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Are home inspectors required to move ceiling panels?

I'm going to cut right to the chase: home inspectors are not required to move ceiling panels. There. You can stop reading now and go about your day if you're only looking for the answer to this question.

Home inspector inspecting above a ceiling panel

And now the long answer. As much as I hate to admit this, not every one of our clients is happy with our service. We do get complaints, and we usually settle them amicably. We don't want unhappy customers, so we go out of our way to make sure we don't have them. I renewed our company's focus on happy customers and excellent customer service about two years ago, after reading Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. The author, Tony Hsieh, founded Zappos and sold it to Amazon in 2009 for over $1.2 billion. A large part of the success of Zappos was a focus on making customers happy.

A recent complaint

We recently had a client hire us to inspect a 95-year-old home in Saint Paul. It was a long inspection and we wrote a long inspection report, filled with recommendations for maintenance, repairs, and safety upgrades. While we encourage all of our clients to attend the home inspection, this client either could not or chose not to attend.

One of the items that we listed in our inspection report was the presence of some two-prong outlets. While the presence of two-prong outlets is not a defect, it does indicate older wiring that won't accommodate a three-prong plug. We made a recommendation to consider upgrading to three-prong outlets, along with a link to my blog post that describes the process involved in doing this: http://structuretech1.com/converting-two-prong-outlets/.

After buying the home, the new owner hired an electrician to upgrade these two-prong outlets. The electrician determined that there was a small amount of knob & tube wiring present in the ceiling of the basement, which is likely why the two-prong outlets had never been upgraded. This was discovered after removing basement ceiling tiles in a basement with very low headroom; so low that the ceiling tiles were nearly impossible to remove. In fact, the existing ceiling tiles got mangled in the process of being removed; thankfully not by us.

Our client contacted us after this, very upset that we had not identified the presence of knob & tube wiring above the dropped ceiling in the basement. In this particular case, discovering the knob and tube wiring would have required a great deal of luck and ninja-like skills in lifting one of the three available panels that gave access to the knob and tube wiring.

Is it reasonable to expect that we should have found this wiring?

Home Inspection Standards of Practice and ceiling panels

First, let's take a look at home inspection Standards of Practice (SOP), starting with the SOP set forth by the American Society of Home Inspectors. Section 2.2.A says that the inspector shall "inspect readily accessible, visually observable, installed systems and components listed in this Standard." Section 13.2.A.1 says that the inspector is NOT required to determine "the condition of systems and components that are not readily accessible."

This term readily accessible sounds pretty important, yes? The same standard defines readily accessible as "Available for visual inspection without requiring moving of personal property, dismantling, destructive measures, or actions that will likely involve risk to persons or property."

As I and many other home inspectors will attest, moving ceiling panels unquestionably involves risk to the ceiling panels themselves. I've broken them and had to replace them, and it makes for a bad day. In other words, moving a ceiling panel involves risk to persons or property, so the ASHI SOP does not require this.

The other large organization for home inspectors, InterNACHI, has similar language in their SOP. Readily accessible is defined as "A system or component that, in the judgment of the inspector, is capable of being safely observed without the removal of obstacles, detachment or disengagement of connecting or securing devices, or other unsafe or difficult procedures to gain access."

Home Inspection Best Practice

While home inspection Standards of Practice do not require home inspectors to move ceiling panels on dropped ceilings, does this mean they shouldn't? No. I've long joked that dropped ceilings were invented for the sole purpose of hiding electrical defects. I move ceiling panels all the time, provided I can easily lift them and easily drop them back into place. Here are a few fun defects that we've found. No explanations needed, right?

Open electrical splices hazardous wiring above dropped ceiling Open electrical splices over dropped ceiling Disconnected ductwork above a dropped ceiling Wiring above shower Corroded galvanized steel drain Multiple boxes to nothing

I did a quick informal poll on a home inspector Facebook group, asking if home inspectors lift ceiling panels. Over 92% of the respondents said they lift ceiling tiles. Over half of that group said they always lift ceiling tiles in a few strategic locations, and the rest of that group said they do it when they have good reason to.

In short, I believe it's good practice for home inspectors to lift dropped ceiling panels, and most probably do, but this is not a requirement.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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Minnesota permit requirements for radon mitigation systems

If you want to have a radon mitigation system installed in your home, you might need a permit. As I've shown in past blog posts about hot roofs and Diamond Piers, requirements and interpretations of the building code can vary from city to city. While attending a recent meeting of the Minnesota Association of Radon Professionals, I was surprised to hear one of the board members say that about half of the cities in Minnesota already require permits for radon mitigation systems.

Side note: I've always called them radon mitigation systems. Some call them Radon Reduction Systems, others call them Radon Control Systems. We're all talking about the same thing.

Radon mitigation monitorThe current rules

When Minnesota adopted a new building code in 2015, the requirements for radon systems changed a bit. I blogged about those changes here: http://structuretech1.com/new-radon-rules-for-mn/. Section 1303.2400 says that sections 1303.2400 to 1303.2402 address passive mitigation systems in new construction. My interpretation is that those sections do not apply to existing homes. The only portion that might apply to existing homes is section 1303.2403, Requirements for Active Radon Control Systems. That code section doesn't say whether it applies to existing homes or not.

To help address this, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry has published a fact sheet titled "Radon Control Systems". At the top of page 2, you can find the following Q&A:

Are permits and inspections required for the installation of radon control systems?

Yes. Building permits and inspections are required for passive and active control systems.

Do the requirements for radon control systems apply to radon remediation work in existing homes?

No. Passive radon control systems are only required in new residential structures (section 1303.2400 subp. 1). Requirements for active radon control systems would only apply when adding a fan to an existing home that already has a (code compliant) passive radon control system in place (section 1303.2403).

So what does all that mean? I don't know. My interpretation is that the building code only addresses radon in new construction or additions, not existing construction. To see how different cities throughout Minnesota are addressing this, I contacted the building inspections departments for most of the largest cities here in Minnesota. I asked them if a permit is required to install a radon mitigation system in an existing home.

As you can see from my results below, there is a lot of disagreement about this topic. Some cities require a permit, some don't. One large city actually had two different people get back to me, one saying permits are required and the other saying they're not. No joke. I omitted that city from my list.

Apple Valley No
Blaine Yes
Bloomington No
Brooklyn Park Yes
Burnsville No
Coon Rapids Yes
Eagan Yes
Eden Prairie Yes
Edina No
Lakeville No
Mankato Yes
Maple Grove No
Minneapolis Yes
Minnetonka No
Moorhead No
Plymouth No
Richfield No
Rochester No
Saint Paul Yes
Shakopee Yes
St. Cloud No
St. Louis Park No
Woodbury No

For the cities that require a permit, expect the total cost of a mitigation system to be about $200 - $300 more than cities without permit requirements. This is because radon mitigation contractors are passing along the permit fee to the client, as well as an upcharge for their added time to obtain the permit.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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