Q. Should a 4.9 Radon Test Result Be Mitigated?

Q. Hey Mark,
I’m selling my home and the buyers inspector did a radon test. The result was 4.9, and they said I had to have a mitigation system installed. That’s not very high. Why do I have to have it fixed?
Bob

A. Hey Bob,
Technically, there are no federal laws that require you to do anything about the radon in your home. You are free to live in it, just as you are free to choose to smoke 4 packs of cigarettes a day. It is your choice, and you can choose the levels and risk you are comfortable with. However your buyers, as a stipulation in their contingency for purchasing your home have requested that you have the radon level fixed. It appears that this request is based on the EPA’s mitigation level recommendations.

There is no such thing as a safe level of radon. Just like there is no “safe” number of cigarettes you can smoke a day. Therefore what we want to do is reduce the health risks of radon by reducing it as much as is practically possible. The EPA recommends that if your radon level is below 2.0 pCi/L that with today’s technology, we really can’t practically reduce the radon levels much more than that, so the home should be re-tested every two years to make sure it hasn’t increased. If your levels are greater than 2 and less that 4 pCi/L then you should consider having a system installed to try to reduce it below 2. If your levels are 4 or above, the EPA strongly suggests that you definitely have the home mitigated (but even then there is no requirement to do so).

The risks are real. Statistics have shown that living in a home with a radon level of 4.0 pCi/L, is equivalent to your risk of dying in a car accident. We all wear seatbelts to help reduce that risk. Therefore common sense tells us that if by installing a relatively low cost device in our home we can reduce our lung cancer risks as well, we should do that.

I hope that helps.
Mark

Mark Nahrgang is the owner of Kingdom Inspection Network Group – St. Louis and is a professional NACHI certified building inspector in the St. Louis metro area. Mark performs home inspections as well as commercial inspections throughout St. Louis and St. Charles County.

Q. Cold Over-the-Garage Bedroom

Q. Hey Mark,

I have a bedroom above an unheated garage. The bedroom is always cold in the winter (Wisconsin). The ceiling of the gargage is currently plywood (I assume some insulation above). The floor of the bedroom is always cold. What is the best way to add insulation given that this is in a garage? Can I add some foam board?

Thanks,

John

A. Hey John,

Insulation should have been installed in the floor of the bedroom over the garage when it was built. If not, then my concern would be that perhaps the bedroom was added without the benefit of proper code supervision and inspections. What many people don’t understand is that ceiling joists and trusses are designed to support a ceiling, not a floor. Therefore the engineering might be suspect. All that being said, and assuming the garage/bedroom was built to proper engineering standards, I would say that your best bet would be to add some solid insulation on the garage side. Please be aware that the “Styrofoam” type insulation, can not be left exposed. It too would need to be covered with drywall to protect it in case of a fire. I would also suggest checking with your local Better Business Bureau to see about finding a reputable and qualified contractor to evaluate the situation first hand. He should have an opinion on the state of the bedroom, know how to research previous home improvements and their permit and inspection records, and give you an idea of how best to proceed with your particular problem.

Hope that helps.

Mark

Mark Nahrgang is the owner of Kingdom Inspection Network Group – St. Louis and is a professional NACHI certified building inspector in the St. Louis metro area. Mark performs home inspections as well as commercial inspections throughout St. Louis and St. Charles County.

Q. How Can I Know Homeowners Didn’t Tamper With Radon Test?

Q. Hey Mark,
We are trying to move from Texas to Wisconsin and found a home. We had the typical inspection and radon test performed. There were numerous semi- minor issues but a few bigger ones. Radon at 5.7, tree roots growing into the sump pump crock, etc. In our contract we did not give the seller the right to cure if there were issues so we gave notice the next day that we were canceling the contract and needed them to sign a mutual release. They will not sign a release and are actually trying to force us to bu[y] the home. They never took it off the market and have not spent one penny on anything related to moving, etc – it was only 11 days between offer and cancellation. Now they are having a radon test done of their own because they do not believe ours was accurate.  I do not believe that we are dealing with honest people and they do have strong ties to the building community around us so I don’t necessarily think that their test will be done honestly. Can they air out the basement, test somewhere else in the home, etc to make the test read lower? It seems to me that as the buyer with “no right to cure” for the sellers and inspections being done by a professional that sellers if they don’t like the results shouldn’t be able to retest/fix until they make us buy the home with no right to cure.  What things can people do to make the radon test be skewed?  What should we watch for?
Thanks,
Jean

Hey Jean,

Re-testing should be done according to EPA guidelines.  There are several things that the sellers could do to alter their test.  I’ll not list them as it will give some people “suggestions” they could attempt to use.  However most of the things they may try, such as leaving their windows open as you suggest, may actually increase their tested levels because it could increase the amount of radon drawn into the home from the ground.  As a practical issue, there really isn’t anything you as a potential buyer can do to ensure that the seller’s test is performed properly.  Hopefully your test was performed by a certified technician to EPA standards for a real estate transaction. About the only thing you can do, is determine if the radon report you receive contains some sort of certification information on the testing professional, as well as a statement that it was performed to EPA guidelines.  If the seller’s test is performed using an electronic continuous radon monitor, it is probably equipped with instrumentation that will assist the technician in determining if the monitor has been tampered with.  If they simply used a canister or some other device, then it will not be as obvious to the tech.

Since I am in Missouri I contacted an acquaintance of mine who is an inspector in WI (Michael Larson, Inspectrapro LLC, Hudson WI, http://www.inspectrapro.com).  He tells me that radon testing is not legislated in Wisconsin, but provided a link to a list of WI Radon mitigators who have passed testing by Radon organizations and must maintain CE for their continued accreditation. http://dhs.wisconsin.gov/dph_beh/RadonProt/Lists/miti1008.pdf .

I would also strongly recommend that you seek the advice of your agent in the transaction, as well as a real estate lawyer.  I don’t think the second test is your primary concern, as you bailed on the home for other reasons as well.  Even if the sellers produce a contradictory radon test result, this wouldn’t likely alter your decision anyway, as radon mitigation is generally relatively low cost and simple to perform in the first place.  Therefore, in my opinion, legal advise is what you really need.

Mark Nahrgang is the owner of Kingdom Inspection Network Group – St. Louis and is a professional NACHI certified building inspector in the St. Louis metro area. Mark performs home inspections as well as commercial inspections throughout St. Louis and St. Charles County.

Q. Are Home Inspections Necessary for New Construction?

Q. Hey Mark,

I have a contract on a house that is new construction. It will be completed soon and a friend told me that I should have it inspected before we close on the house. It seems that since everything is new, there would be no reason to spend the money on an inspection? Do home inspectors really do inspections on brand new homes, and if so, what kinds of things could be a problem?
Thanks,
Louis

A. Hey Louis,

For me to tell you that you should have your new home inspected could seem self serving (after all that is my business), however my own experiences tells me it is the right thing to do.

You would think that a new home would be perfect, and that you need not be concerned about anything. You would also think that after moving in, the home warranty would protect you in regard to anything you might find later that needs to be fixed.  But the truth of the matter is, neither of those thoughts prove to be true.

Recently I inspected a newly constructed home, valued over a million dollars. Here is a real-life example of what I found as I inspected this high-end, brand new home:

  • Poorly applied shingles with exposed nails
  • Visual holes through shingles, and multiple damaged shingles.
  • Fascia falling from the front of the home.
  • Damaged siding.
  • Multiple cracks in the foundation (several with visible moisture).
  • Jacuzzi type tub, with open seals allowing the water to drain directly to the basement.
  • The sump pump draining next to the foundation (basically allowing the water to then drain back under the foundation and back into the pit for a never ending cycle of pumping.)
  • An exposed piece of rebar randomly sticking up in the back yard.
  • Many other more minor issues that I won’t list point-by-point.

And I want to remind you that this was all in just one, high-end, newly constructed home.

I’ve heard from other inspectors who have found serious hazards, such as un-finished or disconnected furnace or water heater flues, unfinished chimney flues, wood construction material too close to the flues posing a fire hazard, unconnected waste pipes draining sewage into the crawlspaces or basement.  The stories are endless.  And this doesn’t even address the possibility of the home having elevated levels of radon gas.

Bottom line for you as a new construction buyer…There is no such thing as a perfect house.  Homes are built by fallible humans. The municipal inspectors who are supposed to be checking for code, are overworked, and generally don’t spend much time looking at the 10-20 homes they are inspecting every day.  And even then, they are looking for code violations, not poor workmanship. In most cases their final inspections are performed prior to turning on the utilities, so inspections of basic electrical, plumbing, and HVAC equipment is impossible.

Your best option, even with a warranty, is to identify problems and address them before you close escrow.  You have the most power at that time.  After all, if the builder doesn’t want to fix those problems now, there are probably 100 other new homes on the market you could be just as happy with. Once you close, and you own the home, you are at the builder’s mercy as to what exactly is covered under their warranty, and what the builder considers normal wear and tear.

At a minimum, I would recommend: A whole house inspection, a termite inspection (yes termites can work very fast), and a short term radon test.

As a side note: I would also recommend that anyone who is considering purchasing a new home should hire a real estate agent to represent you in the transaction. Not hiring an agent won’t save you any money, nor will hiring one cost you any money (if you are curious how this works, ask your agent). But, it is to your advantage to have an agent who can represent you, look out for your best interests, as well as assist you in negotiations with your builder.

Mark Nahrgang is the owner of Kingdom Inspection Network Group – St. Louis and is a professional NACHI certified building inspector in the St. Louis metro area. Mark performs home inspections as well as commercial inspections throughout St. Louis and St. Charles County.

Copper and Aluminum Theft is on the Rise

In the past few months, something has been occurring with increasing frequency; I will arrive to inspect a home and in the process of the inspection discover that copper and/or aluminum thieves have been there. With the slowdown of the economy, the rising value of scrap metals, and the rise in property foreclosures, copper and aluminum theft is on the rise. I’ve encountered missing pipes and wires inside homes as well as missing A/C compressors, and torn up irrigation systems outside; each time this occurred it was on vacant property. Many times Realtors will tell me that they were there just a few days before and everything was intact. One agent actually called me on my cell phone as I was on my way to inspect a piece of property.  He arrived a little early, only to discover that the electrical service had been stolen off the side of the house. It is horrifying how quickly a house that is in good condition and “show-able” can turn into a home that needs major renovations before it can be sold.

A recent St. Louis news report highlighted the problems Collinsville is having with copper theft. One of the homes the reporter visited suffered thousands of dollars in damage. Hard to believe that less than $100 of stolen copper can amount to thousands in repairs, but it can. If pipes were stolen there may be water damage, if wiring was stolen the whole house may need to be rewired by an electrician, and so on. So, this really is a major problem for homeowners. In Collinsville, police have recommended that people who have vacant homes for sale should come by the police department and fill out a form requesting extra patrols. Perhaps homeowners all over the St. Louis area should be doing this. The fact is, this kind of theft is a problem in the whole metro area, and the “For Sale” sign in the front yard is often a hint to thieves that the house might be vacant.

Realtors may want to pass the following information on to any clients who have vacant property. Although nothing is foolproof, some of these tips may make the home a less attractive target for copper thieves:

  • Check your homeowner’s policy to make sure you are covered when your house is vacant.
  • Consider installing an alarm system; these thieves are not always “pros” and would just as soon move on to an easier target.
  • Consider putting more lighting outside your home, especially motion sensitive lighting.
  • Make sure the home is as secure as possible, locking all doors and windows; sturdy bolt locks and secure basement windows are a must.
  • Let your local police department know that the home is vacant and request extra patrols in the area.

Mark Nahrgang is the owner of Kingdom Inspection Network Group – St. Louis and is a professional NACHI certified building inspector in the St. Louis metro area. Mark performs home inspections as well as commercial inspections throughout St. Louis and St. Charles County.

Q. Follow up: Working in an Attic with Vermiculite… Do-it-Yourself Job?

Q. Hi Mark, First let me thank you for replying so promptly, your information is greatly appreciated. [S]econd, I still have a bag or two [of vermiculite] in my attic and I was going to use it and then cover over it with plywood. Actually I was going to plywood my whole attic floor and cover it up, do you think that it would be safe? I have 2 children and I want to be safe, I am a do it yourselfer and I can’t afford professional removal. If you get a chance to reply I would appreciate your thoughts.

Thanks for letting me pick your brain!

Caroline

A. Hey Caroline,

I can’t really tell you to do anything other than what the EPA says, and the EPA says to leave it alone.  If it must be disturbed, it should be done by a professional.  I understand that you are a do-it-yourself kind of person, and that you really can’t afford to have a professional come take care of it.  So my recommendation is to leave it be.  Start saving.  And when you have enough put away to hire a professional, do so. Some things are easy for a home owner to do.  Some things should be left to the folks with the proper equipment and training.  This is one of those things that should be left to the pros.

I know that’s not what you wanted to hear, but that’s the best advice I’ve got.

Hope that helps.

Mark

PS. Don’t fool with the unopened bags either.  Let the pros take care of them too.  The outside of the bags are covered in insulation dust.  That’s what gets into the air, and into your lungs (and your kids lungs).

Mark Nahrgang is the owner of Kingdom Inspection Network Group – St. Louis and is a professional NACHI certified building inspector in the St. Louis metro area. Mark performs home inspections as well as commercial inspections throughout St. Louis and St. Charles County.

Q. What Year Was Asbestos a Problem in Vermiculite Insulation?

Q. Hi Mark,

My house was built in 1958, according to the date on the chimney, I purchased the house in 2001, and did total renovation, unfortunatly the vermiculite is still in my attic and when the house was inspected before buying it the inspector said that it was fine to leave it. I was wondering if you knew what year the vermiculite had asbestos in it?

Thank you, Caroline

A. Hey Caroline,
Most of the vermiculite used as insulation in north America came from a mine in Libby Montana.  This mine’s vermiculite was contaminated with several large veins of asbestos.  At one time, Asbestos was considered an excellent insulator and fire retardant.  Therefore, initially there wasn’t much concern about the asbestos contaminating the vermiculite. It wasn’t until later, when a connection between asbestos and lung diseases was found, that vermiculite insulation became a concern for homeowners. Unfortunately, there isn’t any particular date that you can count on the vermiculite not containing asbestos. While not all vermiculite contains asbestos (not all vermiculite came from, or currently comes from the Libby mine), most vermiculite insulation does. Or, at least the EPA recommends that you assume it does. Your inspector was correct, in saying you can leave it alone. The concern is when the vermiculite is disturbed either by storing things in the attic, or by renovations. I’d recommend clicking on the download links in the right hand side bar to read more about vermiculite insulation and the EPA’s recommendations to homeowners.
I hope that helps.
Mark

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