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. Okay to Add More Insulation On Top of Vermiculite?

Q. Hey Mark,
I have read the postings about vermiculite and that you should not disturb it. We only have 6 inches of insulation in our attic and need more [for] our cold winter weather. How do we add more insulation to the attic without disturbing the vermiculite and causing a health hazard? Will a professional insulation company add insulation over it?
Thanks,
Victoria

Hey Victoria,
It’s hard to tell you what would be best in your situation without actually looking at the home, but I can give you some options to consider.

One option that would be a permanent solution, is to have have the vermiculite professionally removed and replaced. That’s going to be a fairly expensive proposition and one that isn’t always necessary. If the insulation is staying where it is supposed to be, isn’t sifting into the living area around lights and fixtures, and has no traffic on or around it, a lower cost solution would be to cover it up.

I would recommend that you interview the insulation companies in your area, and make sure that their installers are familiar with vermiculite and the possibility that it contains asbestos. If their installers are well trained, and properly equipped, they may be able to either lay rolled insulation, or blow additional fiber or cellulose insulation over the top of what you already have. That will of course disturb what you have to a certain degree, but a properly trained and equipped installer will minimize the disturbance as much as is reasonably possible. Remember though, with the second option, you must always be aware of the vermiculite’s presence. Anyone going into the attic should be notified of it’s existence. And any remodeling that will disturb it will need to be done professionally, as well. If you have insulation added, make sure you document what was done and keep the receipts. When you go to sell the home, put some wording in your disclosure of this nature… “In 2008 we added 8 inches of blown cellulose insulation on top of the original 6 inches of vermiculite.” This does two things… It informs the buyer that vermiculite is present, and also lets them know that you improved the home by adding insulation and by covering the vermiculite. Reduce buyer suspicions by disclosing up front and increase buyer peace of mind by advertising the improvement.

Bottom line, I would recommend that you get several estimates from some asbestos remediation companies for removal, as well as insulation companies for covering it up. This will allow you to make the best decision based on your specific circumstances.
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. Isn’t Today’s Vermiculite Okay to Use for Insulation?

Hey Mark,
I am told that the vermiculite currently mined has no asbestos.
Here is the website: http://www.vermiculite.com/

The reason I am interested in using vermiculite as an attic insulation is that it is one of the few materials that is non toxic and non flammable. Fiberglass is flammable and in addition, I hate working with the stuff.

Does anyone know of any other materials other than vermucilite that is both non toxic and non flammable? My problem is that I own a Victorian and there are no firebreaks in the walls and no sheet rock.
David

Hey David,
It is also my understanding that the vermiculite that is currently being mined is tested for asbestos.  And because of that, today’s sources are free from asbestos.  However, in spite of the fact that vermiculite does have many practical uses, and would potentially make a great home insulation, it is not being used that way today.  And, I think you are asking for trouble if you do.

If you eventually try to sell the home, your buyers will have a home inspection performed.  That inspector will more than likely identify your insulation as vermiculite.  Since it is not currently being used as an insulation material, there will be cause to question if it is contaminated with asbestos or not.  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

How to Improve Radon Test Results

Hey Readers,

Occasionally, I’ll take a look at the types of internet searches that bring folks to this page. I’ve recently noticed some people who found http://www.HeyMark.info via a search similar to the title of today’s post. ‘How do I improve a radon test?’

My first thought was one of shock. On the surface it appears someone may be looking for ways to make their radon levels test better than they actually are. Continue reading