Major vs Material Defect

What is the difference between “Major Defect” and “Material Defect” and knowing when to choose one or the other in reporting (I’m finishing my required 4 mock inspections to complete my InterNACHI certification)?

The mock inspection reports also have options of “Cosmetic Defect” and “Minor Defect” which are throwing me off some too. Both of these seem very subjective. -Is it OK as an inspector to make the judgement call if something is minor vs major? Lastly, I thought it was not OK to be reporting on anything cosmetic-related as an inspector. If no, then why is “Cosmetic Defect” a reporting option?

For example: I observed numerous cracks in a driveway. In my opinion, most of them were “minor” being about 1/8" wide. In my opinion, they are not posing a safety risk and the driveway overall is functioning properly despite their presence. Yet, there is one crack that is wider 1/2-3/4" wide. Would inspectors consider this to be a major defect? Is it a safety hazard? Again, in my opinion I would still consider the driveway to be functional and not in need of repair/replace.

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This might help you here;

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There really are only two things: 1) items that meet the definition of material defects, and 2) everything else that you consider wrong. You can package and report the #2’s any way you want, but they’re not material defects.

For your example, depending on the direction of the crack and failure mode, I would simply report what I see: fatigue cracks, longitudinal pavement cracks, transverse pavement cracks, block cracking, edge failure, etc, etc. There is a point along the spectrum of ‘new pavement to completely failed pavement’ that I identify as “pavement failure” and a material defect, and that’s block cracking. Anything including and beyond block cracking is a localized load-related failure of the pavement. The mere presence of pavement cracks can just be the result of deferred maintenance. So while a transverse seam crack alone would neither be a load-related failure nor a material defect, a transverse seam crack with block cracking and edge failure would be a material defect, in my way of thinking.

Also, you have to consider adjoining components when you weigh defect vs material defect. Pavement is a system consisting of underlying soil, base, pavement, surface sealant, and crack sealants. Any part of that system could be in failure mode, and should be reported as such. Example: the pavement could be sound with no cracks, but have worn, faded or non-existent surface sealants. I’d report it as faded sealants due to deferred maintenance, and that the buyer should anticipate the need to re-seal the driveway in the next 12 months. On the other hand, the surface sealants and crack sealants could be a week old, but covering up block and alligator cracking. That’s a material defect in my book. The pavement could also be sound but have a dip or a rut in it. That is base failure, and a material defect.

Another example is creaky uneven floors: they can either be a simple characteristic of older homes, or it can be due to structural failure in the framing.

It’s a safe habit to just avoid the use of adjectives when pointing out defects. The software I use has the category.“Repair or Replace” for all defects. In my intro to the summary I include the following remarks, “No attempt has been made to prioritize items in this report. They appear in the same order as the report body. Common sense dictates that safety items should take precedence over other concerns.”

“Examples of this would be electrical problems where the danger of fire or electrocution exist as a result of installation method, materials used, or improper maintenance. Fuel burning equipment or appliances whose installation, maintenance or age present a hazard of Carbon Monoxide or fire, and structural problems that may result in occupant falls or collapse of the

The reason I do it this way is to give the Realtor the opportunity to do his or her job and guide the client through the sale process. To do it otherwise opens me up to endless arguments over semantics with either agent or the client or sometimes the seller. My particular safety clause is the common sense argument. I have yet to meet anyone who will admit they don’t have it (although I’ve met many who don’t).


Great explanation, Darren!

ALL of them are subjective, thus the reason why you need to have this conversation with your client BEFORE the inspection, to define the Terms to be used in your determinations and report based upon their expectations… also note “setting the SCOPE of the inspection”!

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But a material defect takes the idea one step further. It refers to a defect that negatively alters the way a home system is used, puts a homeowner at risk or requires repair or replacement right away. Material defects are major defects.

Welcome to our forum, Bard!..Enjoy! :smile:

Great question, Bard.

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