If you’re thinking about buying a home in the near future, you’re going to want to make sure that you’re making a good investment. And an important part of the home buying process, designed to protect the buyer’s interests, is the home inspection.

A home inspection is not the same thing as a home appraisal. An appraisal is designed to determine a property’s value based on its size and condition, amenities, location, and comparable recently sold properties in the area (also known as “comps”). An inspection, on the other hand, examines a property for any problems or flaws that might pose an expense or difficulty for a prospective owner.

A licensed home inspector conducts a home inspection. Over the course of several hours, an inspector will scrutinize the condition of a home’s structures and systems.

Here are a few things that a home inspector will examine:

Plumbing. Are drains blocked? Do showers and faucets function properly? Do toilets flush? Are there any obvious leaks? Is the water pressure adequate?

Electrical. Are systems correctly wired? Are there any shorts? Is the fuse box up to par? Are systems aligned with the current code? Do outlets and switches function when used? Are there any obvious safety issues?

Heating and Cooling. Does the furnace work when activated? Does the central air conditioning function properly? Are thermostats in working order?

Structure. Is the roof sound? What is the condition of the gutters and chimney? Does the foundation exhibit any cracks or damage? Is the siding intact? Do walls adequately bear weight? Do windows function properly? Is there obvious water or pest damage?

Safety. Some inspections include testing for hazardous substances; these tests may be performed at an additional expense or in a separate inspection, depending on the area in which you live. If there are concerns about radon, carbon monoxide, lead paint, asbestos, or pests, the presence of such might be revealed via an additional, separate inspection.

In addition to separate inspections to address specific safety or health concerns, some property features are not included in a standard inspection. A separate inspection is required, for example, for a swimming pool. A home buyer can also order an inspection of an on-property septic system, or to examine the condition of soil or well water

Once the home inspection is completed and the inspector releases his or her report, a prospective buyer can decide what to do about any concerns or problems. One option is to go to the seller and ask for repairs to or replacement of any items of concern. An alternative is for the buyer to handle the problems, but to ask the seller to lower the price of the property since there will be a future expense on the part of the buyer to remediate the problem.

Although inspections typically cost a few hundred dollars, they can offer greater peace of mind for a prospective buyer. While no inspection is entirely foolproof, most professionally-conducted inspections can turn up any major problems with a property so that the buyer is not caught unaware.

If you are buying a home and plan to request a home inspection, consult your real estate agent. He or she will have had experience with reputable inspectors in the past and can get you moving in the right direction.