Category Archives: Home Inspection

Ru Roh…. It’s RADON!!

Radon

 

“Great hairy horned toads!  We’ve got Radon in the basement!  RADON!!!!  Honey – get the kids out of the house!  Call 9-1-1!  Alert the media!  The Radon is here!!!!  It’s right HERE!!!!!”

Wait . . . . what the heck IS Radon?

If you look it up on Wikipedia, Radon is defined as  . . . a chemical element with symbol Rn and atomic number 86. It is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, tasteless[1] noble gas, occurring naturally as an indirect decay product of uranium or thorium. Its most stable isotope, 222Rn, has a half-life of 3.8 days. Radon is one of the densest substances that remains a gas under normal conditions. It is also the only gas under normal conditions that only has radioactive isotopes, and is considered a health hazard due to its radioactivity. Intense radioactivity has also hindered chemical studies of radon and only a few compounds are known. Radon is formed as one intermediate step in the normal radioactive decay chains, through which thorium and uranium slowly decay into lead.”

 

What . . . . that doesn’t clear it up for you?

 

The word “Radon” has become almost a buzzword in the real estate world, and testing for Radon levels is standard when buying a home.  Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, occurring naturally as the decay product of uranium, that seeps through the ground and alights into the air.  It is nothing new, and it is all around us in varying levels.  It is also naturally radioactive, and considered a significant contaminant that affects indoor air quality.

Radon gas can and does accumulate in buildings, especially in confined, low level areas such as basements.  As it turns out, radon is estimated to be the largest contributor to the radiation doses that our bodies carry, and studies show a clear link between breathing high concentrations of radon and of lung cancer. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, radon is the second most frequent cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking, causing approximately 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer deaths per year in the United States.

 

So, yes . . . . Radon is bad.

Radon levels can vary greatly from place to place . . . . even from one house to another on the same street.  Levels can be higher in tightly sealed, well insulated homes, where the gas becomes trapped, or in homes on uranium rich soil, with cracks in walls or foundations.  Well water can also contain radon.

Radon testing is usually left to the professionals.  Although there are do-it-yourself radon test kits available, there is great debate over their quality and accuracy.  Radon reduction treatment can be rather costly. The cost of a professional radon reduction depends on the size and design of a home and the methods that are needed. Typically, costs can range from $800 to $2,500.  But there are things that a homeowner can do to diminish Radon levels in the home.  Sealing the basement floor and walls by using a concrete sealant, available in any hardware store,  and sealing  any water drainage systems within the basement can help.  So can increasing air flow and ensuring windows and ventilation systems are open and functional .  A radon barrier, which is a layer of thick plastic that can cover a crawl space’s area,  will block the radon levels attempting to rise from underground. The barrier plastic can be purchased from a hardware store and should be made of polyethylene with a decent thickness.  Or, if you are ready to call in the professionals, an exterior radon mitigation system might be just the ticket. Exterior radon mitigation systems are air system devices with ventilators that draw out the radon from basements, and release the radon outside of the house. This is most definitely a job for the pros, and there are quite a few that cater specifically to the needs of radon testing and removal.

The important thing is NOT to panic.  Radon is a natural gas, and is and always was all around us.  It is a treatable and fixable problem in homes.  It is not something that should be overlooked or ignored, but not a cause for terror, either.  And a little colorless, odorless gas shouldn’t keep anyone from their dream home.  Just be wary, be savvy, and be proactive.  And then you and your lungs can live happily ever after.

 

 

 

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How To Deal With Termites In Your New Jersey Home

Termite DamageWe’ve all seen them in the old cartoons.  Cute little animated creatures with smiling faces and swirly antennae, that with a whirring sound and a cloud of speedy dust,  eat an entire home from basement to attic, leaving nothing but the bricks from the chimney.  But the real ones are far less cute, and, honestly, who cares if they’re smiling?  They are resilient, can survive in basically any environment, are blind, and actually eat . . . . yes,  EAT . . . consume . . . the wood your home is made of.  There may be no cartoon whirring noise, and the roof might not fall down around you with seconds of their arrival, but the damage can be very palpable.

Termite infestations cause more than a billion dollars worth of damage every year in the United States.  Since termites eat wood from the inside out, you can’t always tell just by looking at beams or floor joists whether or not you’ve got them in your home.  But there are a number of ways to determine if they are there, eating your home silently from the inside out.  And searching for them is a routine part of any home inspection.

Sometimes pencil-thin hollow mud tubes can be seen snaking up foundation walls .  These tubes usually act as pathways from their nest to their feeding area, and as protection from the elements. Poking at suspected termite feeding grounds with a screwdriver can also bring you answers, but be sure you are prepared to face those answers when you are standing there with the screwdriver still in your hand.  (Ick!). Believe it or not, some experts actually listen to beams and joists with a stethoscope to listen for the sounds of chewing termites.  (Again, ick!)   Of course, there is the less-recommended method of simply waiting for the wood damage to become evident and perhaps irreversible in your home.

Once you now you’ve got them, there are several ways to eliminate termites.  By far, the most common method is injecting a termiticide, a slow-acting poison, into the ground around the house at intervals, to form a sort of barrier.  The unsuspecting and unseeing termites walk through it, getting it on their bodies in the process. Then, when they go back to the nest and come into contact with other termites, the poison is passed around to unsuspecting family members, eventually wiping out the entire colony. Exterminators may also bury bait stations in holes dug around the house, with believe it or not, bits of wood as bait, to help in their monitoring of exactly where the feeding and nesting stations are.  They can then inject the termiticide into bored holes more directly connected with feeding stations.

Unfortunately, termite exterminations are not exactly cheap.  Depending on the type of treatment and the size of the property being treated, the cost can run from $1,000 to $2,000. Of course, it would probably cost even more than that to pay Grandma’s medical bills when she falls through the hole in the floor that the termites have eaten.  So it’s all relative.  Not to mention the fact that you are also buying peace of mind, and preventing feeling the heebie-jeebies every time you walk into your basement to do laundry, knowing you are not alone and are greatly outnumbered.  It’s definitely NOT a problem to be ignored, but it’s also not insurmountable.  Just remember – it’s YOUR house, and you are mightier than the termite!

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We Live in NJ. – Sometimes We Have Gas!

radon test new jersey real estateToday is Home Inspection Day for my Sellers, and one of the tests the Buyers’ Home Inspector will be doing is a test for Radon. Here in New Jersey, there is a particularly uranium-rich geological formation, called the Reading Prong, which stretches from Pennsylvania through northwestern New Jersey into Southern New York State. Testing of homes built along this formation, as well as homes in other areas on NJ, have revealed elevated levels of Radon, so testing is now standard.

Many of my clients are not familiar with Radon, or have “heard of it” but are not quite sure what it is, and what elevated levels might mean for the sale of their home. Radon gas is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that can pose a serious health risk if it becomes trapped under your house. It comes from the breakdown of naturally occurring uranium in soil and rock, and typically enters the home through underground crawl spaces, sump pump pits and gaps in the basement foundation. The presence of elevated Radon is a concern because it can pollute your indoor air with its toxic vapors, and is held responsible for more than 20,000 lung-disease-related deaths every year. Radon is assumed to be present in millions of American homes.

How do you detect the presence of radon gas, and how can you reduce its presence and influence if it is found in your home? First, have your home tested by a professional. It is important to hire one who is licensed or certified by state and/or local agencies. They will conduct diagnostic testing to determine if radon gas is at acceptable levels (BELOW 4.0 pCi/L of radon) (see http://www.epa.gov/radon/ for more info) If levels are determined to be elevated, the contractor can mitigate by installing a radon reduction system.

The mitigation system most commonly used is a sub-slab depressurization system. This system uses venting and sealing to lower radon levels in the home. A pipe is installed that runs from below the basement flooring to above the roofline, with a fan at the top that draws radon out from under the slab. Cracks and openings in the foundation are sealed, and the radon is vented through the pipe to the outside, where it is quickly diluted. This is a relatively inexpensive mitigation, typically around $1500 and does not require any major changes to the home. If a system is put in place, make sure the company checks the house after the system is installed, to verify that it is reducing the radon levels and that the issue has been resolved.

So, fear not. In most homes, the Radon level will be under the 4.0 pCi/L level that requires action, and in the instances where a home does have elevated levels of Radon, the remediation is not too difficult to perform! The most important step is to hire a licensed and qualified inspector!

To learn more about Radon and view the US Radon Map, visit http://www.epa.gov/radon/states/newjersey.html

Flickr Creative Commons Photo Attribution: Birdies100

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