Our Job...Observe and Report VS Analyze

This all begins with an email that Ben Gromicko received from a guy taking the InterNACHI courses.

Hello Ben,

I just finished the Structural course and had a question regarding the video at the end with the moving house.

The course taught, “Remember, the job of the inspector is to observe and report – not to analyze.” This was in one of the sections.

In the video the narrator who was performing the inspection, pointed out all the structural issues with the home which was not an issue for me. What I was curious about, is that he was going beyond what was being taught and was analyzing/speculating the possible why’s as to what was causing all the issues observed.

My question is, what was he going to actually put on the report if he created one? Will he put in writing all the speculations that he mentioned in the video or was that information he gave us as to the why’s just for our benefit? I would think that we could get ourselves in trouble if we wrote down our opinions as to what was happening and we were wrong. I think we are to stay with the observe, report and not analyze in our reports only. I think it would be appropriate to add strong recommendations to have a structural engineer and/or professional inspect what I had observed and noted in the report that were structural issues.

Your thoughts?

Ben asked me to respond to the guy probably because I have pontificated in the past on both structural topics and report writing.

I emailed back:

What a great question! The answer goes to the very purpose of why we get paid the medium size bucks.

It is said all the time that our job is to just observe and report what you see. Also, our job is to recommend further evaluation by the appropriate expert, if we see defects. This is the industry guidance and standard particularly when starting out in this business and when we see defective components.

But, there’s more. The very nature of what we do includes analysis. Otherwise, we would just walk through a house; recommending a roofer, a plumber, an electrician, a HVAC tech, a structural engineer, a landscaper, an environmental hygienist, a pest control tech, a window tech, and here is my bill for $650, thank you so very much. Our clients would reasonably be wondering why they hired us. They could have scheduled and paid all those specialists and save the $650 paid to us. We have a job because one phone call gets a knowledgeable generalists (a home inspector) who can inspect all these components and provide informed and educated guidance and recommendations. Guidance and recommendations require some analysis.

So, what does analysis mean? It does not mean we have to be experts in all trades. We just have to know enough to look at a component, understand what we are looking at, recognize whether that component has a defect, and analyze the component sufficiently to make a recommendation.

So, to circle back to your question. Foundations and structural components provide some of the best examples of what I am describing.
*As an example, let’s say that the foundation we are observing has several hairline and small cracks. Some cracks are vertical and not continuous. Others are approximately on 45 degree angles going through windows in the foundation walls. We report, “Concrete foundation has cracks that are hairline to approx. 1/32” gapped. Six cracks are vertical and not continuous. Three cracks are approximately at 45 degree angles and go through openings in the wall."

What is our client to make of this? Our client will ask us, “What does that mean?” If we answer, “Sorry, I can only observe and report,” then our client could reasonably wonder what good are we? And frankly, how have we benefited our client? Heck, our client could probably have said the same thing.

Or we could report,
Foundation appears serviceable (common cracks) No structural concerns were observed"
Concrete shrinks and cracks during curing process. Settling is common and resulting minor cracks are normal and rarely require remedial action unless noted otherwise by inspector. Not all major cracks require remedial action.

I will argue that the later commentary keeps it simple and provides the information that our client needs.

But you are starting out, and you don’t feel that you have the knowledge and experience to make these judgments. That is fair and we are all there when we are starting. When it comes to structural, if in doubt, recommend evaluation by a structural engineer. Actually, that advice applies to all we do. You think you see hail damage on a roof. Report it and recommend evaluation by a roofer. You are looking at a rusty boiler. All older boilers show some rust but is this one bad? Recommend evaluation by a HVAC tech. When I was starting out, I frequently met these specialists when they were looking at the component that I had recommended their evaluation. Occasionally, I was criticized for recommending evaluation, but I always learned something. On those occasions, I sometimes said, “Hey, it didn’t look right, and aren’t we glad that it is ok?” And I learned.

And I learned how to understand what I was looking at and how to better analyze defects and what the specialists typically said when they were looking at the same defects. You will do the same thing.

The very first report form that I used 23 years ago, had the check box Appears Serviceable for every component. Obviously, in order to know if a component is serviceable or not, requires some analysis. And our clients want to know if things are okay or not. So, why does the industry say “observe and report?” Because that is safe advice when beginning, but there is always a need to know if this or that component is performing. Is it performing as it should? Is it put together correctly? Are there defects? Are the defects affecting performance? Are the defects dangerous to health and safety? There are other questions, but you get the idea

The good news is that we don’t have to know it all. We are generalists. We only have to know enough to recognize if something is performing as it should, or if it has defects requiring further evaluation by an appropriate expert or repair by an appropriate expert.

The other good news is that the training at InterNACHI’s website gives you a great baseline of knowledge to be that good generalist.

I am reprinting this here, because there is a lot of experience and opinions here. It’s been a couple of weeks since I had this exchange, but last Friday I had a newbie shadowing me on an inspection and he brought this very topic up. My conversation with him made me wonder what thoughts and opinions some of you might have on the topic.


Great response to a difficult question. Curiously I just had a similar question from a client about some hairline cracks she saw in her first floor condominium when the carpet was replaced. The unit is a slab on grade and flooding had occurred in 2018 from a burst pipe in an upper unit. She is a tenant thinking of buying so we are hardly in the position to rip up the carpet, but the cracks she described to me were typical shrinkage cracks and had quite likely been there since the unit was built in 1997. That’s what I said. She had rented the ‘flat’ since 2015, so she was there for the flood but not the original build and the unit has survived since then with no ground seepage or settlement (uneven floor). Sure, I had to go out on a limb slightly to reassure about a problem I couldn’t actually see, but I am confident that my opinion was helpful and on the mark. It’s what has to be done!

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NACHI SoP is fairly mute on the issue of cracks, but not settlement.

For me, I will take a photo of all cracks and usually throw a ruler down for scale. That does not mean it will make it into the report.

As Lon stated, analysis is required to understand what you are looking at; why is the crack there, how did it happen and what affect it is having on the home?

Furthermore, we can lean on our training in the event we must defend our position.

This is the great conundrum with foundations as they relate to inspections. More than any other part of a house we aren’t free to give our honest opinion for fear of the ambulance chasing foundation contractor coming behind us.

It used to be that everyone was fine with the fact that most houses settle a bit and the foundation will crack. Not anymore. EVERYTHING must be FIXED according to the “experts” that come in after us. Kind of a crappy place this part of our industry has gone but you’d better jump on board and be documenting things or be ready to write some E/O deductible checks.


Lon, is this discussion about foundation cracks or how we evolve in our approach as home inspectors?

Well, I started it as a discussion about our role as inspectors. But like so many threads, it took a different direction. I’m not complaining. Just an observation. This discussion is interesting also. I’m going to take this discussion over to the structural topic where other inspectors (particularly new ones) are looking for more information there.


I think you have it right Lon, of course we analyze everything. In my opinion, I think the intent of the statement “not to analyze” is to steer the student away from reporting causation, and as you stated it is not needed to exhaustively understand every problem. HVAC is a good example. Is it heating or cooling adequately? We should not try to fully diagnose this problem during a normal home inspection.

Possibly, the use of the word analyze in this scenario is a misnomer.

Definition of analysis

1a : a detailed examination of anything complex in order to understand its nature or to determine its essential features : a thorough study doing a careful analysis of the problem

b : a statement of such an examination

2 : separation of a whole into its component parts

3a : the identification or separation of ingredients of a substancea chemical analysis of the soil

b : a statement of the constituents of a mixture


I’m thinking a better way to describe it is to remain objective in our reporting and less subjective. And that is what I am curious about from more experienced inspectors. Do we remain totally objective, or do we tend allow some personal views creep in? Is there room for personal experiences?

The Indiana Minimum Standards of Competent Performance has an interesting clause: “Licensees shall…express opinions based on genuine conviction and only within their areas of education, training, or experience”. Does your experience and continuing education change your opinion over time?

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I think we are being paid to express our personal views (opinion) based on our experience and education. Experience and education play a critical part of defect discernment. I feel I am mostly objective, however some of my subjective opinion may serve my client well.

Example, objectively the most of the plumbing system was substandard and incorrectly installed. Subjectively, the plumbing did not appear to be installed by a qualified professional and likely not permitted by the local building department.

Looks like Indiana has it right.


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This reminds me of when I met the city inspector when he checked the installation of a RTU at my father-in-law’s place. The HVAC company had pulled a permit but never got it signed off, so I called the city for the permit inspection. I thought the workmanship was crappy. The inspector said, “Well, if I was grading craftsmanship, it would flunk, but I am looking to see if it is code compliant, and it is.”


So True, perfect example would be when we point out the home has PB Pipe. A Plumber’s opinion is not just based on his experience with “this pipe” over the years, but very likely looking at $$,$$$, and their opinion on the need for correction/replacement may depend on how busy they are (or if they have a Boat Payment coming up)…
This is different than when a structural engineer is looking at something vs. a “Contractor”. The Consumer/homebuyer needs to consider when getting that “further evaluation”…What is the “Expert’s” Motivation?? Sometimes we can help guide them depending on how we report/word our observation.


Yeah, and the SOPs prevent us from performing work because there’s a conflict of interest! It’s fine in that I have no interest performing any repair work but the implication that the contractor we recommend has no motivation to find a problem is laughable.