It's a predicament many veteran home inspectors have likely found themselves in at some point in their career: They might be running through the motions in a home, testing appliances and giving everything a thorough look, when suddenly, the faucet handle pops off when attempting to run the tap. While this may be an awkward situation, especially if the current homeowner is watching, neither the inspector nor the owner should feel bad about the situation. In fact, the current or hopeful owner may appreciate a home inspection that reveals a part of the home that was already on the verge of malfunctioning.
According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, a home inspection that ends in a broken appliance isn't all that uncommon, nor is it a nightmare. InterNACHI pointed out that for many polite professionals, the instinctive reaction to breaking something would be to apologize profusely and promise to reimburse the owner for the damage. However, this isn't always the right way to approach the situation.
As outlined in InterNACHI's Standards of Practice for Performing a General Home Inspection, a good home inspection involves using the most common built-in appliances exactly as one might do if they lived there. That means testing all the faucets, doors, valves, ovens and everything in between. If one of these things breaks in the course of what would otherwise be considered normal use, it's indicative of an issue. It doesn't mean the inspector is at fault for the damage.
Indeed, as InterNACHI explained, owners should be thankful for an inspector who manages to break something. By being alerted to a problem in this way, those about to buy a home will be aware of an issue that could've resulted in a major repair bill, or worse, an injury.
How inspectors deal with breaks
Inspectors should always be prepared for things breaking on the job. At the same time, they should be ready to handle the situation in a professional manner.
Inspection Certification Associates noted that first and foremost, inspectors need to understand that some things could malfunction or break in the course of an inspection. Thankfully, whatever does break is rarely ever expensive or hard to replace. If something does indeed break because of an error on the inspector's part, at least it's unlikely to cost a fortune.
Any broken item from an inspection must be included in the final report. This is a given, since inspection reports should be exhaustively written with any relevant detail included. This is also done so the inspector and the person ordering the inspection can be on the same page in the event of a broken item, no matter how minor.
Finally, inspectors are expected to be completely up front about the break with whoever ordered the inspection. While it may be uncomfortable for an inspector to admit that they did something to damage part of the home, all it takes is the right frame of mind. Owners or clients may get upset about the damage, especially if it is a vital component of the home or it is expensive to repair. The home sales process is certainly a stressful one, and something seemingly minor like a broken faucet may be enough to push an already harried buyer over the edge. Inspectors should do their best to work with clients when breaks occur, but this is where documentation is essential. By being able to show a client every detail of the break the work, an inspector can help explain to a client what went wrong without having to admit wrongdoing.