Section 535.228(a) of the Texas Administrative Code (Foundations) requires an inspector to render a written opinion as to the performance of the foundation. Many inspectors understand this to mean one of two things; the foundation is either performing or it is not performing. But sometimes the inspector is unable to determine this with sufficient confidence.
Dearborn’s “Principles of Home Inspection” suggests that you should not guess. “Tell your client what you know and what you can’t determine. That will help your client understand why you can’t make the call. The default recommendation is for further evaluation and advice.” (Principles of Home Inspection: Systems and Standards, 2003 Edition, Page 228). Dearborn’s Second Edition moves away from a default recommendation and now suggests that you “[r]ecommend further evaluation if the movement is dramatic, or monitoring if the movement is less severe” (Principles of Home Inspection: Systems and Standards, Second Edition 2008, Page 207).
In forming an opinion as to the performance of the foundation, the inspector should consider the definition of “Performance” according to Section 535.227(b)(8). Performance means “achievement of an operation, function or configuration relative to accepted industry standard practices with consideration of age and normal wear and tear from ordinary use.”
While all structures tend to move slightly, a residential foundation is expected to remain reasonably flat and leveled to provide acceptable performance. A foundation that is not performing as intended negatively affects the structural integrity of a building. As the inspector gains knowledge and experience, he or she is better able to understand the movement of a foundation and learns to identify more subtle indications that there may be a problem with the performance of the foundation.
The inspector must check the Deficient (D) box if a condition exists that adversely and materially affects the performance of a system or component or constitutes a hazard to life, limb or property as specified by the TREC Standards of Practice [See Section 535.227(b)(5), “Deficiency”].
But what should an inspector do when there are some present and visible indications of adverse performance in a foundation that otherwise seems to be supporting the load as intended?
The standards of practice do list a number of things that should be considered when rendering an opinion of performance: Section 535.228 (a)(1)(C) states that “the inspector shall generally report present and visible indications used to render the opinion of adverse performance, such as: (i) binding, out-of-square, non-latching doors; (ii) framing or frieze board separations; (iii) sloping floors; (iv) window, wall, floor, or ceiling racks or separations; and (v) rotating, buckling, cracking, or deflecting masonry cladding.”
Whether the inspector ultimately determines that the foundation is performing, not performing, or that the inspector is unable to make a determination; in rendering his or her opinion, the inspector should always report any of the issues described in Section 535.228 (a)(1)(C), if they are present and visible. The client needs to be made aware that the inspector has identified possible indications of adverse performance. This information allows the client to make an educated decision whether to accept or reject the home in its present condition or whether to obtain a further evaluation.
For additional detail on Standards of Practice, see the Standards of Practice in the Rules, the Frequently Asked Questions, or the Inspector SOP Pocket Edition prepared by the Texas Real Estate Commission.