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. 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. An Abandoned Oil Tank

Q. Hey Mark,
I was showing a home to a client, and a concern was raised about the abandoned oil tank in the basement. One of the client’s relatives said is was a potential explosion hazard, and it would cost thousands of dollars to have it removed. What do you think?
Cyndi

A. Hey Cyndi,
Frankly, I haven’t run into many oil tanks. So, I had to do a little research and enlist the help of a few “InterNACHI Certified Inspector” friends to help me out.

Here’s what I’ve learned…
First of all, the tank is not an explosion risk because heating oil will not explode unless it is either atomized or under pressure, so that isn’t much of a concern. Of course if there is oil in the tank, and it leaks, then the spill would be an environmental concern, and just an all around mess to clean up.

While the tank isn’t really a safety concern, the consensus is that it should be probably be removed all the same. Continue reading

Q. Selling my house, how do I prepare for an inspection?

Q. Hey Mark,

I’m selling my house and have to have a home inspection this week. Should I do anything in particular to prepare?

Thanks for your help,

Lorene

A. Lorene,

Hey… Can I please come inspect your home? You sound like the perfect home owner. To answer your question in a word, absolutely, and thank you so much for asking.

Since the inspection is this week, you don’t have time to do much, but the first thing I would say to do is, relax. While the inspector is going to be looking for defects, whatever he finds will help you in the long run. Continue reading