation program for all states, home inspector professional development, and home inspector exam prep.
- ATI Training – Home Inspection Institute: Focusing on certifying and qualifying you as a home inspection specialist, the education is very strict and thorough. On top of that, you’ll receive hands-on training.
- Professional Home Inspection Institute (PHII): If you want to get started by yourself, this is the perfect option. This is a self-study course that you can complete on your own time that goes over the key things you need to know as a home inspector.
4. Pass the state licensing exam
If you live in a state that requires having a license, you will have to pass an exam before becoming a home inspector. The majority of states require that you pass the National Home Inspection Exam, but some states off these options as well:
- International Association of Certified Home inspectors (Inter ASHI) Exam
- American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) Exam
- International Code Council (ICC) Exam
5. Choose your career path
After you’ve passed the licensing exam (if needed), or have met the requirements in your state, you can either apply for work with an established firm, start your own business, or buy a home inspection franchise. Each path has its advantages and disadvantages and choosing the one that’s right for you will depend on your career goals and ambitions.
6. Get liability insurance
If you own a home inspection business, work for yourself, or your employer does not provide insurance for you, you will need to purchase errors and omissions (E&O) and general liability (GL) insurance. The costs and specific requirements of obtaining insurance can vary by state. E&O insurance protects you and your company if a client or homeowner accuses you of failing to report findings. GL insurance protects you from claims of missing or damaged items from the property.
You can get E&O and GL insurance through companies like Next Insurance, or from the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI). Also, you can check what specific plans might be available in your state.
7. Join organizations
Joining an organization such as your local Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Realtors (NAR), or the National Association of Home Builders, is a great way to network within the industry, build relationships, and attract clients if you own your own business. Some of the top associations include:
- American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI)
- International Association of Certified Home Inspectors
- North American Association of Home Inspectors
- All American Association of Home Inspectors
8. Continue your education
Some states require continuing education to maintain your license, but even if your state doesn’t, it’s a good idea to continually learn new skills to stay competitive. Some popular continuing education certifications offered by the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) are:
Tips for becoming a home inspector
If you are planning to become a home inspector, there are a few things you can do to get ahead of the game.
- Get your high school diploma.
- Talk to construction managers, electricians, plumbers, and roofers. Find out what goes into home building and how all the different systems fit together.
- Practice on your own by inspecting your home, your parent’s home, or a friend’s home.
- Find the training program that best works for you, whether that’s in class, online, structured, or self-paced.
- Decide whether you want to get a college degree in construction or a related field and find colleges that meet your needs and your budget.
- Decide which career path is right for you. Do you want to work for yourself, or are you more comfortable working for a company?
- Research the licensing and educational requirements in your state.
- Improve your writing skills.
- Consider getting customer service experience
Home inspector interview questions to expect
- Are you familiar with building codes for this area? How do you ensure they are being met?
- How is a new construction home inspection different from an existing built home inspection?
- Why is it important to run the water of every faucet and shower for 15-20 minutes each while you’re doing the rest of the inspection?
- You notice some flaking on the drywall. However, when running the water, you don’t see a leak. What do you write down for this issue?
- How do you ensure you’re finding all the problems a home has as quickly and efficiently as possible?