What you should expect from your home inspection:
Washington State has a defined Standard Operating Procedure for home inspections. It can be found here: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/WAC/default.aspx?cite=308-408C&full=true
To summarize, home inspectors need to make sure that our customers sign an inspection agreement prior to commencing work and that we look at the following, if, and as they exist:
Structure (nature of components and types of building materials used, etc); Exterior (trim, siding, windows doors, decks, etc); Roofs (materials and condition); Plumbing system (type of materials used, source of water, etc); Electrical system (location of panel, size of service, etc); Heating system (type and condition); Air conditioning systems (if present); Interiors (conditions and materials); Insulation and ventilation (presence and type); Fireplaces and stoves (type and condition); Site (drainage and hazards); Attached garages or carports (conditions and materials).
With all types of limitations.
It should be understood that a home inspector is a generalist. You could hire a team of engineers and specialists to spend days doing exhaustive inspections.
The inspection is a visual inspection of the home and it’s systems at the time of the inspection. Is there condensation between window panes during the inspection? No? Broken window seals could exist and not be reported. Is there a problem buried inside a wall or hidden by insulation? Might not be reported. Is the home full of furniture or stored items? There may be flaws that were not visible and therefore: not reported.
It is not a home warranty. Everything in a home breaks down, window seals fail at rate of 1% or more per day. Electrical switches, water heaters, and furnaces that worked when tested will fail post inspection, sometimes at the very next use.
It is not a code check. Building codes change all the time.
As noted above in the Standard Operating Procedures, we might tell you that you have a concrete foundation and whether those cracks indicate potentially expensive settling problems. We could report that the home doesn’t have carbon monoxide detectors and that you should install them. We could indicate that the furnace is near the end of its expected functionality and that, and while it may last into the future, you should budget for its replacement. We could tell you that the deck needs safety upgrades and that the electrical service panel is or isn’t undersized for a modern family’s needs – all this and more.