As a home inspector, you’ll have to navigate through various household environments. You may need to climb on roofs or squeeze into unfinished basements, and over the course of a day or week, you’ll probably encounter a whole array of homes in differing conditions, each with their own challenges.
While your primary job is to identify defects or hazards in a property for your clients, it’s just as important to stay safe during the process. Ignoring safety protocols not only jeopardizes your well-being, but can also compromise the quality of your inspection.
This article will offer some actionable safety tips for home inspectors so you can be ready to protect yourself while on the job. Whether you’re a seasoned inspector or just hung out your shingle for business yesterday, you should come away with some straightforward ways to avoid risk or injury while conducting an inspection.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Safety starts with dressing the part. Personal protective equipment, or PPE, can keep you safe from harm.
Safety glasses keep your eyes safe from dust, bits of wood, or any tiny thing that might fly your way. Ideally, the homes you visit won’t be so polluted you’ll actually NEED safety glasses, but they’re an inexpensive way to keep one of your most important body parts in good working order while conducting an inspection.
Hard hats are a common trope in inspector-adjacent stock photos, which we’ve tried to move away from since they’re a far more common sight to see on the heads of construction contractors than on home inspectors’ noggins. However, like safety glasses, you never know when one might come in handy. If the home you’re inspecting has lots of loose stuff perched precariously on elevated platforms, it might be a good idea to note it in your report – while wearing a hard hat, of course. It’s also worth noting that many new-construction jobsites require hard hats, which means it’s a good idea to have one handy if you’re hired to conduct any Phase II pre-drywall inspections.
Work gloves can keep your hands safe from cuts or zaps, and will almost certainly see more use than hard hats or safety glasses. Thin, but durable gloves that allow you to enter your findings into inspection reports are ideal, but if you can’t find a pair you believe will keep you safe while still letting you tap smartphone or tablet screens, look for a pair you can easily take off
Respirator masks are essential when going into excessively dirty, dusty, or moldy parts of any home. Even the best-kept homes have some unloved corners full of gunk, so a good mask with adequate filtration will be well worth its price – especially if you’re sensitive to dust or mold, as millions are.
Safety boots with toe protection can help protect your feet. Protection underneath is every bit as important as protection from above, if not moreso, as you’re probably more likely to step on something painful than you are to have something drop on your foot from above. Of course, if you think you need a hard hat anywhere, you should bring protective boots as well.
Be aware of weather conditions, especially when inspecting roofs or exteriors. Rain can make surfaces slippery, and wind can throw off your balance. In general, it’s best to avoid doing detailed exterior inspections when it’s raining or snowing, as even when you bring your full attention to bear on your work, it’s a lot easier to miss things when you can’t clearly see the home’s exterior components.
Ensure there’s sufficient lighting, whether outdoors or indoors. Bring a flashlight or headlamp if you anticipate visibility issues.
Always inform someone about your inspection location and expected finish time. This is not just good practice but allows a third party to act as your safety net. If anything unexpected happens, someone will know where you are and can check on you or send help if needed.
Follow industrial Standards of Practice. These guidelines are created to keep inspectors safe, and they advise you to never take unnecessary risks in adverse weather, poorly-maintained parts of homes, or in any other scenario in which inspecting any element of a home might put you in danger. In general, if you’re at all unsure as to whether or not you can do something safely, don’t do it – note the unsafe conditions in your report but steer clear.
Electricity is powerful, but it can easily turn dangerous or deadly. Here’s how you can stay safe around it:
Never touch exposed wires. If you see a wire without its protective cover, note it as a hazard and avoid it.
Use a voltage tester. Before checking anything electrical, particularly anything that isn’t a common appliance, use a voltage tester, which will let you know if there’s electricity running to that thing.
Be careful near wet areas – it should be self-explanatory, but you never want to risk running power through anything that’s wet or touching water.
Crawl Space and Attic Safety
Crawl spaces and attics are two parts of homes most likely to be unfinished, unkempt, or just downright unsanitary. Being prepared makes all the difference.
Look out for critters! Before you enter, listen and look for signs of animals. They might call these places home, and it’s best to not surprise each other!
Breathe easy. Tight spaces are more likely to have stale, dusty, or moldy air. Your respirator mask is a good idea here, and may well see more use in these two places than anywhere else in the homes you inspect.
Mind your step. Watch for loose insulation, hanging wires, or any other unsecured thing that shouldn’t be there. Always look at where you’re placing your foot or hands, and bring your PPE (gloves and boots) for these places as well.
Ladder-related injuries are some of the most common household injuries, especially among dads who think they’re handier or more dextrous than they actually are.
Buy smart! Check the reviews for any ladder you plan to get if at all possible. Get one with safety features and a demonstrable track record, especially if you plan to climb onto a lot of roofs while conducting inspections. A ladder that folds up and fits neatly in the trunk of a Honda hatchback might save space, but if it’s prone to buckling under the weight of one adult, its space-saving benefits will be more than outweighed by the injury risks, and the resulting doctor bills.
Check your ladder. Before climbing, give your ladder a quick look-over. Ensure it’s in good shape, with no broken or wobbly steps.
Three points of contact. Always keep two hands and one foot, or one hand and two feet on the ladder at all times.
Find solid ground. Place your ladder on a firm, flat spot before climbing. If you can’t find such a spot, the home you’re inspecting probably has a lot more issues beyond simply making it hard for you to check the roof.
Don’t stretch or lean too far. If something is out of reach, come down and move the ladder instead of trying to lunge at your objective.
Avoid walking on visibly damaged floors or roofs. It might sound like common sense, but it bears repeating: compromised structures are a safety hazard. If you can see visible damage or suspect a floor or roof might be weak, avoid putting weight on it.
Use caution in areas showing signs of water damage. Water damage isn’t just a sign of potential mold. It can also mean weakened floors and other structures. Areas with staining or dampness should be approached with caution and noted in your report as an issue for potential homebuyers.
Steer clear of any unstable structures or areas. If something doesn’t look sturdy — whether it’s a staircase, balcony, or ceiling — it’s best to keep your distance.
In general, if you can visibly tell that anything in the home you’re inspecting is unstable, unsafe, and/or damaged, it’s worth noting in your report as an issue. Homebuying clients will definitely appreciate your attention to these problems!
Protect Against Harmful Substances
We’ve already mentioned dust and mold, which often lurk in older and less-maintained homes. PPE can make all the difference between a healthy (if somewhat gross) inspection and one you come away from with respiratory problems – but dust and mold aren’t the only potentially dangerous substances lurking in many homes.
Beware of asbestos: Older homes might have this substance, typically as a component of their insulation materials. Always wear your respirator mask if you suspect the presence of asbestos, and don’t touch anything you believe to be asbestos, either. Report on its presence and recommend remediation or removal.
Mold and mildew may be visible during an inspection if a home’s in particularly bad shape, but it can often lurk out of sight in crevices, ventilation ducts, and other places homeowners never think to look in. Use your respirator mask if you’re ever at all concerned these organisms might be present and note them in your report whenever and wherever you can confirm them, for later remediation.
Watch out for chemicals: If you smell strong scents or see containers of unknown liquids, make sure the area is ventilated – and whether or not it is, use a respirator to stay on the safe side. Contained chemicals are generally easy to deal with, but a spill or leak from one of the home’s key systems may require a specialist’s intervention.
Tools and Equipment Care
Regularly inspect your tools for wear or damage. A faulty tool can create unnecessary risks – especially if you need them to hold your weight, like a ladder, or protect sensitive parts of the body, like safety goggles. The cost of a new tool will always, in the end, be lower than the costs – both financially and physically – of having to recuperate from an injury caused by faulty gear.
Keep your tools organized and safely stored. Organized tools aren’t just about efficiency; they can reduce your risk of injury, particularly if you need to reach for a specific item while you’re inspecting a tight spot.
Familiarize yourself with new tools or technologies before using them on the job. Misused tools can be as dangerous as faulty ones.
Stay up to date on the latest safety protocols and equipment. Regularly reviewing and updating your safety practices ensures that you’ll always stay at the top of your game – and you never know when you might come across a great tool during your research!
Participate in safety workshops and training. These sessions not only refresh what you know, but can also introduce you to new concepts and methods. This suggestion is right in line with the last one – take advantage of expert guidance when you can to keep your knowledge on the cutting edge and your toolkit well-stocked with the right gear for every job.
Join home inspection associations to gain insights from peers. It’s beneficial to be part of a community where you can share experiences, ask questions, and get advice. There’s always something new to learn from fellow inspectors. There are many active home inspector groups on Facebook, and organizations like InterNACHI can also guide you in the right direction when you’ve got an urgent need for information.
Wrapping it all up
Home inspection profession can be a highly rewarding profession, but like any other role requiring on-site presence in a range of different indoor and outdoor environments, it can come with its share of risks.
Prioritizing safety isn’t just about following rules — it’s about ensuring you’re able to continue doing your best work without unnecessary setbacks or unwanted breaks to heal up. Stay proactive, always prepare for the unexpected, and never hesitate to prioritize your well-being over the job at hand. A safety-first approach is always best.