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Is it ethical for home inspectors to recommend other professionals?

One of the home inspectors in my company recently met with an electrician to see about having him teach at an upcoming ASHI meeting. The electrician expressed some hesitation to teaching a class for home inspectors because he was under the impression that home inspectors weren't allowed to give referrals. Apparently some cantankerous old home inspectors had told him that home inspectors either can't or don't refer other professionals, for who knows what reason.

I couldn't disagree more. Fortunately, most of the home inspectors that I know take the opposite approach to referring other professionals. We go out of our way to get acquainted with knowledgeable professionals in all different types of trades, and we're happy to refer them. If I'm calling out a bad electrical panel for replacement, I don't want my clients to talk to one of the few electricians in the Twin Cities who still takes the archaic stance that FPE Stab-Lok panels aren't a hazard, or will quote my clients $4,500 to simply swap out a panel (it should cost a lot less than that). I want my clients to deal with professionals who will take good care of them and charge them a reasonable fee for their services.

I also appreciate having these types of relationships with professionals because I like having people that I can call for advice when I need it. It's a reciprocal relationship; I send the contractor business, they give me advice and take good care of my clients. It's the same type of relationship that I believe most home inspectors have with real estate agents. I've never subscribed to the cynical view that all home inspector / real estate agent relationships are crooked. There might be a few of those out there, but that doesn't make up the majority of these relationships.

Do I take on liability for giving referrals? Heck no. When I give out referrals to people that I know and trust, these referrals don't come with any strings attached. I don't guarantee the quality of work. I simply say "here's someone I know and trust."  If my clients get bad service from someone that I've recommended, they'll probably let me know about it. At that point, I'd have to re-evaluate that particular relationship.

I don't give out three names. I know that many real estate agents like to give their clients three different names of home inspections companies because someone told them that this will reduce or eliminate liability for a bad referral. I don't subscribe to that advice when giving out referrals. If I know a great contractor, I give out their name and tell my clients to call them. I might give out a few other names as backup, just in case the first one is too busy; not because I'm trying to eliminate liability on my end. A referral is simply a referral.

If you're a good contractor looking for more work, I recommend contacting your local home inspection groups and offering to teach continuing education classes. We're always looking for good professionals to teach classes to keep us up-to-date on the latest industry requirements and trends, and most of us appreciate having high-quality professionals to refer business to. Just be sure that you're also a good teacher and can put together a decent PowerPoint; if you can't do those things, it'll probably be a waste of your time.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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How to look for (and fix) improper joist hanger nails on your deck

Many years ago I wrote a blog post detailing one of the most common deck defects that I find: improper joist hanger nails. The issue detailed in that blog post was the use of 1-½" nails in places where full-size 10d nails are supposed to be used. The image below shows the difference between these two nails.

Joist Hanger Nail Comparison

The details on improper joist hanger nails

It's acceptable to use these shorter nails to fasten the joist hanger directly into the ledgerboard, but most joist hangers also require nails to be driven at a 45-degree angle through the joist and then into the ledgerboard. When short nails are used at the joist they don't make it into the ledgerboard, so no support is added.

Nails in joist hanger

The easiest way to determine if short nails were used at this location is to look underneath the joists. In most cases there will be a few joists that aren't butted up tight to the ledgerboard, and the tips of the nails will be visible if the short nails were used:

Decks - short nails at joist hanger labeled

The other way to tell is to simply pull a nail out. When the correct nails are used, they're really tough to get out. When the wrong ones are used, they come out pretty easily; I just use a mini pry-bar that I carry around in my tool pouch to pry a short nail.

Mini Pry Bar

What to do when this defect is found

The reason for my update on this blog post is that the largest manufacturer of joist hangers, Simpson Strong-Tie, has put out a letter giving direction on how to correct this particular defect. In short, the fix is to remove the short nails going into the joist and install Simpson's #9x2½" SD Connector screws.

Short joist hanger nail repair

Click the following link to see the full document: Repair of LUS Joist Hangers Installed with 10dx1-½" Nails. This document also lists the newly calculated load capacities, which I can't imagine myself ever using as a home inspector. I leave that stuff up to the engineers.

Is this defect a big deal? No, probably not ... but as you can see, the repair isn't a big deal either. For an average deck, the repair will probably take a $20 box of screws and about an hour of someone's time.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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