People often ask us about using ZIPLEVELs to measure foundations during inspections. Here’s what we know and why we choose not to use this tool:
In Texas, all home inspectors are licensed by the Texas Real Estate Commission and must follow their Standards of Practice. The standards require inspectors to visually evaluate the foundation’s performance and report any issues that negatively impact the home’s performance. The use of specialized tools like a ZIPLEVEL is excluded in the Standards.
Inspectors are not forbidden from using specialized tools or going beyond the Standards. However, it could lead to legal issues if the inspector’s actions overlap with the practice of engineering.
The Texas Board of Professional Engineers released a Policy Advisory addressing the inspection of foundations by home inspectors. Here’s a summary:
The Policy Advisory states that if someone were to analyze the cause of a foundation’s condition, suggest repair solutions, or offer any other engineering opinion related to foundations, it would be considered the practice of engineering. If performed by someone not licensed as an Engineer, it could result in disciplinary action. It also determined that TREC-licensed inspectors should stay within their Standards to avoid any conflict.
Due to this reason alone, it may not be wise to go beyond the Standards of a visual inspection during a foundation inspection.
Home inspectors who provide foundation elevations frequently promote this as more informative than other inspections. Here are some examples of the claims made:
The problem with these claims is that:
We have two main concerns regarding the use of these tools. First, there are no required certifications or training needed to use this equipment. Secondly, instead of providing peace of mind, they may create unrealistic or uninformed expectations without providing additional risk reduction for the client.
We found that home inspectors who offer foundation elevation measurements often include disclaimers that state something like the following:
These disclaimers contradict the claims made, raising the question of why these tools should be used if the measurements cannot be relied upon.
Measuring the elevations of a foundation during a home inspection can’t determine excessive movement since movement is a function of time. To document foundation movement, it’s crucial to have “as built” measurements for comparison, as errors in the original construction can create the illusion of movement when none has occurred. To check if a foundation has moved too much, measurements must be taken at the same spots over time.
During a home inspection, the foundation’s performance can only be judged by how it affects the overall structure. If the foundation is performing poorly, the structure will be affected, and signs of this will be visible. If a foundation is performing properly, there won’t be any sign of issues, no matter what elevation measurements may show.
Unless you’re willing to pay the price (built into the inspection fee or otherwise) to have a benchmark for future elevation comparisons then real estate transactions are not the time to perform foundation elevations.