Home inspections do not go into design choices, but inspectors are frequently asked about design choices as they might relate to the concerns of my reports.
If you look at a report for what homeowners are searching for on the internet, you will see a good many searches relating to design questions.Solar energy is the only item that bucks this trend. When I am walking through a home with my client, usually they begin speaking about design choices, while I am discussing the report. There are times that a design choice does cross paths with my findings: the low ceiling. For example, there was a nice porch on one home, but walking the area of the porch, I found myself bumping my head against the ceiling (I am 6’1″). This low ceiling problem happens more often than I would have thought. The one item that comes up with my clients where they think design choices may effect my report is the area of the stairs, particularly the stair covering.
Stairs can make a dramatic impression in the entry area of a home. Builders do try to offer plans that take advantage of this impression, yet builders will probably cover the stairs with carpet. Have you tried vacuuming the carpet on a stairway? I never enjoyed that task. A comment from a client inspired this post, because she believed that you could only carpet stairs. I discovered that others held this idea too. Traveling in Latin America and Spain, I have seen some beautifully tiled steps. You can use any material that you would use on your floor to cover your steps. I thought a stairway with the risers tiled and the steps being wood was a good look.
What concerns would I have with stairs on my home inspection report? Any floor covering on stairs can have an issue, where a person can trip. Loose coverings lead to this. When you are using a standard baluster, you will meet my safety concerns. I would be worried about small children slipping through If you make a fist with your hand, holding the knuckles horizontally, you should have a tight fit going through the spaces of the balusters. More artistic baluster choices, and balusters on older homes, will ave problems with this test. This next item fits in with a design choice effecting safety: handrails. Most handrails will have no problem on my reports, but the lack of handrails does send up a red flag. To create more visual interest in a stairway, we see the builder either wrapping or angling the stairs. The longer run of steps will have the railing, but the shorter run of steps will have no handrail. Now imagine an older, injured or quite young person making their way up these steps. To stable themselves, they hold their hand against the wall. If they stumble, they have nothing to hold. If you have three steps, then you really should have the handrail. I understand that there are people who prefer the look of a clear wall for these steps, but I would suggest safety should trump appearance. Of course for safety, every part of the stair way should be secure.
Carpet is fine, but tile is better, or maybe not. The choice is up to you. I have slipped when the tile is wet, but I have slipped on carpet as well. I do see my clients focusing on the floor covering on the surfaces of the different stories of the home, but forgetting about the stairs. For a more dramatic look, I would change the material or color of the riser from the step.