Maintaining a house is a lot like maintaining ourselves. We do our best to keep our body’s systems in the best shape possible so we can live to a ripe old age. That means regular checkups, eating right, taking medicine when it’s called for, protecting ourselves from the elements (e.g., sunscreen at the beach), and taking necessary steps to fix things when they start to break down. As homeowners, we want the same longevity with our houses, so we schedule regular checkups for our HVAC systems, avoid feeding the interior high levels of humidity, repair exterior gaps and broken pipes, and seal driveway cracks to keep the elements from causing further problems.
But no matter how many vitamins we take or holes we fill with caulk, we cannot prevent the eventual demise of systems and components—all of which come with an expiration date. In our constant battle against Time, Time has an undefeated record.
What does this have to do with home inspections? Quite a lot. As a potential homebuyer, one of the great values of having a home inspection before purchasing is getting a general idea of how much useable years of life remain on various systems in the home. The inspection report may include whether a system or component needs to be replaced immediately or sooner than later. With this information documented in a report, you can:
- Negotiate a fair price with the seller based on replacement costs
- Have the seller perform any replacements before move-in
- Budget appropriately for replacements that may be a few years down the road
- Focus on keeping systems working their best in the latter stages of life
- Gain the peace of mind of having a complete and realistic picture of the whole house
With this in mind, it’s important to remember that many factors will influence how long a system in a home will last. Let’s take roofing materials, for example. An asphalt shingle’s lifespan (anywhere from 15 to 30 years by some estimates) is hardly set in stone. Over 28 years of inspecting homes, the professionals at A-Pro Home Inspection have seen asphalt roofs victimized by poor installation, attic/roof ventilation issues, low slope, complex designs, lack of maintenance, harsh climates, and impact damage—all of which can reduce lifespan. On the other hand, we’ve observed roofs that are still in pretty good shape up to their warranty and well beyond.
In assessing a roof and reporting on its anticipated lifespan, the inspector will use historical documentation (when was the roof installed, dates of any repairs, etc.), close observation of its current condition, and further investigation of the interior and exterior for signs of leakage to help give the potential homebuyer a general idea of how much useable life it has left. While there are obvious cases of roofs that need immediate replacement (significant percentage of shingles that are missing, decayed, or damaged; multiple active leaks, etc.), your home inspector will avoid assigning a specific age to the roof or number of years of remaining useable life, especially if documentation of when it was installed is not available. Why? Because even a relatively newer roof may look old because, for example, poor ventilation has led to premature aging of shingles. Estimating roofing age can be tricky, and home inspectors are not clairvoyant. What you can be sure of is receiving an assessment of the roof’s condition, as well as supporting evidence that the roof is no longer performing as it was intended.
In addition to reporting on whether the heating/cooling system is functioning at the time of inspection and taking photos, inspectors will note, if possible, the name of manufacturer, model, serial number and date the equipment was manufactured. This provides the potential homebuyer with a general age of the unit. Like with evaluating roofing material, it’s impossible to predict precisely when an HVAC system will fail, but knowing the general age of the equipment, especially if it is on the downhill side of its anticipated lifespan, will allow the homeowner to budget for a replacement. Ideally, documentation will be available noting when the unit was installed and if repairs have been made over its life. Still, predicting how many years of useable life is difficult when other factors may be unknown, such as if the unit had received recommended cleanings and checkups. The inspector will also note the condition and age of a home’s water heater, which generally has a lifespan of about ten years.
From a seller’s perspective, you can turn the age of a roof or HVAC system into a positive by having it noted in a Pre-Certified Home Inspection report. Letting a prospective buyer know that the roof and heating/cooling equipment are relatively young becomes a way to increase the salability of the home.