Home Inspection Tips – Lowering Radon Levels

It’s possible a home inspection will reveal the existence of radon gas seeping up through the ground into the living area of the home you want to buy. Radon is known for causing lung cancer, so you don’t want it around. What can you do to decrease the seriousness of the problem? In other words, what do you do to mitigate the radon threat?

Radon resistant techniques can be simple and passive and will lower radon levels when done properly. They can lower levels of moisture and other soil gasses, too. Radon resistant techniques have the additional benefit of making your home more energy efficient and can help you save on energy costs. Save money when a home is first built by not having to deal with the problem later if these techniques are put into place with common building materials.

Even in a new home, radon testing should be done to be sure the level is below 4 pCi/L. If radon levels are high, a passive system can be turned into what’s called an active system by adding a vent fan to reduce radon levels.

You’ll need to find someone who is considered to be a qualified radon mitigator to install radon resistant techniques, whether your home is new or not. Costs will vary, but should be similar to other home repairs you may need to have done.

What are these radon resistant techniques? It’s important to note that this depends on your home’s foundation. Also, if you’re having a house built, ask your builder if they’re using EPA’s recommended approach.

The first radon resistant technique of note is a gas-permeable layer, which is used only in homes with casement and slab-on-grade foundations. It is not used in homes with crawlspace foundations. It usually consists of a four inch layer of clean gravel placed under the slab or flooring system. It’s meant to allow the gas to move freely under the house. Plastic sheeting is placed on top of the gas permeable layer and under the slab to help prevent the soil gas from getting into the home

When a home has crawl spaces, plastic sheeting is placed over the crawlspace floor. This serves as a moisture barrier as well.

Sealing and caulking is another technique. Any below-grade openings in the concrete foundation floor are sealed to reduce the amount of soil gases getting into the home.

When there’s a gas-permeable layer under the home, a vent pipe is put into the gravel and runs through the house and to the roof to vent gases away from the living area. The pipe used is a 3- or 4-inch gas-tight or PVC pipe, or other gas-tight pipe.

If it’s necessary to use a vent fan to reduce high radon levels, an electrical junction box is included in the attic to make the wiring and installation of a vent fan easier. A separate junction box is put in the living space to power the vent fan alarm. That’s because an alarm is installed along the vent fan to indicate when that fan isn’t operating properly.

Your home inspector or other qualified radon mitigation professional should know the best place to put radon test equipment. It should go into the lowest level of the home that’s occupied regularly, such as any place used as a bedroom, play or exercise area, den or workshop. The EPA says testing should not be done in a closet, stairway, hallway, crawl space or in an enclosed area where there’s either high humidity or breezy air circulation. Avoid places like the kitchen, laundry room,bathroom or furnace room.

There’s no way to accurately know the level of radon in the home you’re building, buying or selling unless radon testing is done. Be sure your home inspector or other qualified professional can do the testing for you. You don’t have to put your family’s health at risk from radon.

Some Home Inspection Tips for Buyers

Homebuyers want home inspection tips as they consider making a large financial investment. Tips about home inspection are especially valuable for those who have not purchased a house before. This article is intended to provide such readers the most important pointers to follow so that the real estate buying process is not so overwhelming.

The home inspection tips contained herein address three primary concerns, namely, how to select a home inspector, how to ensure you get the inspection you want and need, and how to get the most benefit out of the inspection report. These pointers apply whether or not you are working with a real estate agent. In fact, if you are working with an agent, these tips will help you get more involved so that the agent doesn’t make all or even some decisions unilaterally.

Our first tip is to consider why you should have the house you plan to buy inspected. There are various motives or reasons for doing so, the most common of which is to avoid buying a money pit. Sometimes the lender requires an inspection, and in general it’s a good idea to discover what may need to be remedied prior to closing. Also, though at one time a home warranty policy was commonly incorporated into the purchase agreement (perhaps seller and buyer sharing the cost), today the home inspection is in essence the only step taken to protect one’s investment.

But this makes it all the more important to get a report that covers all the bases and serves as a kind of owner’s manual to help you get acquainted to your new residence. Unfortunately, too often the inspection is somewhat rushed or even cursory. Minor problems might get glossed over and occasionally a serious major defect is missed. In such a case, if damages occur down the road, the buyer has some recourse by filing a claim, assuming the inspector is bonded. But the liability may be limited to the price of the inspection.

So our second tip is to find a home inspector who is thorough and who writes a complete report that puts everything he finds in proper perspective. If something is wrong, it is important to know what the implications are, just how serious the problem is, and how necessary it is to fix it.

To accomplish this, your inspector should not be too beholden to the real estate agent. If his primary goal is to please the agent (so he can continue to get referrals), he may take shortcuts. (Agents in general prefer quick inspections and summarized findings of major issues only.)

Don’t ignore or discount an inspector referral from your agent, but ask for more than one name and research them. (Most inspectors have a website with sample reports, and you may find there or elsewhere reviews or client testimonials appraising their work.) Be sure you are going to get the kind of home inspection you want before choosing the inspector.

Our third tip builds on the first two and is similar to them. The first tip was the why, whereas the second advises care in determining who inspects the house and how it is inspected. This next tip advises taking care to establish what is inspected.

A number of things can cause an inspector to exclude items from the inspection. Examples are Standards of Practice, his contract, the utilities not being on, inaccessibility due to blocking objects or locked doors, and dangerous situations. Some of these things are under the inspector’s control, some are not, but he is not liable for unintended exclusions and will charge the same fee despite them.

Thus, we recommend reviewing the contract carefully, identifying normally excluded items you want included and possibly normally included items you don’t care about. Also, be sure that lender requirements and constraints will be accommodated. Discuss changes to the list of exclusions and inclusions with the inspector, potentially negotiating a reduced inspection fee.

Then, we advise leaving as little to chance as possible. Ask the inspector what his expectations are to ensure that all inclusions are actually inspected. Relay this information to your real estate agent, who is responsible for seeing that the expectations are met by making arrangements with the owner via the owner’s listing agent. Now, any unintended exclusions that arise would suggest a deliberately uncooperative seller.

Our fourth tip is to get maximum leverage out of the inspection report. Study all findings in the body, not just the major items listed in the summary. If you followed our second tip faithfully, there should be nothing unclear, vague, or out of context. Even so, don’t hesitate to ask the inspector for explanations or elaborations, who should be more than willing to comply.

Some findings may be purely informational and not defects. Some defects may be more or less trivial and not worth pursuing. Serious problems can be addressed in three different ways: as deal breakers, causing you to withdraw your offer; as things you want the seller to remedy prior to closing at his expense; or as conditions you will accept possibly with some form of compensation such as reduced sales price.

We advise against sharing the inspection report with the seller or listing agent. You have paid for it and it belongs to you. The lender may require a copy, but you may request him to keep it confidential. Simply work up a brief contract addendum with your agent covering items falling into the last two categories mentioned in the previous paragraph.

By following these home inspection tips, you stand the best chance of minimizing if not eliminating home-buying surprises.

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!