The Macro-view and the Micro-view in Home Inspections

Perspective View of Inspecting a HomePerspective View

How do you keep perspective when inspecting a home? A bird’s eye view helps? Does your finished report reflect the true picture of the conditions of the property? Charles shares his perspective on staying focused and how a repeated set of actions in every inspection could help your client’s view of the property.


When inspecting a home, the home inspector must not rush to judgment and must pay attention.  Having a “system” of checks and balances is required in order to not miss the details that would allow the correct conclusions later on.  “Concluding” is the easy part, having the “correct conclusions” can sometimes be illusive.

Photography is a huge part of the checks and balances that I utilize to help me keep track of myself–and perhaps help me answer questions later when I am home working on the report.  Another important aspect is to avoid distractions and maintain a protocol–to do each inspection in the same order as much as possible.  Sometimes deviations are unavoidable, and sometimes taking a few steps back and getting back on track is good idea.  Most clients understand when you tell them, “I have gotten a bit off my protocol and now I need to get back on it.”

At a recent inspection, while inspecting the roof, I noticed that there were no exhaust fan ventilation caps anywhere.(Sometimes the roof vents are used for exhaust fan vents though.)

Roof with no “proper” exhaust fan caps visible

To myself, I make mental notes that perhaps the vents are terminating in the attic, that there are no ventilation fans, or that they terminate at other locations.  Nothing to dwell on at that point—just something to store away in my brain until I have more information.
When walking around the home I noticed only two vents terminating at the exterior—a dryer vent and a bathroom exhaust fan vent–in the vicinity of the bathroom window.

Exhaust fan termination cap on the exterior of the home

Exhaust fan termination cap on the exterior of the home

Well this answered the question of where the bathroom exhaust fan vented to–but still didn’t answer the kitchen range hood exhaust vent question.  Since I had not been inside yet, I could not yet conclude that there was none or that it did not terminate in the attic.  Because of the risk of damage to the home from improperly terminated exhaust vents, finding where exhaust vents terminate is very important to me as a home inspector.

Once in the kitchen, I quickly discovered that the vent fan was the recirculating type that does not vent to the exterior.  This is a pretty simple recommendation:  “have it properly vented to the exterior.”

Next came the bathroom.  Normally, unless I can’t reach the fan, I will test the fan with toilet paper to see if it is drawing air from the room or not.  If I can’t reach it I will sometimes put the tissue paper on the floor at the bottom of the door and then turn the fan on–if the fan is moving air from the room it will pull the tissue away from the door–usually.

Bathroom exhaust fan not pulling any air

Bathroom exhaust fan not pulling any air

These methods are not very “scientific,” but they do give at least some indication of function–beyond merely turning it on.  As you can see from the picture, this fan, while it turned on just fine, would not suck the toilet paper up against it.  Since I saw a nice vent cap at the exterior of the home, and the flap was slightly open, it was very odd that it would not pull ANY air from the room.
Some sort of blockage in the pipe?  Disconnected in the attic and buried in insulation?  Back draft damper in the unit itself blocked shut?  So many questions—and no time to jump to any conclusions just yet.

When I got to the attic I found the bathroom exhaust fan and followed its vent pipe.

Vent pipe terminating at roof?

Vent pipe terminating at roof?

It suddenly became very clear that the cap, next to the bathroom window, at the exterior was an abandoned cap from some previous vent fan installation—perhaps a wall mount unit.

I scratched my head for a moment when I saw the pipe terminating at the roof sheathing.  This installation was consistent with a vent cap on the roof—but remember, I didn’t see any vent caps on the roof.

I pulled the vent pipe down enough to see “black.”

Can you see the felt paper?

Can you see the felt paper?

This is a little like seeing “red”–for an inspector–but different.
I took the pipe the rest of the way down and in this next picture one can see the felt paper over the hole which is the underlayment for the roof shingles.

The improper roof vent in the first picture is above this felt paper

The improper roof vent in the first picture is above this felt paper

Now, and only now, we finally have the final answer as to the “how and the where” the fan is vented to–and why it would not pull any air.  All done in the “context” of the inspection, without looking at the house:  individual component by individual component.
Conclusions often come at the end–sometimes on the ride home.

Source: The Macro-view and the Micro-view in home inspections


ASHI member Charles Buell has been designing and building residential structures for over 35 years and currently sits on the Washington State Home Inspector License Advisory Board.

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