Best Practices for Performing Winter Home Inspections

January 19, 2018
Chicago, Illinois
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The thought of conducting a home inspection in the dead of winter is, understandably, daunting. It’s hard not to have your mind immediately fill with images of frozen ladder rungs, slippery surfaces, heavy snowfall, and poor outdoor visibility. Despite these dreaded complications, though, there are some unique seasonal advantages to inspecting a home in the winter, if you adhere to best practices and know what details to look for.

Many home inspectors see a lull in business during the winter, but you don’t want to be caught unprepared should any potential clients reach out, looking to cap off the year—or begin the new one—by buying or selling a home.

Here are some helpful reminders of winter inspection best practices to ensure that you deliver safe, accurate results during the industry’s most challenging season.


Use the Elements to Your Advantage When Inspecting Roofs

If you’re considering investing in a technological surrogate for winter roof inspections because of safety concerns, like a pole-mounted camera or photographic drone, now would be a good time to commit. Even with a snow-covered roof, you can still identify insulation issues by looking for areas where snow has melted quickly.

This may suggest that warm air is escaping through porous or misaligned shingles. You’ll likely still need to hand-inspect suspect shingles to confirm the issue, but this method allows you to designate your target areas of concern before scaling a ladder.


Check for Drafts and Leaks

One of the biggest home concerns in the winter is excessive cold air drafts. Even if a home seller has recently invested in replacement windows, they should still be cognizant of how the units fit within their exterior walls, and whether they’re constructed to limit heat transfer through the glass.

Home inspectors should also pay special attention to potential carbon monoxide leaks from heating appliances. Several weeks into winter is the ideal timeframe for this type of inspection since furnaces have been on and working for a bit, so you won’t risk inaccurately assessing—or damaging—a heating system during a “cold run”.


Be Mindful of the Effects of Freezing

Plumbing and air conditioning units are very susceptible to freezing, especially in a home that has been recently foreclosed or unoccupied for a significant amount of time. When inspecting AC units, it’s not wise to start running them right away; instead, inspect the internal parts for signs of rusting or depreciation. With piping, the whole point of the inspection is to identify waterflow issues or obstructions, so you’ll have to run water through them at some point.

If it’s been a while since a home’s pipes have been used, first confirm that there is no rusting or connectivity issues; if not, feed a gradual amount of warm water through to test pressure and flow. Otherwise, you risk overexerting the grid and creating structural problems they could have been avoided with a bit of patience.


Don’t Overload Your Schedule

Since the winter can be slow for any home inspection business, the impulse might be to take advantage of abnormally high business volume by overbooking. Most quality home inspections clock in anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, even with homes that are in relatively good shape, because the goal is to be thorough. Remember that the days become markedly shorter, which means less time to conduct exterior inspections with ideal daylight and visibility.

To avoid these complications, it’s best to schedule, at most, two inspections each day, but if you insist on maximizing your time, conduct your exterior evaluations first to ensure that you’re on to the interior inspections well before the sun goes down. A savvy inspector could even plan their evaluation so that he or she targets suspected areas of concern first, followed by less-troublesome rooms or spaces.

That’s not to say, for example, it would be wise to intentionally overlook a home’s bathroom because the owner recently hired reputable bathroom remodelers to complete a renovation project; but you can take steps to streamline your inspection process by addressing the home’s main pain points first.


Look for Signs of Foundational or Drainage Issues

Luckily, these problems can be spotted from the inside, but you can also get a sense for the scope of a home’s foundational or drainage woes while walking up to the front door. Check for sloping surfaces, cracked sidewalks or driveways, or eroding soil. These signs shouldn’t be end-all-be-all standards, but they should inform how much time you dedicate to assessing these specific household issues.

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