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home inspector help


As a home inspector, it is important to use proper verbiage during your communication. Some words that we use as a home inspector may seem like they have a commonly accepted definition. That is not always the case. It is always a good idea to be consistent with the words you use when writing reports, talking to clients and agents, and more. Below is a list of some of the words and definitions that will help everyone to be on the same page.

A/C condenser

The outside fan unit of the air-conditioning system that removes the heat from the Freon® gas and turns the gas back into a liquid, then pumps the liquid back to the coil in the furnace.

Access panel

A closure device or door used to cover an opening into a duct, wall, ceiling or enclosure near a fixture that allows access for servicing, such as for the plumbing or electrical system.


Means adjoining or within three feet of the residential building and that may affect the residential building.

AFCI (arc-fault circuit interrupter)

A device intended to provide protection from the effects of arc faults by recognizing characteristics unique to arcing and by functioning to de-energize the circuit when an arc fault is detected.

Air gap (water distribution)

The unobstructed vertical distance through free atmosphere between the lowest opening from any pipe or faucet that supplies water to a receptacle (sink, tank, fixture, or other device) and the flood-level rim of that receptacle.


A valve that restricts water flow or fluctuations to help prevent burn injuries. In some areas, plumbing codes require anti-scald valves, so a local professional should be consulted for more information and help with code requirements.


Any person who for compensation engages the services of a home inspector for the purpose of obtaining inspection of, and a written report upon, the condition of a residential dwelling.

Backflow preventer

A device or means to prevent backflow of contaminated water into the potable water supply.

Branch circuit

Wiring that runs from a service panel or sub-panel to outlets; the circuit conductors between the final over-current device protecting the circuit and the receptacle(s)/outlet(s). Branch circuits are protected by fuses or breakers at the panel.


A network of wiring that typically starts at a panel box, feeds electricity to receptacles/outlets, and ultimately returns to the panel box.


Means the receipt of monetary payment or other valuable consideration for services rendered.


The visible and conspicuous state of being of an object.​

Cosmetic defect

An irregularity or imperfection in something, which could be corrected, but is not required.


A peaked saddle construction at the back of a chimney to prevent the accumulation of snow and ice and to deflect water around the chimney.

Dead load

The static design-weight of a roof and any permanent fixtures attached above or below it.


To report in writing a system or component by its type or other observed characteristics in order to distinguish it from other components used for the same purpose.


To open, take apart or remove any component, device or piece that would not typically be opened, taken apart or removed by an ordinary occupant.

EMT (electrical metallic tubing)

Electrical pipe, also called thin-wall conduit, that may be used for both concealed and exposed areas. It is the most common type of raceway used in single-family and low-rise residential and commercial buildings.


That which tends to prove or disprove something; something that makes plain or clear; grounds for belief; proof.


Means an interior fire-resistant masonry permanent or prefabricated fixture that can be used to burn fuel and is either vented or unvented.


Means the element of a structure that connects to the ground and transfers loads from the structure to the ground. Foundations may be shallow or deep.

Functional defect

A lack of or an abnormality in something that is necessary for normal and proper functioning and operation and therefore, requires further evaluation and correction.

GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter)

A special device that is intended for the protection of personnel by de-energizing a circuit, capable of opening the circuit when even a small amount of current is flowing through the grounding system.

Habitable space

The space in a structure used for living, sleeping, eating and cooking. Bathrooms, closets, hallways, storage areas and utility rooms are not considered habitable spaces.


To examine readily accessible systems and components safely, using normal operating controls, and accessing readily accessible areas, in accordance with this Standards of Practice.


The underground trench and related services or utilities such as electric, gas, telephone, sewer and water lines that are buried within the trench.

Ledger strip

A strip of lumber nailed along the bottom of the side of a girder on which joists rest.

Major defect

A condition of a system or component that renders it non-working, non-performing, non-functioning or unsafe and requires a professional contractor to further evaluate and repair, correct or replace.


A wood foundation member, usually a pressure-treated 2x4 or 2x6, bolted to the foundation and on which other framing members can be attached.


National Fire Protection Association, which sets standards for fire-rated building products.

New Residential Structure

Or "NRS" means a residential structure for which the first conveyance of record title to a purchaser has not occurred or the purchaser has not taken possession, whichever occurs later.

On center (OC)

A term describing the measurement of the distance center to center between like materials, such as studs, rafters, joists, etc. For example, studs placed 16 inches OC are laid out so that there are 16 inches from the center of one stud to the center of the next stud.


Exactly perpendicular; vertical.

Readily accessible

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.

Residential property

Four or fewer residential units.


The lowest member of the frame of a structure that rests on the foundation and supports the floor joists or uprights of the wall; the member forming the lower side of an opening, as in a door sill, window sill, etc.

Structural component

A component that supports non-variable forces or weights (dead loads) and variable forces or weights (live loads).


To drive a nail at a slant to the initial surface in order to permit it to penetrate into a second member.


The defective edge of a wood board caused by remaining bark or a beveled end.

Woven valley

A method of valley construction by which shingles from both sides of the valley extend across the valley and are woven together by overlapping alternate courses as they are applied. The valley flashing is not exposed.


Acronym for acrylonitrile butadiene styrene; rigid black plastic pipe used only for drain lines.


To turn on, supply power, or enable systems, equipment or devices to become active by normal operating controls. Examples include turning on the gas or water supply valves to the fixtures and appliances, and activating electrical breakers or fuses.

Adversely affect

To constitute, or potentially constitute, a negative or destructive impact.

AHJ (authority having jurisdiction)

An organization, office or individual responsible for enforcing the requirements of a code or standard, or for approving equipment, materials, an installation, or a procedure. The AHJ may be the building owner, health department, building code officer, municipal inspector, building department, or fire marshal.

Air handler

Components that blow air through ductwork for heating, cooling and/or ventilation purposes.


A device that prevents wastewater from being drawn back into supply lines and possibly contaminating the water supply.


Means a completed, board-prescribed form submitted with the appropriate fee and other required documentation.

Band joist

Dimensional lumber used as a perimeter joist of a building's framing.


The coat of plaster directly beneath the finish coat. In three-coat work, the browncoat is the second coat.


A reservoir or storage tank used for a household's water supply.


A permanently installed or attached fixture, element or part of a system.

Contact hour

Means 50 minutes of participation in a structured training activity.


Means continuing professional education.


Any connection between two otherwise separate piping systems, one of which contains potable water and the other that contains something which could contaminate the potable water.


Ornamental; not required for the operation of essential systems or components of a home.


To arrive at an opinion or conclusion pursuant to examination.


A white powder that forms on the surface of concrete/masonry walls as a result of water evaporation.


To go into an area to observe visible components.


To visually look (see inspect).


In plumbing, a device that provides a supply of water and/or its disposal, such as a sink, tub and toilet.


The action for which an item, component or system is specially fitted or used, or for which an item, component or system exists; to be in action or perform a task.

Functional drainage

The emptying of a plumbing fixture in a reasonable amount of time without overflow when another fixture is drained simultaneously.


1) An accepted level or standard, or a position in a scale of size, quality, etc., such as a grade of lumber.

2) The degree of inclination of a slope, road, or other surface.

3) The level at which the ground surface meets the foundation of a building.

Hose bibb

An outdoor faucet with hose threads on its spout for the attachment of a garden hose, lawn sprinkler device, etc. Also installed at the interior for the attachment of a washing machine, wash basin, utility sink, etc.


Attached or connected such that the installed item requires a tool for removal.


Bathroom or washroom sink.

Life expectancy

Average service life or functional period in years, assuming regular maintenance.

Material defect

A specific issue with a system or component of a residential property that may have a significant adverse impact on the value of the property or that poses an unreasonable risk to people.  The fact that a system or component is near, at, or beyond the end of its normal useful life is not in itself a material defect.

NEC (National Electrical Code)

A set of rules governing safe wiring methods. Local codes that are backed by law may differ from some codes in the NEC.

Nominal size

Size used for identification only; not literal dimensions.

NRS specialty

Means a designation granted by the board to a home inspector that authorizes such individual to conduct home inspections on any new residential structure.

Open valley

Method of construction by which shingles on both sides of a valley are trimmed along a chalk line snapped on each side of the valley. Shingles do not extend across the valley, leaving the valley flashing exposed.


An enclosed channel or conduit designed expressly for holding wires or cables.


An electrical outlet. A typical household has several 120-volt receptacles for plugging in lamps and appliances, and 240-volt receptacles for the range, clothes dryer, air conditioners, etc.

Service drop

In electrical contracting, the overhead service conductors from the last pole or other aerial support to and including the splices, if any, connecting to the service-entrance conductors at the building.

Sill plate

The framing member anchored to the foundation wall upon which studs and other framing members are attached; the bottom plate of exterior walls.


A shallow drainage ditch used in conditions where one or more sides of a building faces an upward slope. A swale should slope away from the building for 10 to 15 feet, at which point it can empty into another swale that directs water around to the downhill-side of the building, leading it away from the foundation.

Technically exhaustive

A comprehensive and detailed examination beyond the scope of a real estate home inspection that would involve or include but would not be limited to:  dismantling, specialized knowledge or training, special equipment, measurements, calculations, testing, research, analysis, or other means.

Weep hole

A hole located near the base of a masonry or glazing structure that allows for the drainage of entrapped water.

Z-bar flashing

Bent, galvanized metal flashing that is installed above a horizontal trim board of an exterior window, door, or brick run that prevents water from getting behind the trim/brick and into the home.


In the opinion of the inspector, can be approached or entered safely, without difficulty, fear or danger.

Address of record

Means the mailing address designated by the licensee to receive notices and correspondence from the board.

Adverse conditions

Conditions that may be dangerous for the inspector and/or others, and may limit the walk-through survey portion of the inspection.

Air gap (drainage)

The unobstructed vertical distance through free atmosphere between the outlet of the waste pipe and the flood-level rim of the receptacle into which the waste pipe is discharged.

Alarm system

Warning devices, installed or freestanding, including, but not limited to: carbon monoxide detectors, flue gas and other spillage detectors, security equipment, ejector pumps, and smoke alarms.


A household device operated by the use of electricity or gas. Not included in this definition are components covered under central heating, central cooling or plumbing.

Architectural service

Any practice involving the art and science of building design for construction of any structure or grouping of structures, and the use of space within and surrounding the structures or the design, design development, preparation of construction contract documents, and administration of the construction contract.


The permanent joining of metallic parts to form an electrically conductive path that ensures electrical continuity, and the capacity to safely conduct any fault current likely to be imposed.


A projecting beam or other structure supported at only one end. Any part of a structure that projects beyond its main support and is balanced on it.


Means a person who engages the services of a home inspector for a home inspection.


A mechanical device that pressurizes a gas in order to turn it into a liquid, thereby allowing heat to be removed or added. A compressor is the main component of conventional heat pumps and air conditioners. In an air-conditioning system, the compressor normally sits outdoors and has a large fan to remove heat.


A method of transferring heat by the actual movement of heated molecules, usually by a freestanding unit, such as a furnace.


The area within the confines of the foundation and between the ground and the underside of the lowest floor's structural component.


The sloped top of a masonry chimney designed to shed water away from the flue; also called a splay or a wash.

Deferred-maintenance items

Deficient items that cannot be remedied with routine maintenance, generally caused by neglect.

Dimensional lumber

Yard lumber from 2 inches up to, but not including, 5 inches thick and 2 or more inches wide, and includes joists, rafters, studs, planks and small timbers.


The measure of a surface's ability to emit long-wave infrared radiation; important factor in infrared thermography and energy-saving windows.


To assess the systems, structures and/or components of a property.


The band running horizontally and positioned vertically under a roof edge, or that which forms the outer surface of a cornice. Fascia board caps the rafter ends of a roof structure and may be used to hold a gutter. The area below the fascia may be referred to as the eave.


A material (typically, metal) that is shaped or molded for the location and used at an angle in a roof or wall to prevent rainwater/moisture leakage into the structure.


Performing or able to perform a function.

Functional flow

A reasonable flow of water supply at the highest and farthest fixture from the main when another fixture is operated simultaneously.


Connected to earth or to some conducting body that serves in place of the earth.


That which serves to point out, show or make known the present existence of something under certain conditions.


International residential code.


Dimensional lumber attached to a building framing and used for supporting the section of a deck adjacent to the building.


A horizontal structural member that supports the load over an opening, such as a door or window.

Minor defect

A condition of a system or component that renders it non-working, non-performing, or non-functioning, and may be repaired, corrected or replaced by a professional contractor or the homeowner.


Any post to which the end of a stair railing or balustrade is fastened.

Normal operating controls

Describes the method by which certain devices (such as thermostats) can be operated by ordinary occupants, as they require no specialized skill or knowledge.


To visually notice.


To cause systems to function or turn on with normal operating controls.

Rake edge

The overhang of an inclined roof plane beyond the vertical wall below it.

Representative number

A number sufficient to serve as a typical or characteristic example of the item(s) inspected.

Shut down

Turned off, unplugged, inactive, not in service, not operational, etc.

Soil vent

The extension of a soil or waste stack above the highest horizontal drain connected to the stack. Also called a waste vent and a stack vent.


Means a combination of interacting or interdependent components, assembled to carry out one or more functions.

An assembly of various components which function as a whole.


In the inspector's opinion, a condition of an area, system, component or procedure that is judged to be a significant risk of injury during normal, day-to-day use. The risk may be due to damage, deterioration, improper installation, or a change in accepted residential construction standards.

Weep screed

A type of flashing material installed along the base and at roof-wall transitions of exterior stucco or stone that drains excess moisture.


The section of a building that is served by one heating or cooling loop because it has noticeably distinct heating or cooling needs. Also, the section of property that is watered by a lawn sprinkler system.

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