What You Need to Know About Radon Mitigation

By Kenn Garder, National Accounts Manager and Technical Support, NPI/GPI

IMG_0620Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. Because air pressure inside a house is usually lower than pressure in the soil around the foundation, a house acts as a vacuum, drawing radon in through foundation cracks and other openings. Once inside the house, radon gas is diluted somewhat by fresh air that is naturally pulled in around windows and doors. The radon gas is then distributed throughout the house by the heating and cooling system. When a house is tested for radon and elevated radon levels — 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/l) or higher — are discovered, the EPA recommends a radon mitigation system be installed.

Reliable techniques are available to reduce radon in houses. Research conducted by public and private agencies has formed a strong knowledge base of proven mitigation systems for homes, schools and commercial buildings.

Design of a radon mitigation system is determined by the construction of the house, not the concentration of radon in the house. A state or nationally qualified contractor should be hired to design and install the system in accordance with the local, state or national standards used in the area where the house is located.

Radon mitigation or reduction requires more than just sealing cracks in the foundation. Active soil depressurization has proven to be cost-effective and reliable for reducing radon gas in a building. A depressurization system draws air and radon gas from beneath the foundation and exhausts it outside the building. The termination point of the exhaust should be far enough away from windows and door openings so it will not re-enter. A common design for the system is a plastic pipe connected to the soil through a hole in a slab floor, through a sump lid connection, or beneath a plastic sheet in a crawl space. Attached to the pipe is a quiet, continuously operating fan that discharges the radon outdoors.

Additional parts of a house or building may need special attention when designing the radon mitigation system:

  • If the return-air ductwork for a forced-air HVAC system is located beneath a concrete slab floor, then the vacuum created by the blower fan can pull radon into the system if the duct is not sealed.
  • Soil air drawn from beneath a floor or in a crawl space is commonly high in moisture. If the system is not designed and installed properly, this moisture will condense and pool inside the ventilation pipe.
  • Local building codes may require the piping for a radon mitigation system be installed during construction of the house to allow for future mitigation needs.

The cost to install a radon mitigation system can range from $800 to $1,500, with a national average of $1,200. For more information about radon and mitigation systems, visit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website in the United States, or visit the Health Canada website in Canada.

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How Homes Are Getting Smarter

By Randy Yates, Technical Supervisor and Technical Training Administrator, NPI/GPI

Modern House at Night_shutterstock_146068007The term “smart home” and home automation technology have been around for quite some time. Early-generation systems required hardwiring to make the systems function within homes. Back in those days, it seemed as though only the super-rich could afford to have a smart home. Costs of installing those systems ran into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to install. I’m not saying that a smart system installation can’t cost that much these days, depending on the size and whether it’s a fully computerized monitoring system like we see in the movies, but some smart home elements and technologies are much more affordable.

With the rise of wi-fi, cellphones, the Internet, and wireless devices and systems, we are seeing a dramatic rise in smart home systems and technology and a drastic reduction in costs for these systems. Early-generation security systems required hardwiring and actually were the beginning stages of what was then called home automation technology. Today, we see homes where wireless devices and wi-fi have practically eliminated the need for hardwiring, and that has reduced the costs dramatically.

Command centers are being replaced by applications on our smartphones that allow home owners to control just about anything — lights inside and outside the home, temperature, TV and stereo systems, opening and closing blinds and curtains, locking doors, and a security system that can be set up and monitored by the police and fire departments. You can even find smart appliances, which can be connected to the Internet and to each other, and sales of these appliances are expected to explode over the next five years.

In the long run, smart home technology can save energy, which can result in reduced energy consumption and save money in the long run. It also reduces your carbon footprint.

If you’re ready to jump on the smart home bandwagon, do some research online to find systems and providers. For example, several telecom companies offer monthly smart home subscription services that can be affordable. You can also check out DIY smart home options, such as Staples Connect and Belkin WeMo.

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All Home Inspectors Are Not the Same

By Roland Bates, President, NPI/GPI

IMG_4726You’ve found your dream home — the place where you want to spend the rest of your life. Now, it’s time for the home inspection. Don’t choose just anyone to inspect what is probably the biggest investment of your life. Choose your home inspector wisely and carefully. Your real estate agent will probably have a recommendation or two, but make sure you interview an inspector before hiring him or her.

Most states and provinces require home inspectors to complete approved coursework, spend a certain amount of time training in the field, provide proof of insurance and pass a stringent written exam. In some states or provinces, for example, all licensed home inspectors are required to use the same approved inspection report format. In that case, what’s the difference who you choose as your inspector? Plenty.

Performing a home inspection is a very physical endeavor. Like any profession, there are some lazy inspectors who simply want to get paid, although they don’t want to expend a lot of effort in the process. This is compounded on those days when it’s very hot or very cold and the property has a crawl space or attic area to inspect — which isn’t anyone’s favorite thing to do. But if it’s part of your job, you need to do it.

Occasionally, you hear of an inspector who doesn’t want to point out anything negative about a property for fear of alienating the Realtor who made the referral. An inspector has a fiduciary responsibility to the buyer. Most Realtors are professional and want a good, thorough inspection for everyone’s sake; they simply want the inspector to show diplomacy. And diplomacy is not a skill everyone is burdened with.

My biggest pet peeve is the inspector who knows most of his/her clients will not take the time to read the entire inspection report, which could easily run 20 to 30 pages, with photos. The inspector may verbally tell the buyers everything is wonderful so as to not make waves. However, in the report, the inspector called out anything and everything defective. This is so that when and if a problem with the house arises down the road, the inspector simply says, “What are you talking about? Read my report. I called that defective.”

You want an inspector who you’re comfortable working with and who will give you an unbiased, professional assessment of the property’s current condition. You may have to interview a few inspectors, and you should ask them for references. And, most importantly, know that there is a difference in inspectors.

To find a National Property Inspections home inspector in your area, visit www.npiweb.com/FindAnInspector. To find a Global Property Inspections home inspector in Canada, visit www.gpiweb.ca/FindAnInspector.

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What’s the Life Expectancy for Your Appliances?

You might not think much about your appliances — after all, they are just part of your everyday life — but when it comes time to replace one or more of them, you’ll want to be prepared. Wondering about the average life expectancy and cost of common household appliances? We have some answers:

Appliance Life

Sources: AngiesList.com, ThisOldHouse.com, Energy.gov, HomeAdvisor.com

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Radon: Silent Killer in the Home

radiation_warningRadon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that has no color or odor and can be found all over the world. Radon can be found in wells, rocks and soil. Higher radon levels will be closer to the ground. Basements, for example, would be closer to the potential radon-contaminated soils. Radon gas seeps in through cracks, wires, pipes and any available opening.

How Much Radon is Detrimental?
Radon is quite sneaky in nature, so how do you know you are experiencing too much exposure inside your home or any other building?

In the United States, the picocurie (pCi) is used in measure radon levels. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a threshold of 4 pCi/L for indoor air. Any level above 4 pCi/L would require radon mitigation.

In Canada, the Health Canada’s radon threshold is 200 becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3). Any level above 200 Bq/m3 would require radon mitigation.

Radon Facts

  • Radon is an inert nonflammable gas.
  • Radon maps of the United States and Canada show locations of higher elevations of radon. You will notice that radon is nearly everywhere.
  • Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in North America, next to smoking.
  • More than 20,000 Americans and more than 3,000 Canadians die each year from radon-related deaths.
  • An elementary school student who spends eight hours a day and 180 days a year in a classroom with 4 pCi/l of radon will receive nearly 10 times as much radiation as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows at the edge of a nuclear power plant. (http://www.radon.com/radon/radon_facts.html)
  • According to the U.S. EPA, nearly one in three homes checked in seven states and on three Native American lands had screening levels over 4 pCi/L, the EPA’s recommended action level for radon exposure.

Radon Poisoning
Radon poisoning symptoms are much like its characteristics — there are none.

Unfortunately, if any potential symptoms show, they are usually long-term symptoms that develop after the damage has been done. Symptoms usually will be within the lungs — such as coughing, wheezing and heavy breathing — and infections may occur.

Radon Detection
Radon detection can prevent long term illness or even death. As with many other diseases, the earlier it is detected the better the chances are to overcome or prevent further damage.

You may be able to purchase a radon test kit yourself. The best approach for these devices is to strategically place them on the lowest livable level of the home. Prices for radon testing kits and devices can range from $10 to $300, depending on the functionality, style and brand. Some test kits take samples from the air, while other devices are similar to smoke detectors.

The easiest way to test radon levels in your home is to call your local National Property Inspections or Global Property Inspections home inspector. Your local NPI or GPI inspector may be certified to test for radon; if not, he/she will put you in touch with a trusted company that can do the testing for you.

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The Importance of Inspecting Vacant Houses

By Ken Roleke, NPI Franchise Owner, Tucson, Arizona

 

There is a more than 10 percent vacancy rate for houses in the United States. These include homes left empty due to owners moving to new homes, death of a home owner, job relocation and other life events, as well as houses that have become uninhabitable, and real estate owned (REO) homes. Sometimes the owner recently vacated a house to move into a new home, and the old home could be perfectly fine. But in general, home buyers need to be especially wary when buying a vacant house. For example, vacant REO homes and rental houses are more likely to have problems.

Previous owners of an REO property may have ignored routine maintenance for two or three years, as they likely encountered financial problems and stopped paying on the mortgage. Once the bank took over the house, the house may have been kept sitting, off the market for some time. As for rental houses, some landlords are notorious for deferred maintenance.

Existing problems compound once a house sits vacant. Routine, necessary repairs, like running toilets and leaking turn-off valves can go unnoticed. Moisture can attract termites and cause mold and wood rot. Birds, rodents and other pests may take residence when there is no activity in or around the house. Trees and shrubs may become overgrown, clogging gutters, restricting drainage and retaining moisture in walls. Appliances can develop problems like stuck valves and dried-out gaskets when they are unused for an extended period of time. Moreover, vacant houses attract vandalism and theft.

If the utilities are turned off in a vacant house, and the heat is not on during cold winter months, pipes can freeze and burst. In high-humidity regions, moisture can build up if the air conditioner isn’t running.

Many times, someone will keep an eye on vacant houses, whether it is a field service company, contractor, handyman or real estate agent. But the quality of this kind of service varies widely.

Investors and home buyers may find a good deal on an REO property, estate sale or other vacant house, but they should be aware that it is more imperative than ever to get a home inspection when you are dealing with a vacant house. And a good inspector will remind the client to make sure all utilities are on. Otherwise, too many items, especially plumbing and appliances, cannot be thoroughly evaluated.

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What’s Wrong With This Photo?

Snapshots From the Field

In this photo, the home owner has disconnected the humidifier pipe from the return air duct to the humidifier to the supply air side on the plenum. Which of the following statements is true?

  1. Using traditional duct tape (as pictured) is preferable and increases the efficiency of an HVAC system.
  2. Foil or metallic-type duct tape would be a better choice than traditional duct tape.
  3. You should use duct tape and cardboard to fix holes in the plenum or ductwork of an HVAC system.
  4. The humidifier works better when it is installed this way.

Correct Answer: B. Foil or metallic-type duct tape should be used rather than traditional duct tape.

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Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

Autumn House_shutterstock_116166403Autumn is upon us, and there are many things you should be doing around the house to prepare for the cooler weather of winter. Here’s a handy checklist:

  • After leaves have fallen, clean the gutters to keep water flowing away from the house.
  • Remove garden hoses from outdoor faucets/bibs, drain and store hoses, and shut off the water.
  • Check caulking anywhere two different materials meet. Specifically, check wood siding joining the foundation wall and where window or door trim meets the siding.
  • Check for broken or cracked glass and damaged screens or storm windows.
  • Insulate pipes in crawl spaces and attics.
  • Have the chimney flue inspected and cleaned by a certified chimney sweep. Also, inspect the damper.
  • Remove bird nests from chimney flues and outdoor electrical fixtures.
  • Run all gas-powered lawn equipment until the fuel is gone.
  • Clean, repair and store outdoor furniture.
  • Trim tree branches that hang over the roof or gutters.
  • Mulch around bulbs, shrubs and trees to prevent drastic soil temperature change from destroying plant root systems.
  • Check the reversing/safety mechanism on garage door operators.
  • Inspect the roof for missing or damaged shingles and repair.
  • If you have a pool, check the pool cover for damage and repair or replace if necessary.
  • Make sure the seal between your garage door and the ground is tight. Add a layer of weather stripping if necessary.
  • Have your heating system inspected and cleaned by a certified professional, and remember to change your furnace filters regularly.
  • Change the direction of ceiling fans to create an upward draft that redistributes warm air from the ceiling.
  • Test and change the batteries in all smoke detectors.
  • Empty all soil from outdoor pots and planters.
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