Thursday, September 25, 2008

More on Radon

What’s involved in testing for a Real Estate transaction?

During most real estate transactions, time is an important factor. Most decisions are made during the time restrictions of the parties involved. It is important, due to these constraints, that parties have the best data available when making decisions.

Radon tests done by a qualified tester, using a Femto-TECH CRM-510 Continuous Radon Monitor with high sensitivity provides the greatest amount of information and data for decision making. The EPA recommends when doing a Radon test involving a real estate transaction, that not only the Radon be measured, but also that humidity, temperature, barometric pressure and tamper resistance be logged. This helps in assuring proper testing conditions are met. The femto-TECH, CRM-510 meets or exceeds these guide-lines and is an EPA listed and approved instrument of the highest quality. Best of all, the results of the test can be printed directly after the conclusion of the test. There is no waiting for samples to be sent off to a lab for analysis.

When having a radon test done that involves a real estate transaction, it is essential that all EPA guidelines and standard protocols are followed.

• Closed house conditions must be maintained for 12 hours before the start of the test and for the test duration. Close all windows and doors and keep them closed during the test period. Doors can only be opened and closed to enter and leave the premises, but windows will need to be kept closed. Overhead garage doors need to be closed except for entry and exit of a vehicle.
• Minimize operation of bathroom or kitchen exhaust fans or non-essential exhaust appliances.
• Do not operate fireplaces, ceiling fans, whole house attic fans, electrostatic precipitators, window air conditioners, or any other external-Central heating and cooling systems can be operated as normal.
• The radon testing device cannot be tampered with or moved during the test.
• The testing device placement shall be in the lowest area deemed livable in the structure. Device placement shall be a minimum of 20 inches above the floor and no higher that 8 feet, and away from outside door and window openings.
• Tests should not be conducted during extreme weather conditions.

The above steps are designed to give uniformity to the test data when making decisions with reference to the EPA radon action level of 4.0 pCi/l.

What Can Be Done About The Radon?

As stated earlier, Radon is everywhere including your home; you cannot get rid of it completely. But through Radon Mediation you can bring the level of Radon down below a level that would be a health risk. The first step is to have the home tested for Radon by calling your local Home Inspector to schedule a test at the same time you are scheduling a home inspection.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


As a home inspector I always receive questions about Radon. The big question is "Why Should My Home Be Tested for Radon?"

As the public becomes more aware of Radon, there has become an increased demand for testing of homes before a purchase. Most relocation companies now require Radon testing as part of the transaction. The EPA and a number of states have incresed their awareness programs. The national average indoor radon level is about 1.3 pCi/L while outdoor radon levels average 0.4 pCi/L. The higher a home’s radon level, the greater the health risks. The EPA has a Radon Zone map that rates the concentration of radon into 3 zones. Zone 1 of the EPA’s radon potential map (highest level)? Zone 1 is described as an area that has a predicted average indoor radon level of greater than 4 pCi/L. The level of 4 pCi/L is called the action level, where the EPA recommends that action be taken to reduce the indoor concentration of Radon. Zone 2 is counties have a predicted average indoor radon screening level between 2 and 4 pCi/L. Zone 3 is counties have a predicted average indoor radon screening level less than 2 pCi/L.

What is Radon?

Radon is a radioactive gas that is colorless, odorless and tasteless. It is formed by the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. Radon also breaks down to form additional radioactive particles called “progeny”.

When Radon escapes from the ground into the outdoor air it is diluted to low concentrations and is not a concern. However, radon that enters an enclosed space, such as a home, can accumulate to high levels. The only way to determine the concentration of Radon in a home is testing by a professional, like The HomeTeam Inspection Service.

What is the Risk?

The Surgeon General warns that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Radon gas and radon progeny in the air can be breathed into the lungs where they breakdown further and emit “alpha particles”. Alpha particles release small bursts of energy, which are absorbed by nearby lung tissue. This results in lung cell death or damage.

When lung cells are damaged, they have the potential to result in cancer when they reproduce. Cancers caused by radioactivity are started by chance and not everyone exposed to Radon will develop lung cancer. The time between exposure and the onset of the disease is usually many years.

The risk of developing lung cancer from Radon depends on the concentration of radon in the air you breathe and the length of time you are exposed.
Taking the necessary actions against the radioactive gas that cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted requires getting homes tested for elevated levels. Radon could not only be harbored in the home, but exposure can be a potentially dangerous health hazard. As Realtors, you can also direct your clients to the EPA’s “Home Buyers and Sellers Guide to Radon” and “A Citizens Guide to Radon”

Stay tuned for more on radon tomorrow.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Top Ten

As a home inspector I am often asked what are the Most Common Home Defects that I find when inspecting a home. The list may vary, but this list created by The HomeTeam Inspection Service is very accurate:

Poor Drainage- Improper drainage can lead to water intrusion in the basement homes and even severely compromised foundations.

Failing or Aging Heating and Cooling Systems- Older heating and cooling systems require maintenance and may be energy inefficient. There is also the risk that they can emit dangerous carbon monoxide fumes that are harmful to the family.

Environmental Hazards- Older homes may contain lead-based paint, high levels of carbon monoxide, radon, toxic molds, and even asbestos.

Inadequate Ventilation- This occurs when moisture accumulates in homes which damages interior walls and structural elements.

Improper Maintenance- Taking poor care of your household appliances can create consequences. Simple actions like cleaning out the lint trap in the clothes dryer can help prevent a fire.

Plumbing Problems- The pipes under your sink can be made of incompatible materials that lead to dripping faucets, leaking fixtures, and slow drains.

Roof Problems- The roof of your home may contain old or damaged shingles and improper flashing due to rain. The overall structure of the roof may be affected because of improperly installed collar ties and ridge beam supports.

No Permit- Many homes do not have permits for finished basements, deck additions, and hot tub and pool additions. This can lead to unnecessary fines when putting the house up for sale.

Electrical Safety Issues- A home with an out-of-date or insufficient electrical system can lead to fires and electric shock. Examples of other electrical safety hazards are ungrounded outlets, lack of Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI), aluminum wiring, and faulty wiring conditions in electrical panels or elsewhere in a building. These are potentially hazardous defects and not to be taken lightly.

Rotted Wood- Wood placed around areas that are frequently wet can begin to rot. Wood around bathtubs, showers, and toilets are especially defective. The exterior of the home, including the outside trim of the house, decks, and roof eaves, should also be checked regularly for signs of rotting.

Knowing the top 10 most common house defects can help you prepare to put your home on the market. Check these areas of the home often to prevent damage and provide repairs when needed. Your local home inspector can perform a pre- listing inspection to provide you with a detailed list of any deficiencies that require attention.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Stained for Life

As a home inspector when we see stains on a ceiling it usually is a sign of past or present moisture intrusion, and in most cases it is hard for a home inspector to know if the stain existed before repairs. When a home inspectors sees a stain on the ceiling he will have to report it, and this can possibly delay closing until the problem is worked out. The problem with moisture stains is even after you re-paint they will bleed trough, unless you seal the area before you paint. When a client is selling their house, they should have a pre-listing inspection, so they will know what issues to address that could possibly be a red flag for the buyer’s inspector. The cost for the pre-listing inspection is well worth it because of all the problems it can eliminate.
Here is a good example of water stain problems:

The Client Wrote:

We have lived in our present house since it was built and have always taken good care of it. If there was ever a problem, we took care of it right away. We wanted to keep up the regular maintenance, so we can keep the value of our house up as high as possible.

About three years ago during the rainy season, we noticed water beading up on the ceiling in our dining room. We called some roofers the next day. After three estimates and lots of advice, we decided to replace the failed flashing that caused the leak, and to completely replace the now 20-year-old roof. We hoped the leak problem was solved for good. After three years and numerous spells of rain, we never noticed another leak.

Now we have our house up for sale. The stain on the ceiling from the leak long ago still shines through the mutable coats of paint we used to try to cover it up.

My Reply:

As I always say, if you have major work done that comes with a warranty, make sure that you can transfer it to another owner. A three-year-old roof is a good selling point, especially in your part of the country.

As for your stain, this is a commonly asked question. Your local paint store can help you with the products just for this problem. These products paint on like a primer, but unlike an ordinary paint, it will kill the stain forever. After this stain-killer primer dries, you can paint over it with your ceiling paint and the stain will not come back to haunt you.

Aluminum Wiring?

It has been my experience as a home inspector for a client to call thinking they have aluminum wiring in their house and after further evaluation it is either proper aluminum wiring or copper wires that appear to be aluminum. A professional home inspector can evaluate the difference if the wire is visible at the time of the inspection.
Here is an example of a common question I have received:

The Client Wrote:
I recently purchased a mid-1940's home that has lots of charm and was well kept. It remains in excellent condition. After reading the Home Inspector’s report, I had some concern about the part that stated the presence of aluminum wiring. In addition, I was also informed that the wiring although appearing to be in good serviceable condition was not up to today’s standards, because it has “no grounds”. The Home Inspector also recommended that a licensed electrician evaluate the electric in the house. I know the house is old, but how much of a danger is this? Do I need an electrician? Is aluminum wiring a problem?
My Reply:

Based on what you told me, I don’t think you have aluminum wiring. Aluminum wiring did not come on the market until the early sixties, and when it did it was all three-wire (the third wire was a ground). Since you do not have a grounded system, I think what you have is two-wire rag romex. This wire is copper coated in nickel. When the inspector looked in the panel he saw the shiny ends of the wire and mistook them for aluminum. The best way of telling the difference is to look for the ground wire, or look at the romex cover. If the cover looks like cloth than it is the old romex. Aluminum wiring is only found with plastic covering.

All aluminum wiring is not bad, only the single strand aluminum found in the lighting and outlet circuits. This single-strand aluminum would get hot and shrink, then get hotter and would cause a fire. However, almost all modern houses use large stranded aluminum wires for service entrance cables and major appliance circuits. The large wires have many strands of wire and have a zero failure history.

Now about the two-wire system you have: although it’s adequate it does not offer the protection that the three-wire/grounded system offers. You do not have a big problem, but to be on the safe side have an electrician look at your system. He can install ground fault receptacles in the most used receptacles, such as the outside receptacles, and receptacles near sinks, this will make that two wire system safe. This is not very expensive and not very time consuming.
It is better to be safe than sorry.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Household Hazards

Do your part and know what do you do with leftover paint and their containers?

Paint constitutes about 60 percent of household hazardous waste collected by local and state governments. Latex paint is not considered hazardous by federal definition. So usable latex paint can be dried and discarded in the normal trash collection.

The National Paint and Coatings Association offer these suggestions for disposing of paint:

Buy only the paint you need — First, always buy only what you need. That way, you reduce the chance of having any paint leftover.

Store paint so it lasts for years — Just cover the opening with plastic wrap, and make sure the lid fits securely so the paint doesn’t leak. Then, store the paint can upside down. The paint will create a tight seal around the lid, keeping the paint fresh for years.

Use up all your paint — Leftover paint can be used on touch-up jobs and smaller projects. You also can blend and mix smaller quantities of similar colors of latex paint to use as a primer on larger jobs, or jobs where the final finish is not critical. (Always make sure you read and follow all label instructions when applying paint.)

Recycle the empty paint can — Once you’ve used up your paint, recycle the empty steel paint cans. Each paint can you recycle is one less can that ends up in a landfill! In some areas, plastic paint pails and containers also may be recyclable, so be sure to check the requirements for your community.

Donate or exchange your paint — If you just can’t use your leftover paint, donate it to community groups, theater groups, schools, churches and others who need or want it. You may even be able to take a tax deduction! Another good way to get rid of your unwanted leftover paint is to participate in — or organize — a neighbor-to-neighbor or community-wide paint exchange/paint swap. Some communities even hold these along with their household waste collection events.

Dispose of paint properly — If you need to dispose of leftover paint, make sure you do it properly. Let your leftover latex paint air-dry away from children and pets. Pour the latex paint into a paper box or bag and add absorbent material like shredded newspaper or kitty litter to speed drying. Recycle the empty can, and then throw the dried paint away with your normal trash. (Note: If you live in California, Washington or Minnesota, your state may require special disposal considerations for latex-based paints, so be sure to check.)

Remember, air-drying liquid solvent-based paint is generally not recommended, but if the paint has already solidified in a closed can, you can dispose of it in the regular trash. Liquid solvent-based paint should not be discarded with normal trash. You should save it for a household hazardous waste collection program in your community. Many municipalities provide household hazardous waste service, which is applicable for solvent-based paint.

Recycled steel paint cans, aerosol cans, automobiles, steel construction materials, and many other steel products end up in new steel products. Most all of today’s steel products contain recycled steel, and can be recycled again. Steel’s magnetic attraction allows steel products to be easily separated from other recyclables.

Recycling is good for the Earth and good for future generations. Many communities have curbside recycling services. Also there are recycling centers all across the country where items can be brought. A lot of recycling centers will pay you for dropping off recyclable goods.

The Steel Recycling Institute (SRI) plays a big part in the education of the economic and environmental benefits of recycling steel. For additional information about steel recycling, go to the SRI’s website at

Friday, September 12, 2008

How did You Get in?

Home inspectors love to go into crawl spaces and sometimes they find new friends there, like Vic’s uncle did in an earlier blog. But what they don’t want to find is moisture or water intrusion. Collecting moisture in the crawlspace can cause wood rot of the floor joist, sill plates, main carry beams, not to mention mold and mildew. Moisture can build up in a crawlspace as a result of poor ventilation, a lack of a moisture barrier, ground water, or plumbing leaks. The foundation wall is water proofed on the exterior to prevent water from coming in to the crawl space. But the problem home inspectors have is that the water-proofing is below grade and cannot be seen. When a home inspector finds a damp or wet crawlspace they try to determine the source of the water intrusion, this is not always easy. But “Sculley and Mulder” had no trouble finding at least one source of water intrusion in this foundation. This picture is another good reason to hire a home inspector to do an in-progress inspection when you are building your new home. With an in-progress inspection the exterior of the foundation would have been inspected before the foundation was back-filled for proper water proofing and workmanship, and would have prevented problems like you see in this picture.

Thanks again to” Sculley and Mulder”

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What We See

The two types of engineered floor joist we see most in newer homes are; TGIs (ply-beam) and open web trusses. TGI has become a generic name for all wooden I beam joist, but the specifications vary from manufacture to manufacture. The open web truss joist are a wooden version of the steel bar joist used in commercial buildings. The open web truss system makes it easier to run pipe, ducts, electric and whatever trough it, because of its open design. However the open web truss design makes it difficult to adjust the length in the field.
The TGI joist is a solid I-beam design and this makes it harder to run pipe, ducts, electric, and whatever trough them. But the solid I-beam design makes it easy to adjust the length in the field. But the key thing to look for when inspecting any engineered joist is any modifications that have been made to them.

These open web truss pictures are courtesy of "Sculley and Mulder".

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Darwin's Home Inspections

As a home inspector instructor, I am always talking about the evolution of building materials and construction methods. Most home inspectors inspect homes that range from seven to ten decades of this “evolution of building materials and construction methods”, and some even more. This evolution has not stopped and probably will not. Each decade of new homes have something new, either in framing members, trusses, cladding, plumbing, electrical, windows, to name a few. I still remember the first time I saw a TGI joist; I was building a fire house that was designed so the second floor floor- joist would span the full width of the garage floor without using support post. This building was designed to use a TGI joist to make this long span.
For a long time conventional lumber was used in all parts of framing, now there are all different kinds of engineered trusses and joists. There are TGI joist, open-web joist, and even a hybrid joist that consists of wood and steel. Prefab products are coming out that can be easily adjusted in the field, this is a big help when dealing with engineered building material.
As home inspectors we need to keep up with our knowledge of past and present building materials and construction methods and everything in between. We must evolve with the construction industry.
Tune in tomorrow for more on open-web joist.
Please log a comment if there are any topics you would like to have discussed.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Don't Leave Me Hanging

Back in the day houses were built with conventional lumber, and conventional framing construction. Now engineered trusses for roofs, TGI joist for floors, truss joist, and many other engineered framing components are normal for house construction. The main thing about engineered components is that they have been designed not to be modified in the field. Some modifications are allowed by some manufactures, but the modifications can only be made to their specifications. As a home inspector it is common to find engineered components cut and modified for heat and air ducts, plumbing pipes, and a number of other reasons. It is hard for a home inspector to determine if modifications are done to manufactures standards. As a home inspector we have to report any modifications we find during our inspection as no-standard construction. There are open web trusses designed for joist that can be shortened in the field, but again there is a correct way and a wrong way to make this modification.

This is a picture of truss joist that have been modified. I will share more information on engineered components tomorrow.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Where is Slinky?

As home inspectors we run across a lot of strange stuff. Remember my friend and fellow home inspector Vic, the one that was in one of my past post (Once Bitten Twice Shy). Here is what he sent me about something else he does not want to bite him. He found the cage just like you see in the picture. He asked the seller if something was in this cage and the seller said, Gosh that darn snake was just here. Don't worry he always eventually winds up somewhere. No I don't know what type of snake he is. All I know is that the kid is always trapping squirrels and mice for him.

Don't worry Vic will find him. I will keep you posted.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sculley & Mulder's Pictures of the Invasion

As a home inspector water intrusion is always a concern, as we all know water damage is the number one cause of structural damage to homes. Keeping water from entering the house is the key to preventing water damage. Knowing what to look for is the key to
being a professional home inspector. Sometimes it is easy to find water intrusion, sometimes it takes the eye of a professional.

My good friends "Sculley & Mulder" sent me some pictures of water issues to share. The first two are of a cabin that is less than a year old, note the Moisture penetration near the porch. The last picture is, well I think you can see what is going on here.