The Home Inspector

Reuben Saltzman is a second-generation home inspector with a passion for his work. Naturally, this blog is all about home inspections and home-related topics in the Twin Cities metro area. In addition to working at Structure Tech, he is also a licensed Truth-In-Sale of Housing Evaluator in Minneapolis, Saint Paul and several other cities.

Posts about Home Improvement

Pre-listing inspections: How one inspection could have saved more than $13,000

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: February 10, 2015 - 5:23 AM

Planning to sell your home? Hire your own home inspector to inspect it before you put it on the market.  Having your home inspected before it’s listed for sale will greatly reduce the potential for surprises that may crop up in the future.

I've given many anecdotes of how home inspections done for sellers can help the whole transaction go smoothly, but I recently had a real estate agent share a story with me that tops 'em all. This agent was an investor in this deal, and he tells the story in his own words:

This was a series of unfortunate events, but essentially here's how it went down:

- We supposedly "completed" the build project and began marketing it in July for top dollar. Major renovation, spent 350k on the work, all hired out to experienced, licensed professionals.

- Property didn't sell, didn't sell, didn't sell. Price dropped, dropped, and dropped. By now we were entering fall / winter and chasing the market down, left with fewer and pickier buyers.

- We finally get an offer, which puts us at break even. Buyers are attorneys, and cautious, negotiations are drawn out and tedious. We finally get consensus on price and closing date, and buyers move to the inspection.

- After the inspection, they immediately cancelled, not providing us with any reason other than the property felt "abandoned" and unfinished by the builder - there was lots of unfinished punch list items and other issues (no sump / drain tile system installed). We, the sellers, freak out on the builder and tell him to get over there and finish those items. In his defense, there was also supposed to be an opportunity for him to walk thru with the buyers and make a punch list of items (wall dings, screw pops, etc.), so he tells us he wanted to do it all at once, which is why things were unfinished. Whatever.

- Feeling like an incredible real estate agent, I get another buyer immediately.  We negotiate a BETTER deal than the last, and begin patting ourselves on the back and talking about how stupid and high maintenance the previous buyers were. Glad to be done with them, now on to the new inspection, and thankfully the builder has already been there to correct everything.

- These buyers also cancel unilaterally, immediately after their home inspection. They do not try to renegotiate price or corrections.

- Defeated, I beg the buyer's agent for forgiveness. He likes the house, so do the buyers, and as a courtesy he sends me the list of corrections they were going to send before deciding to cancel. Some of the items are erroneous, many are valid. We had a drain tile system installed when the foundation was done, but not the sump pump. We have a radon pipe going out of the home but no fan. The inspector called us out for not having closers on a built-in bench and that it could smash little fingers.  The closers were visible, in packaging, sitting in plain view in the bench... but just hadn't been installed yet. LOTS of little things like that.

Bottom line - if we would have had the home inspected first, we could have made the corrections or held our contractors feet to the fire to do things. We wouldn't have lost these deals - and let me quantify the loss for you: $13,300 price reduction and we “corrected” everything - whether it was wrong or not - much out of pocket.

A $500 inspection and some bruises are much better than that. And just KNOWING what the issues are - we trust our builder and trades people that we pay top dollar to, but they did us wrong.

They say surprise is the enemy of thought. We were surprised, put into a panic, and had to act out of desperation and humility (we feel bad our property was $#!%) instead of just having our $#!% together.

I've done well over 600 deals, been in the business 10 years, and consider myself good. But look at where we ended up. Pre-inspections are worth it every time, literally.

Hard to top that one, huh?

For anyone concerned about the cost of a home inspection, or for anyone who thinks a full home inspection report isn’t necessary or even wanted, no problem. Home inspectors can work around that.  Instead of a full home inspection, we do a ‘walk-n-talk’ consultation. We go through the home the same way we would for a normal home inspection, with the owner following right along, but the owner takes their own notes. We skip over the obvious stuff that anyone living in a home already knows about, and the whole walk-n-talk probably takes about half as long as a normal home inspection.  We offer this same type of service to property investors who want stripped down home inspections, which we call investor inspections.

There’s no report for a walk-n-talk, but the price for this consultation is about half the price of a home inspection.  Next week, I'll follow up with a post on how to get the most out of your Truth-In-Sale of Housing evaluation.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

          

Minnesota home builder won't allow attic inspections. My two cents on the matter.

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: February 3, 2015 - 5:37 AM

A document titled "Inspection Contingency Addendums Protocol" was recently emailed to me.  This document, put together by a local home builder, gives "a list of common things found on inspection reports that [the builder] does not agree with."  The document goes on to say "Please note that none of these items will be addressed by [the builder]."

I'm writing this post as somewhat of a rebuttal to that document because while many of the points made by the builder are valid, many of them aren't.  I'm not disclosing the name of the builder because I'm not in the business of singling out any local companies for negative stuff.  It's a fairly long document, so I'm only including part of it.

"1. Auto Closing Mechanism - the installation of an auto closing mechanisms  on the door from the garage to the house is a previous requirement of the building code that is no longer required."

True.

"2. Attic Scuttle Access - There is to be no opening of the attic access for inspections.   -and-   The only items that could be viewed in this area would be a leaking roof, which would be seen in the ceiling below by water marks; or to verify insulation, which was inspected by the city inspectors during the insulation inspection.   -and-   The more tech savvy inspectors have infrared reading equipment that can see heat loss to verify insulation without going into the attic scuttle.

No, no, no, and no.  That's all just plain wrong.  While it's true that the more tech savvy inspectors have infrared cameras, there is no way to use an infrared camera to verify that the proper amount of insulation was installed.  The only way to know is to look at the insulation.

As for verifying the insulation, city inspectors don't inspect the insulation.  Nobody inspects it.  Seriously.  I wrote a blog post on this topic a couple of years ago: New Construction Attic Inspections.  The photo below could be from about 50% of the new construction inspections that I do.  The insulation in this area was about half as deep as it was supposed to be.

Attic - Insufficient Insulation

As for insulation and water leaks being the only things that could be viewed in the attic, take a look through a few of these photos that have come from new construction attics.  New construction.  Brand spanking new, inspected by the city and everything.  To start, here's a missing cover plate at a junction box in an attic.

Electrical - missing cover plate at junction box

The outlet shown below is over ten feet away from the radon vent.  The outlet is there so a radon fan can be installed at the vent if radon levels are high… but what good does it do if it’s ten feet away?

Electrical - Radon Outlet

Here’s a home where the builder agreed to install a radon fan, but installed the fan on its side.  Radon fans should be installed vertically to help prevent water from accumulating, which can cause the motor to burn out prematurely.

Radon - Fan on side

Here’s a GFCI outlet in the attic.  GFCI outlets are supposed to be tested every month… not that anyone really does this, but just for the sake of argument, let’s say someone wanted to.  Are they really supposed to go into their attic to do this?

Electrical - GFCI Outlet in Attic

When we perform pre-drywall inspections, we frequently find gaps in the attic “lid” that will be attic air leaks once everything is finished.  The gap between the two top plates (2x4s) shown below shows an example of a future attic air leak.

Attic - Air Leak

Attic air leaks cause frost in the attic.  That's what you're seeing in the photo below.  At the bottom of the frost covered area, the sheathing is already starting to turn black.  The funny thing about this one is that the builder wouldn't give me permission to access the attic through the scuttle hole, but I was able to climb from the garage attic up to the main house second floor attic to inspect it.

Frost in new construction attic

Here’s an infrared image of a disconnected bath fan duct below the insulation in an attic on a cool day.  There were no visible signs of this defect, but a quick scan with an infrared camera made it quite obvious.  The infrared camera also helped us to know exactly where to dig through the insulation to get a photo documenting the condition.  Could we have diagnosed this condition by using an infrared camera from inside the home?  Heck no.

 HVAC - Disconnected Duct in Attic

This next photo shows a disconnected duct from a bathroom exhaust fan.  This was a little easier to find.

Attics - loose bath fan duct

Trusses can get damaged and broken on new homes.  It happens.

Attic - damaged truss Attic - damaged truss 3 Attic - damaged truss 2 Attics - broken truss chord 2 Attics - Broken truss chord

Here's a light that was left on in the attic.  The builder made a bit of a stink about me going into the attic, but then reluctantly allowed it.

Attic - light on

In the photo below, the roof vents weren’t properly lined up with the holes in the roof sheathing, which reduces the total amount of attic ventilation.

Attics - bad hole for roof vent

In the next photo, they completely forgot to install a roof vent.  I've see this happen on a number of new construction homes.

Attics - missing roof vent

I could go on, but I think I've made my point.  It's important for attics to be inspected, even on new homes.  Wow, we're only on item number two of the builder's list.  I guess you can probably see which item on this list got me the most whipped up, huh?

3. Sump Pump Discharge Extensions - [Builder] does not install nor recommend the installation of hose extensions to sump pump discharge outlets; with the rare exception that the Client's home has a high water table with a sump pump that runs often.  Discharge extensions run the risk of freezing up and clogging.

It's true that discharge extensions run the risk of freezing up and clogging, but it's not a big deal for a home builder to create a solution for this before the yard is landscaped and sod laid.  Click here for more info: Potential for freezing at sump discharge hose.

On the other hand, if a home inspector conducts an inspection and the sump basket is bone dry, I wouldn't expect the inspector to recommend installing a sump pump discharge extension.

4. Hardwood Floor Finishes - Many model homes are staged with area rugs and as a result some slight fading of the hardwood floors where the areas rugs were not covering the hardwood floors may occur.    -and-    There is no repair for this except time.

Fair enough, but I don't think most home inspectors would comment on slight color fading.  We're not there to report on cosmetics.

5. Washing Machine Shutoff - The shutoffs for under the counter washing machines are typically not easily accessible, because they are behind the washer and under the counter top.  This arrangement is no different than the water shutoff to the refrigerator's ice maker line, which is located behind the refrigerator.

I would argue that they're quite different.  Washing machine manufacturers warn folks to shut off the water supply when the washing machine isn't in use.  Here's what Maytag says:

Warning from Maytag washing machine user manual

Here's what GE says:

GE Washer Warning

I'm sure the rest of the manufacturers have similar warnings.  In other words, the shutoff should be accessible.  Refrigerator manufacturers have no such warnings.

In the real world, however, nobody shuts off the water to their washing machine when it's not in use.  A better position for the builder to take on this point might be "do you seriously care?"

6. Washing Machine Floor Drains - [Builder] no longer installs floor drains underneath washing machines.  Based on feedback from insurance adjuster washing machines do not leak from the bottom.  If problems occur, it is from the supply lines to the washing machine.  [Builder] recommends the replacement of supply lines every 5 years.  If a supply line does fail it will spray throughout the room and no floor drain will prevent the resulting damage.

I don't have any statistics, but that all sounds about right.

7. Gutters - [Builder] does not typically install nor recommend the installation of gutters.  Gutters cause ice dams, which are not covered under warranty.

Gutters don't cause ice dams.  Check out Steve Kuhl's recent blog post on this topic, which is right on: Gutters don't cause ice dams.  If the builder doesn't want to recommend or install gutters, that's fine, but leave it at that.  It's not the builders responsibility to install gutters, and that's all they ought to say on the matter.

Home inspectors will recommend gutters just about every time, as we should.  Gutters go a long way toward preventing water damage.  Here are a few blog posts I've written on that topic:

8. Warranty - Everything built by [Builder] is covered under warranty for 1 year from the date of closing.  This warranty covers defects in workmanship and materials.  Items such as air conditioning, lawn sprinkler systems, roofs, grading, etc. cannot be evaluated during the winter months.  It is common for home inspectors to say things like, "air conditioning cannot be evaluated because it is winter."

Well, yes.  Every home inspector who follows the ASHI Standards of Practice has to put this type of information in their report.  Our SOP says we need to provide a written report that states, in addition to many other things, "those systems and components designated for inspection in this Standard that were present at the time of the home inspection but were not inspected and reason(s) they were not inspected."

There are a number of things we can't test or inspect when it's cold and everything is buried in snow.  That's just life in Minnesota.  On the plus side, we don't have to worry about termites here.  It's too cold.

9. Exterior AC Unit Covering - It has recently become more common for this issue to be included in inspection reports.  Exterior AC units are meant to have water and rain on and running into them.  These units should have a board placed on top of them in the winter, to prevent icicles from dropping into the units, no further covering is needed.

That's correct.  Personally, I don't even bother putting a board on top.  I blogged about that many years ago: Should I Cover My Air Conditioner?

10. Paint/Stain Touch Ups

I won't bore anyone with this item.  This is all cosmetic stuff that nobody needs a home inspector for.

11. Water Heater - Some inspectors make issue with the capacity of the water heater in relation to the capacity of a soaking tub or the number of bathrooms in a home.  This is relative and will be different based on the number of people living in the house and the expectation of the tub user as to how hot the water is desired.  It is commonly accepted within the marketplace to have a 50 gallon hot water heater in lieu of a 40 gallon hot water heater when there are multiple bathrooms and/or a soaking tub of some type.  Some of our homes have higher capacity hot water heaters due to available rebates or discounts, but 50 gallon is customary and typical and no accommodation for larger capacities than what the house is being sold with will be made.

Bath tub filling, no more hot waterI'm one of those inspectors who makes an issue of the capacity of the water heater in relation to the capacity of a soaking tub.  I don't tell my clients the builder needs to replace the water heater, but I try to let them know if the water heater is only large enough to fill the tub halfway up with hot water.  If you have a 100 gallon tub and a 50 gallon water heater, either the water heater is too small or the bath tub is too big.  Take your pick.  It's even worse when the bath tub is a whirlpool, and it won't fill up with enough hot water to bury the jets.  I blogged about this topic here:  Is your water heater large enough for your bathtub?

Yes, sure, it meets code to put in a water heater that's way too stinking small for the bathtub, but that doesn't make it right.

Also, the part about how different bath tub users will have different expectations as to how hot the water should be... doesn't hold water.  There's a very small range of acceptable water temperatures for a bathtub.  At 100 degrees, a bathtub will actually seem a little cool, but might be ok for little kids.  At 105 degrees, getting into the tub is a little painful.

Ok, that concludes my rebuttal.  My advice to this home builder and any other home builder who puts together documents like this would be to make the document short and sweet, clearly state what you're willing to do and not do, and stick to the facts.  My advice to anyone buying a new construction home is to hire a private home inspector, and make sure the builder will allow the home inspector to inspect the attic.

Related Posts:

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

          

Troubleshooting Furnaces: A Short Video Primer

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: January 27, 2015 - 2:30 PM

My furnace is 17 years old and it's starting to give me problems.  I've had my furnace stop working about once a year for the past few years, but thankfully every issue I've had has been quite simple to fix, mostly because I know a few basic troubleshooting steps.

I was going to write a blog post describing some of these troubleshooting steps for furnaces, but I decided that a video might be a little easier to follow along with.  This video is by no means a complete troubleshooting guide to furnaces, but it's a nice introduction to furnace troubleshooting.  I cover the most basic things to check, and I discuss some common error codes that furnaces may give.  For detailed troubleshooting and repair steps for furnaces, check out http://www.grayfurnaceman.com/ .  This is the best web site I've found that deals with furnace troubleshooting and repairs.

I'm no heating contractor so I don't know the exact numbers, but I'd guess that a large percentage of "no heat" service calls could be addressed by homeowners if they just knew where to start.  That's what this video is all about.  Oh, and while watching the video, please ignore the part where the camera goes out of focus. I don't know why that happened, but you're not missing anything. Without further ado, here's the video:

I still recommend annual furnace inspections though.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

          

Upcoming Changes to the Minnesota State Building Code

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: January 21, 2015 - 7:23 AM

Minnesota will be adopting the 2012 International Residential Code (IRC) on January 24th, 2015.  With this adoption will come a lot of changes to the existing building code, which was last updated in 2007 when we adopted the 2006 IRC.  I've put together a list of the things that I feel are the most notable changes.

Minnesota Residential Code 2015One Code Book

This change is extremely helpful.  Instead of having to use a copy of the 2012 IRC and then look through the Minnesota Amendments to figure out what's what, there is now a single book available that combines the 2012 IRC with the Minnesota Amendments.  This makes it far easier to look up building codes.  This book can be purchased directly from ICC or from Minnesota's Bookstore.

Less Ceiling Height Needed on Alterations to Existing Homes (R305.2)

The old building code said that habitable rooms, hallways, corridors, bathrooms, toilet rooms, laundry rooms, and basements had to have a ceiling height of not less that 7 feet.  This made it impossible to add code-compliant bedrooms in old homes with low basement ceilings.  If you had a basement with a ceiling height of 6 feet 10 inches and you wanted to add a bedroom, your options were to either not add a bedroom or just add a bedroom and not pull permits for it.

Bedroom Ceiling Height

The new code allows for a basement ceiling height of 6 feet 4 inches on alterations to existing homes.  The purpose of this change is to legally allow for habitable use of these basements. Here's the exact text:

R305.2 Alterations to existing building basements. Alterations to portions of existing basements shall comply with the provisions of this section.

R305.2.1 Minimum ceiling height, existing buildings. Alterations to existing basements or portions thereof shall have a ceiling height of not less than 6 feet 4 inches (1931 mm), including beams, girders, ducts, or other obstructions.

R305.2.1.1 Bathroom plumbing fixture clearance. Bathrooms shall have a minimum ceiling height of 6 feet 4 inches (1931 mm) at the center of the front clearance area for water closets, bidets, or sink.  A shower or tub equipped with a showerhead shall have a minimum ceiling height of 6 feet 4 inches above a minimum area 30 inches (762 mm) by 30 inches (762 mm) at the wall where the showerhead is placed.  The ceiling may have slopes or soffits that do not infringe on the height required for the plumbing fixture.

R305.2.2 Minimum stairway headroom, existing buildings. Alterations to existing basement stairways shall have a minimum headroom in all parts of the stairway no less than 6 feet 4 inches (1931 mm) measured vertically from the sloped line adjoining the tread nosing or from the floor surface of the landing or platform on that portion of the stairway.

Exceptions: Where the nosings of treads at the side of a flight extend under the edge of a floor opening through which the stair passes, the floor opening shall be allowed to project horizontally into the required headroom a maximum of 4¾" inches (121 mm).

The really interesting part is going to be how this affects TISH evaluation reports.  One of the most common comments I put on TISH evaluation reports is about stairways lacking the required headroom of 6 feet 8 inches.  Now that the headroom requirement for existing stairways is going to be 6 feet 4 inches, does this mean we won't have to put down this comment on future TISH reports?  I don't know yet.

SprinklerSprinkler Systems (R313)

Automatic fire sprinkler systems are now required in all new townhouses and all new one- and two-family dwellings with 4,500 sf  of floor area or more.  This new requirement actually made the news last year:  http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2014/07/28/in-home-sprinkler-systems-now-required-in-new-homes/ . I suspect we'll be seeing a lot of homes being built just under 4,500 sf.  For more info on this new requirement, click here: Residential Fire Sprinkler Systems FAQs

Carbon Monoxide Alarms (R315)

Carbon monoxide alarms have been required by statute in Minnesota for many years now, but it's finally going to become a rule.  This means that CO alarms are going to be required by the building code, which means building officials will be enforcing this rule.  Most building officials have already been telling folks they need CO alarms, but they haven't had any legal right to enforce the installation of CO alarms.  Now they do. One interesting part of this requirement is that carbon monoxide alarms are "required outside and not more than 10 feet from each separate sleeping area or bedroom."

Fire Protection of Floors (501.3)

For new homes built without automatic fire sprinkler systems, it will no longer be acceptable to leave the unfinished basement floor framing exposed when using an engineered flooring system, which is pretty much the only thing ever used in new construction.  This requirement went into effect because floor structures can burn out very quickly on new homes, making it unsafe for fire fighters to enter the building.  Here's the exact code text:

R501.3 Fire protection of floors. Floor assemblies, not required elsewhere in this code to be fire-resistance rated, shall be provided with a 1/2-inch (12.7 mm) gypsum wallboard membrane, 5/8-inch (16 mm) wood structural panel membrane, or equivalent on the underside of the floor framing member. Exceptions: 1. Floor assemblies located directly over a space protected by an automatic sprinkler system in accordance with Section P2904, NFPA13D, or other approved equivalent sprinkler system. 2. Floor assemblies located directly over a crawl space not intended for storage or fuel-fired appliances. 3. Portions of floor assemblies can be unprotected when complying with the following: 3.1. The aggregate area of the unprotected portions shall not exceed 80 square feet per story 3.2. Fire blocking in accordance with Section R302.11.1 shall be installed along the perimeter of the unprotected portion to separate the unprotected portion from the remainder of the floor assembly. 4. Wood floor assemblies using dimension lumber or structural composite lumber equal to or greater than 2-inch by 10-inch (50.8 mm by 254 mm) nominal dimension, or other approved floor assemblies demonstrating equivalent fire performance.

So what does this mean?  At a glance, it would seem that it's going to be a pain in the butt to finish off unfinished basements, but I'm sure there will be plenty of work-arounds.  Under exception #4, there's some leeway given for "other approved floor assemblies demonstrating equivalent fire performance."  One such product that I suspect building officials will accept is the TJI® Joists with Flak Jacket® protection, shown below.

TJI Flak Jacket

That's just one that I've heard of.  I'm sure there are several more similar products and methods available.  I don't really expect to see a bunch of unfinished basements with drywall covered ceilings, but I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Kick-out flashing not required when only re-roofing (R903.2.1.1)

In 2007, Minnesota added a requirement for kick-out flashing to be installed "Where the lower portion of a sloped roof stops within the plane of an intersecting wall cladding".  My impression has always been that this is something that should be done as part of any re-roofing or re-siding job, but the building code now specifically says that kick-out flashings don't need to be installed when only re-roofing.  Here's the exact text:

R903.2.1.1 Existing buildings and structures. Kick-out flashings shall be required in accordance with Section R903.2.1 when simultaneously re-siding and re-roofing existing buildings and structures.

Exception: Kick-out flashings are not required when only re-roofing existing buildings and structures.

Boooooo!  I haven't opined on any of these building code changes, and I'm not going to give my opinion on the wisdom of this one, other than to say I think it's a completely stupid change.  The logic behind this change was that roofers could end up doing more harm than good if they install kick-out flashing on existing siding.  I say BS.  I've seen plenty of botched installations of kick-out flashing, but I haven't seen a single case where the kick-out flashing even had the potential to do more harm than good. Oh well.  This doesn't really affect my job; I'm a home inspector, not a building official.  I'll still be recommending the installation of kick-out flashing when it's not present at houses that I inspect.

Where to find these codes online

The 2012 IRC is available for free online at http://publicecodes.cyberregs.com/icod/irc/2012/ .  Keep in mind, however, that this does not incorporate any of the changes that Minnesota has made to the code.

Minnesota's code is going to be available online, in one place, here  http://www.dli.mn.gov/ccld/codes15.asp.  This is a very nice feature, but the link to view the code online is not live as of 1/20/15.  The folks at the state tell me it'll be live before January 24th.  I'll update this blog post as soon as that happens.

Post Update 1/21/15: The 2015 Minnesota State Building Code is now available online, here: http://codes.iccsafe.org/app/book/toc/2015/Minnesota/Residential/index.html

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

          

Radon Testing Clowns

Posted by: Reuben Saltzman Updated: January 13, 2015 - 5:42 AM

The Minnesota Radon Awareness Act went into effect on January 1st of 2014. This required home sellers to provide a lot of information about radon and radon testing to potential home buyers, making it basically impossible to buy a home in Minnesota without being told that it’s important to test for radon.  And it is.

As intended by this act, the amount of radon tests conducted in Minnesota as part of real estate transactions increased dramatically. I don’t have any official numbers, but I can say that the number of tests that my company conducted in 2014 was about twice as many as we conducted in 2013. I've heard other home inspectors express similar sentiments, and I've had several home inspectors in Minnesota ask me about what it takes to start doing radon testing. There’s a larger demand for radon testing today.

The Bad News

As one might imagine, the number of unqualified folks conducting radon tests has also increased. Just like home inspections, there are no licensing requirements and no training requirements for radon testing in Minnesota. The EPA has developed standards for radon testing, but there seems to be a lot of clowns out there doing radon tests however they want to. As far as I’m concerned, these tests are worthless or misleading. Allow me to share a few examples.

Radon Monitor in a Crawl Space

access to crawl space Radalink in crawl space

I've shared this photo before, but here it is again. This radon test was placed in an uninhabitable crawl space.  Who cares what the radon level in the crawl space is?  The radon test is supposed to be placed in the lowest level in the home that could be lived in; not the crawl space.

Radon Monitor on a Bucket

Radon Monitor on a bucket

This isn't an egregious error, but it’s a very basic mistake that any qualified radon tester should not commit. Radon monitors need to be placed at least 20” off the floor. Most 5-gallon buckets are only 13” high. If you happen to see a radon test sitting on top of a 5-gallon bucket, EPA protocol for radon testing isn't being followed.

Side note: we use 5-gallon buckets to carry our radon monitors around in, and we use little wood boxes placed on top of the upside-down buckets to get the required 20" height above the floor.  Our radon monitors fit inside the boxes, which fit inside the buckets.  We also keep a 25' extension cord in the bottom of the bucket.  This works quite nicely.  If you're a home inspector reading this who's looking for a nice solution, here it is.
 Structure Tech Radon Test Contents of radon bucket

Radon Siren “Testing”

Radon Siren

There’s a radon siren available online for $129, which collects data while it’s plugged in and will give a display of the average concentration, much like a profession radon monitor.  There’s apparently at least one home inspector here in the Twin Cities who’s using this device to conduct radon tests. Apparently, he or she plugs this device in at the time of the inspection, comes back out to the home some time later, takes a picture of the display on the unit, then sends out this photo as the official radon test results. I’m not making this up. That’s where the photo above came from.

While this device might be well and good for homeowners to use in their own home, just the fact that it doesn't produce any type of report should be enough to tell you that no professional should be using this device and charging a fee for it.  If that's not enough, take a look at the list of approved devices for radon testing professionals: http://www.nrpp.info/radon_testing_devices.shtml .  You won't find the radon siren on that list.

Radon Monitor on a Sump Basket

Radon Clown

This is the most recent one I've heard about. One of our clients contacted us with concerns about how a radon test was being conducted in her home. The folks buying her house hired a home inspector to inspect the building and conduct a radon test at the same time. The home inspector placed his or her radon monitor right on top of the sump basket lid, and then put a box of the top of that! As you might imagine, the radon test came up very high, at over 18 pCi/L.

First, the radon monitor needs to be at least 20” off the floor, as I mentioned earlier. Second, the radon test shouldn't be placed anywhere near the sump basket; as I've mentioned in past blog posts, sump baskets are actually required to be sealed shut in new construction because this can be a major contributor to radon in the home. Placing a monitor right on top of the sump basket seems like a great way to guarantee high radon levels. Finally, placing a box over the top of this mess is either the result of ignorance or dishonesty.

My Advice

If you’re going to hire someone to do a radon test for you, hire a professional who’s certified by the National Radon Proficiency Program (NRPP) or the National Radon Safety Board (NRSB). The Minnesota Department of Health also maintains a list of qualified radon measurements professionals, which can be found here: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/indoorair/radon/measurement.html. To be added to that list, the individual first needs to be certified by one of the two agencies that I listed above.

If your home is going to be tested for radon as part of a real estate transaction, make sure that the person doing the test will be following EPA protocol for radon testing. Even better yet, insist that the person doing the test is certified by one of the two agencies listed above. This is consistent with what the Minnesota Department of Health already advises for radon testing; it’s solid advice.

If you haven't tested for radon in your own home, buy a DIY test kit.  Short term test kits are $9.95 and long term test kits are $21.95 here: http://www.radon.com/sub/mn/ .

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

          

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