Building Structure – Terms to Know

by | Oct 1, 2022

Does a Home Inspector Review Building Structure?

Yes, an inspector’s responsibility is to thoroughly observe and report on the various visible structural components of a residential property, as well as their condition. The structure is arguably the most important part of a home inspection, as it provides an indication of the safety and stability of a residence. Homebuyers and other interested parties can identify potential problems related to the overall integrity of the building by conducting an extensive assessment of its structural elements. 


In order to effectively evaluate a house’s structural components, an inspector must take into account more than just its foundation and framing elements. All aspects of a home should be carefully examined in order to accurately evaluate if any defects exist that may compromise its long-term performance or safety. Walls, ceilings, floors, doors, windows and other areas should all be viewed with equal scrutiny. The home inspector’s knowledge and understanding in assessing potential issues helps them avoid making any wrong conclusions regarding the state of the home’s structure. This is why it is necessary for a home inspector to have sufficient training when performing this portion of the home inspection.

Building Structure

Structural Elements of a House

As the homeowner or real estate professional it can be useful to have a basic understanding a few more common structural components your home inspector may refer to and where you might find them in a home:


Are horizontally placed wooden or steel members that serve the primary function of supporting large framing loads above commonly in the form of floors and roof framing. Beams may be engineered members or built-up on site depending on the load requirements placed upon them.

Bearing Wall/ Load-Bearing Wall:

Is a wall designed with structural intent. These walls carry the load (weight) of structural components above them and transfer that load to supporting components below. Removal or modification of these walls bears significant impact to the structural integrity of the building. Exterior walls, walls adjacent to and below floor openings, walls next to stairs or walls in a linear line with post and beam configurations are some examples of where there may be load bearing occuring. Note that not all interior walls are load bearing. 

Column or Post:

A vertical member designed to withstand vertical compression. It’s not uncommon for these terms to be used interchangeably by inspectors, trades, or designers. 


Found at the base of the foundation and constructed as reinforced poured concrete. The footing(s) bear the full weight of the building and is the last stop before loads from the structure above are transferred to the earth.


Is the base level of the building. It serves to support the weight of the home above and distribute the weight of load bearing walls down to the footing level. 


The framing member installed horizontally above windows, exterior doors or over openings in interior load bearing walls. The term header is also used at times to refer to the rim joist which is the perimeter framing member enclosing the floor system. 


Are the horizontal framing members responsible for providing structural support to the floor system. Joists also provide a means of fastening the floor sheathing to the structure. 


Similar to a column or post, a pier is a type of vertical support often found at or below grade level. A common area you would expect to find a pier in finished construction would be below the exterior deck posts. 


Structural roof framing members that are cut and built directly on the job-site. This is commonly referred to as a stick frame roof truss. 

Ridge / Ridge Beam:

The framing member installed at the uppermost intersection of the roof rafters which connects the series of rafters together.

Truss :

Refers to a pre-engineered structural roof framing member. These take the place of traditional rafters although neither are necessarily exclusive of one another – there may be instances of both rafters and trusses that make up a single roof structure. 


The outermost layer of the building’s shell. This is the protective board or paneling layer that covers the walls and roof of the home. An easy way to remember this one is to think “shielding”.


Vertical framing members that comprise the walls. Think 2×4’s.


These are some of the elements making up the structure of a home but it’s all of the aspects that impact a property’s structural integrity that should be considered when assessing such components during an inspection. Issues relating to rot or water damage for example could present serious problems that need to be addressed quickly before causing significant damage down the line. Poor workmanship may also be cause for concern as it could be defective and cause failure over time. A competent inspector should have enough expertise to recognize issues like these and a homeowner who has a basic understanding of the structure will be able to communicate with the home inspector any concerns either party has more effectively.  

How many elements from the above list are you able to identify in these photos?