Home Inspection Tips – Getting Reliable Radon Test Results

You can’t see or smell radon, but it could be in the home you’re buying, selling or building, and it poses a threat to your health. Therefore, it’s important to have a home inspector or other qualified professional test the home for radon levels to determine if repairs are needed that will reduce those levels.

How can you be sure to get reliable test results? First, the testing should be done on the lowest level of the home which is regularly occupied, such as a basement, play area, or area that may be used as a workshop. It’s also important to decide how long the test should take and when it will be done. A short term test requires a minimum of 48 hours. Interference to the testing should be kept to a minimum as well.

Special equipment is needed for radon testing. Your home inspector or other qualified professional radon tester will have equipment suitable for your particular situation. The office that deals with radon issues in the state where you live should have the latest information about the best equipment and methods for testing.

There are passive and active devices for radon testing. Passive devices do not need electricity. Such devices include charcoal canisters, alpha-track detectors, charcoal liquid scintillation devices, and electret ion chamber detectors. Each device must be exposed to the air in the home for a specified period of time, depending on the device’s requirements. They’re then sent to a lab for analysis.

Passive devices can be used for short term or long term testing. They’re generally inexpensive. They may also have features to help deter interference that could adversely affect test results.

Active testing devices require electricity to function. They include continuous radon monitors and continuous working level monitors, which measure and record the amount of radon or its decay products in the air over a period of time. Many of these devices provide a report that will reveal any unusual or abnormal swings in the radon level during the test period. A qualified tester can explain this report to you.

Some of these active devices are specifically designed to deter and detect test interference. There are some technically advanced active devices that offer anti-interference features. Although these tests may cost more, they may give you a more reliable result.

How can test interference be prevented? First, use a test device that frequently records radon or decay product levels to detect unusual swings. Use a motion detector to determine whether the test device has been moved or testing conditions have changed. Use a proximity detector to reveal whether people are in the room, since that could affect the results.

It’s also a good idea to Record the barometric pressure to identify weather conditions which may have affected the test. Also, record the temperature to help determine if doors or windows were opened. Your tester may apply tamper-proof seals to windows to ensure closed house conditions.

It would be a good idea to have the home seller or occupant to sign a non-interference agreement.

Your inspector or qualified radon tester should be knowledgeable about these and any other necessary precautions to make sure your radon test results are reliable.

5 Home Inspection Tips For Spring

Ahhhh, the birds are chirping….flowers are starting to bloom…you actually think of putting your parka away (hey, I’m from WI what do you expect?)…but what’s that outside? A missing shingle? A crack in the foundation? Now what are you to do? Here’s some great tips from Dana Wilson of Safeguard Home Inspection, to get your home ready for the warm weather & to help you assess any damage done by Old Man Winter..

1) The effects of ice damming, if you had water penetration and what to look for inside and outside now that the snow has melted. Ice damming is actually the snow compacted against your roof that is melting due to the warmth coming from the house & the cold of the outside air/snow. This melting snow can get underneath the shingles (especially if damaged/missing), the roof paper or into your gutters and then back up. You MUST make sure gutters are sloped properly, clear & clog-free, no missing/broken shingles. If you have ice damming, there will be water marks on ceiling or walls of home, a “waterfall” of ice overflowing from a gutter that is clogged or damp walls even down to the basement!

Dana also stated that you need to be VERY CAREFUL when breaking off the icicles as the weight can pull down a gutter, smash a window (one of Dana’s clients!) or injure yourself!!

2) Spring is a good time to look for water penetration from basement to roof. Water will take the path of lesat resistance and work its way down from the roof to the basement. Dana used the example of an ant farm as an illustration…Check your foundation for water tracks or damp walls. If you have this, you want to make sure your yard is sloped away from the house foundation: 1-3″ sloped AWAY from the home at least 3′. You can use dirt or bark mulch…NO STONE unless you use it OVER dirt that is properly sloped. Proper home ventilation is key here as well-your home needs to breathe! (This will be a topic for an upcoming show). If you have concrete around the foundation of your home, no landscaping, Dana suggested sealing this with caulk to prevent water seepage.

3) Time to start thinking about air conditioning. Make sure the unit is LEVEL-unit should also be on a sturdy platform, such as a concrete/stone platform and not on dirt as this can cause unit to sink. Remove any/all debris that has accumulated around it. Turn unit on & let run for 30 minutes. When running, the unit should sound like any other household electrical appliance-no scraping or “funny” noises, if so, call an expert to check it out. After running for 30 minutes, take a thermometer and check air temp coming out of vent, it should be a nice cool temp (approx 55-60 degrees). Again, if any problems, call for a tune-up. You also need to check the foam insulation around the copper tubing that runs to the outside unit-make sure it’s still intact.

4) Insects that come out in the spring. Bees, carpenter ants, termites & other assorted pests start to “swarm” in spring to find new homes to nest in. They are attracted to damp environments, hence the importance of catching ANY water damage ASAP! If you have an insect problem, deal with immediately & then check for cause (ice damming, leaky roof…)

5) Punch list of things you wish you did before last winter hit so you budget throughout this year and be better prepared for next winter. Check your roof, any tree/branch overhangs, foundation “issues”, grading…all the good stuff to be better prepared for the coming year. Dana also suggested 2 things: ALWAYS get 3 estimates to “keep ’em honest” and for any project (especially the big, expensive ones) consider hiring an inspector to oversee the work to make sure corners aren’t being cut & that work is being done properly. This added cost will help to save you thousands of dollars & time & energy spent dealing with a major problem (i.e. not cleaning out gutters can cause you to have to pull out drywall, insulation & maybe repair your roof for not hiring someone to get up on your roof to clean a gutter and/or fix some shingles…). There are even companies that just do spring & fall maintenance work & take care of this for you. It can well be worth the couple hundred dollars to save your thousands down the road!

No get out there & clean those gutters!

Home Inspection Tips – Moisture Problems and Crawl Spaces

Any home inspector can tell you that most crawlspaces have moisture problems. There are two different types of crawlspace setups–vented and non-vented.

Vented crawlspaces have vents that allow for cross ventilation and the home’s sub floor is insulated along with the pipes in the crawlspace to prevent freezing. There’s a vapor barrier on the ground and vents are closed in the winter time. A small heater or heat tape may also be used to help keep the pipes from freezing in addition to insulation on the pipes.

With non-vented crawlspaces, foundation walls are insulated, but the sub-floor isn’t. The vents are blocked off with insulation all year long, and a vapor barrier is in place on the ground. Air is conditioned with a dehumidifier. A small heater and pipe insulation may still be used.

Problems arise when there are inadequate or no rain gutters. Did you know the average roof lets go of 1,000 gallons of water during 1 inch of rain? You can keep water from falling along the foundation and finding your crawlspace by using solid rain gutter covers to cover the gutter opening. This allows water to come in by curling under the cap. Unfortunately, mesh and screen covers get clogged up or collapse.

Do downspouts end along your foundation? They need to let water run 6 feet or more away from your home.

Does your terrain slope toward your foundation? Water must be directed away from the home because water can cause serious foundation damage.

Do you remember to open the vents when weather warms up? Your house needs to breathe. Low decks and shrubs can block vents and make them useless. Your home’s crawlspace needs a minimum of 1 square foot of ventilation for every 150 square feet of crawlspace floor area. Vents should be within 3 feet of the corners allowing for cross ventilation.

Could your insulation be installed upside down? You may have insulation in the flooring. The paper side of the fiberglass insulation should face the heated living space and be placed against the sub flooring. Otherwise it will trap moisture between the sub floor and the paper and hide moisture damage. A properly set up non-vented crawlspace won’t need insulation.

Is your moisture (vapor) barrier damaged or loose? It should be a 6 mil thick poly vapor barrier on your crawlspace ground and should be overlapped and sealed around columns and walls. This keeps ground moisture vapors from rising up into your framing.

If you have a sump pump installed, make sure it is at the lowest point in the crawlspace. All areas should easily drain to it. Inspect your pump regularly. Does it work automatically? It should be in a plastic cylinder in the ground and eject water outside, away from the building and not into the septic or sewer system.

If your crawlspace is non-vented, you must have a dehumidifier, and the collected water should be piped to a sump pump or condensate pump. If you don’t do this, you’ll have to dump water daily, and who wants to do that? Incidentally, buy a good quality dehumidifier with an adjustable, automatic setting so it does not run all the time.

Is your crawlspace kept neat, clean and accessible? Inspect it often for signs of moisture or mildew. Check with the local code official for any repairs you might need. Don’t underestimate the importance of your crawlspace and what you can do to prevent that all too common moisture damage.