The two most important things I learned in inspection school had nothing to do with the physical inspection of flooring and more to do with ethics and conduct. They were:
1) Perform every inspection as though the inspection report will be used in court.
2) Every inspection could put someone out of business! It could cost someone potentially tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
For me, this means that every time I'm inspecting a floor, I must be thorough in the investigation and honest with my findings. As inspectors, the most important thing we have is our integrity.
The 'ugly:' an example
Unfortunately, we have all heard nightmare inspection stories (or even been the victim of a bad inspection ourselves). One example that sticks out in my mind was a case where a friend of mine had installed approximately 2,400 square feet of ¾-inch solid hickory nailed to a ¾-inch plywood subfloor installed over concrete in Florida. The floor developed some slight cupping, and the GC hired an inspector. The inspector came out "to determine the cause and origin of damage to the property." Unbelievably, the resulting report started off wrong by referring to the solid flooring as engineered wood. The inspector used the wrong setting—the laminate setting—on the moisture meter and also put the meter across two boards instead of correctly reading a single board. The conclusion on the inspection was: "It is our professional opinion that the damage to the flooring was caused by improper installation techniques and/or methods" ... with no explanation of what the installer did wrong and no quoting of industry standards that were not followed.
The 'good' saves the day
Of course, that report was useless, and it could have cost my friend $30,000—all to replace a slightly cupped wood floor. That's when I recommended he hire another inspector. That inspector was able to confirm that the customer had doors and windows open throughout the year. His moisture readings of the flooring (with a proper meter on the correct setting) found the wood was wetter at the surface than underneath, indicating that it was an ambient/topical concern. Further destructive testing was performed and found the plywood subfloor's moisture content was "normal" for the ambient conditions.
If my friend hadn't gotten another inspection, he very well could have been out of business today.
I also suggested my friend pay the inspector to assess and refute the quality of the first inspector's findings, and provide a summary of the discrepancies in case the situation ended up going to court. Yes, doing so cost my friend more money, but that's better than costing him his livelihood.
How do you know which are which?
Of course, if you find you need an inspection, it's vital to hire a quality wood flooring inspector. This process can be confusing. There are multiple certifying bodies that produce inspectors. Each "school" and each student is not created equal. My best guess is there are somewhere between 500 to 1,000 certified flooring inspectors in the U.S. It is difficult to get an accurate count because many inspectors carry multiple certifications.
It is my opinion that the quality of the certifying body matters almost as much as the character and integrity of the inspector. Some inspector schools are built to produce as many inspectors as they can, and some to produce fewer but better-quality inspectors. Some certifications have continuing education requirements; some do not.
Of the certifications I carry, some have annual dues, and if you don't pay them, you lose the credentials—but not the knowledge. Some inspectors choose to let those credentials lapse for political or other reasons. Several certifying bodies have a code of conduct/ethics signed prior to being certified.
This article's purpose is not to discuss the pros and cons of the individual certifying bodies. Rather, the points above are food for thought. Another factor to consider is the quality and volume of other training the inspector receives. There are programs that don't offer certification but offer great information; these might be events hosted by manufacturers or independent schools, or other networking opportunities. It is a running joke among some of us inspectors that it is always the same 30–40 inspectors at all the continuing education schools.
Accurate report essentials
With all that said, I have seen inspection reports from inspectors from the "best" schools and the "worst" that are sorely lacking in quality. I have seen inspections from the "worst" schools and the "best" schools that are spot-on. There are many things that should be in a good inspection report, but several things that shouldn't be omitted include:
1) "The concern," or reason for the inspection: Inspectors should be hired for a specific reason, not because "the install is bad."
2) Product and installation details: these must be specific.
3) History of the project: acclimation, dates of demo, prep, installation etc., etc., gathered from as many parties as possible (retailer, end user, installer, designer, GC, etc.).
4) Specific tests performed: including equipment used and the results of the test.
5) Accepted industry standards: all standards applicable to this concern should be cited specifically, with sources quoted.
6) An accurate conclusion: an explanation of how the failure occurred.
7) Cause: whether it's manufacturing, installation, site/maintenance, etc. This also implies who is responsible. Note that reports may be inconclusive or find that there is no deficiency.
8) Pictures: of the concern, testing, and any other pertinent visual data.
Options after a bad report
If you have a report that doesn't make sense or is factually inaccurate, you can report the inspector and the report to the certifying organization, but don't expect them to tell you what, if any, discipline was administered. You can also hire another inspector to inspect the concern. Or you can hire a "good" professional inspector to review the report in question to find if anything in the report is deficient or negligent—something you could use to defend yourself or at least refute the validity of the report.
I always tell installers and retailers: The most important thing is to get to know the inspectors in your area—before you need them. Being aware of which ones have both integrity and the necessary knowledge could be what saves your business during a bad situation.