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. 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.

Q. How Do I Repair a Cut Joist in the Attic?

Q. Need some help. My niece recently had a home inspection done to sell her home. The inspector noticed that one floor joist which lined directly up with the plumbing stack had been cut from day one over forty years ago. She bought the house last year and is now moving. The joist was spliced with a overlapping piece and nailed on to the side of the cut joist and not with much overlap, about 18″ on each side. The inspector said it should be fixed before she can sell the house.

The cut was about 1/4 to 1/3 from the end which sits on the sill plate of the basement.

Does a new joist need to be placed along side the cut one and bolted or should a telepost be added or is there some kind of steel brace that can be added to support the cut joist. Looking for some options.
John

A. Hey John

They make steel plates for that exact purpose. (Simpson Strong Tie).

Practically speaking, since it was only one joist, and since there have not been any problems related to this in over forty years, I think it’s safe to say her house isn’t going to fall down over it.

If her municipality is requiring it to be fixed in order to sell it, a properly dimensioned steel plate is the right way to go.

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. Do I Have Vermiculite Insulation? (Bankrupcy Claims)

Q. Hey Mark!
We live in Las Vegas, NV and have lived in our home for 14 years.  Our home was built in 1978.

The only reason I am becoming more aware of Vermiculite Insulation, is because I saw an ad on TV the other night that stated there is some type of Class Action Lawsuit going on over Vermiculite.  I did not get to jot down the phone number on the advertisement, so if you know anything about this, could you please let me know who is conducting this suit and maybe a phone number to call ?

We have often wondered since we moved into this home, if it was a “sick” home…we all very frequently feel conjested, “clogged up”, …we have never been this way in any of our other homes we owned.

How can we tell if we have Vermiculite in our attic?….

Thank-You!
Alice

Hey Alice,
Thanks for your question.  We recently noticed a sudden spike in vermiculite-related inquiries at http://www.HeyMark.Info and weren’t sure why. Thanks to your question, we became aware of a bankruptcy claim concerning vermiculite insulation. Details on this can be found at http://www.graceclaims.com/index.shtml. Homeowners with vermiculite insulation should take a moment to visit that web site. I will be letting my St. Louis area home inspection clients know about this situation, as well.

To determine if you have vermiculite insulation, I’d suggest that you compare it to some photographs. Vermiculite has fairly distinctive features. Continue reading

What Really Matters…

Hey Readers,

I had an experience during a recent inspection that got me thinking about buyers’ expectations for their home inspection. How can you know what your home inspection will include? Every individual who is hiring a home inspector should ask their inspector what “standards” he or she follows during an inspection. For example, I am a member of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, and I use the standards of practice from InterNACHI (http://www.nachi.org/sop.htm). Prior to the inspection, I discuss with my client where my standards might differ from those, and also note it in the report, if appropriate. This gives my client a clear picture of what he or she can expect to occur during the home inspection. Continue reading

Test Your Home for Radon! (My Personal Experience)

I am always very concerned when a home buyer declines having a radon test during their home inspection. I’m genuinely uneasy about the potential health repercussions of that decision. For me, I think it strikes particularly close to home for two reasons. One reason is that my wife’s grandmother, a non-smoker, passed away from lung cancer. Through that experience, we learned first-hand what an insidious disease lung cancer is. Secondly, about 15 years ago, my wife and I bought a home in St. Peters, MO. We hired a home inspector and even though radon testing wasn’t as common in those days, we asked for a radon test. Our home inspector had never performed one before, but he did comply with our request and purchased canister type testing devices to test the home. The radon gas detected by the test was at an acceptable level, and we purchased the house.

Several years later, when I started my home inspection business, I ran another radon test in my home with a continuous electronic radon monitor. We found out that our radon levels were 3 times the level at which the EPA recommends mitigation. Continue reading