These are just some of the issues found during home inspections. Take a look!
Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas which occurs naturally as a by-product of the decay of radioactive materials underground. It has been recognized as the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. If your home is in contact with the ground, there will be a detectable radon reading. The gas concentrates in the lower areas; if the home has a basement, that is where the reading will likely be highest, but if the home is on a slab the main floor could show an elevated reading. Federal and State EPA guidelines call for action to be taken to lower any readings of radon above 4.0 pico-Curies per Liter of air (piC/L), which is how the concentration is measured. A test for a real estate transaction is a simple 48-hour test with a monitor or monitors which supply an hourly readout of the levels. State testing protocols dictate the number of monitors which must be used in a home. Testing and any resulting mitigation (installation of a system to lower radon levels) must be done by Illinois-licensed professionals. If you have decided to go ahead with a radon test, your agent should notify the sellers that the home must be kept closed except for normal entry and exit for 12 hours before the test is set and for 48 hours during the test. This means keeping doors and windows shut and not allowing them to stay open for any appreciable amount of time. Failing to do so can void a test. If the radon testing technician has any reason to think the closed-house conditions have not been met at the start of the test, the test monitor(s) can be left an extra day, but if the conditions are thought to have not been met at the end of the test, the test will be voided and the fee is NOT refundable. So this is a process both buyer and seller must agree to. Real estate agents won't automatically contact a seller with information about the testing, so it is probable that the test will be left longer than 48 hours to make up for lack of closed-house conditions. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Cracking in foundations is pretty much inevitable, but leaking cracks can be controlled. If the foundation is concrete, as is preferred in the Chicagoland area, there are ways to control water infiltration. In one type of repair, a urethane sealant is injected into cracks via ports installed in the crack itself; the material "sets up" and resists water trying to get through the wall. If large areas of foundation are leaking, an interior drain system may be the answer. In this repair, a trench is excavated along the inside of the foundation wall in the affected area. Into the trench goes gravel, a drain pipe with filter fabric, a barrier of some sort to direct water into the new drain, and a topping of new concrete to seal off the repair. Water getting through the foundation finds it's way into the new interior drain and then to a sump pit installed to collect the water. It is then pumped away from the home. There are a number of companies in the metropolitan area which specialize in these issues, all with varying systems and components, and all of which are successful in fighting water problems. The photos show an injection-repaired crack, a new sump pit installed with an interior drain system, and yet a third drain system with a metal drainage plane along the foundation wall.
At the corner of the window (upper photo) you can see a past injection repair to stop water penetration. In the second upper photo is an interior drain system with sump and drainage plane installed along the foundation walls. In the lower photo is another indication of an interior drain system, the metal barrier running along the foundation walls which routes infiltration to a sump pit.
Legislated out of use by the federal government in 1978, lead paint which is deteriorating and flaking off the walls and trim of older homes is still an issue today. Lead builds up in the body, and can cause physical and neurological problems which cannot be cured. Children especially are at risk because they will ingest the paint chips because they are sweet to the taste; it's hard to dissuade a child from enjoying something sweet. Learning disabilities and stunted growth are some of the effects of lead poisoning. Adults also are at risk from high blood pressure, nerve disorders, and reproductive system problems, among other ills. There are prescribed ways of dealing with lead paint, processes which can be expensive but are necessary to rid the home of any residue of the substance. Follow the link to the U.S. EPA site dealing with lead for more information. Sellers are required to disclose known information about lead in their homes, but the key word here is "known." If you are buying an older home, you may want to take steps to be sure any lead hazards are minimized. Talk to your inspector about it. NOTE: In April, 2010, ANY contractor (and this includes the homeowner) doing work that disturbs lead paint will have had to become an EPA-certified renovator. To be certified, contractors (or an employee directly involved with the process) will have to complete an EPA-accredited training course.
If you have ANYTHING made in China which is painted, you have something which is probably coated with lead-based paint. Despite efforts to stop imports from China with lead paint, little progress has been made. They have no intention of stopping the use of that dangerous material. You should be suspicious of any coatings on any Chinese product. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________
EIFS (Synthetic Stucco)
This is a siding system in which a layer of insulation and layers of mesh and stucco finishes are applied to the home as a siding. It is beautiful, can be made to closely resemble stone work, and has been very popular. The downside is that if not done properly (some might say even IF done properly), it leaks. If the application is installed over wood framing and sheathing, and if water can get behind it and cannot get out the results can be both expensive and extensive. There have been class action lawsuits over this material in the past, and some manufacturers have stopped producing the product. There are now systems which are inherently different, and apparently can be made to drain properly, but any examination of these types of products is beyond the scope of a simple home inspection. Professional evaluation is recommended. Understand that removal and repair of damage related to this product will be expensive. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Another buzzword these days is mold (or mildew). Not all of it is toxic, but the presence of any mildew is cause enough for a potential buyer to walk away if it is not removed. The recommendation, therefore, is for removal, not expensive testing that can only tell you the species of the growth. Follow the link to the Building Sciences page and read the articles on mold. Understand that mold removal will be an expensive proposition and is best left to professionals. If you see it, remove it. Most buyers will decide that mold is mold, and they will want it removed. Another Building Sciences site has a wealth of information on testing for various things, information on mold, energy, ventilation and other valuable homeowner resources.
Mold growing on drywall as a result of a window leak (left), and on roof sheathing as a result of inadequate ventilation and/or insulation (right).
Once considered a miracle substance, this mineral was used for fireproofing, duct insulation, floor tiles, chimney surrounds, brake linings, some types of piping, old furnace insulation, some plaster and drywall mixes and a host of other applications. Time has shown that when the fibers become airborne (friable) they can be inhaled; once in the lungs, they don't leave because the body cannot break them down to eliminate them, leading to scarring and a condition known as Asbestosis. A form of lung cancer known as Mesothelioma is related to asbestos exposure, with estimates of 75 to 80 per cent of this cancer being caused by this mineral. As with mold, removal of this substance is to be left to licensed professionals and can be expensive. Vermiculite, also known as Zonolite, was used as insulation for many years, and the material is often found in attics and walls across the country. This material usually had measurable amounts of asbestos in it also, so removal such as during remodeling can be a surprise to the budget due to the steps which have to be taken to handle it safely. The U.S. EPA has a website, http://www.epa.gov/asbestos/pubs/insulation.html, which has a lot of information about this. We are told that some Zonolite has no asbestos in it, but the stuff mined in Libby, Montana is laced with asbestos--and that's where virtually all of the material came that's found in the homes in this country. Libby is now an EPA Superfund site. Further, we are now finding that asbestos was used in drywall materials and taping mud and may have been used until the mid-1980s (it was reportedly banned by 1978). This is unsettling news for anyone who works on a home. Only testing can reveal the presence of this substance. Check this website for more information: www.asbestos.com/products/construction/sheetrock-taping-compounds.php
Asbestos wrapping on heating pipes (left), and asbestos panel over furnace in older basement (right).
Vermiculite insulation, once used in attics, walls etc., contains asbestos much more often than not.
With the thermal imaging camera, areas with less insulation can be detected, indicating areas of heat loss or gain. Sometimes water leaks can be detected behind walls as well. In this set of photos we're looking at an outside wall and can clearly see where the top plate of the wall framing is located, an area somewhat lacking in insulation. The blue color shows the area to be cooler. The fainter blue colors indicate joists above the ceiling. Lack of insulation or gaps in coverage in the attic would show up as very large blue areas.
Here the exhaust flue from the furnace has been disconnected from the chimney; now the furnace exhausts back into the home, which can result in deadly consequences. You don't want any byproducts of combustion leaking back into the home.
This was probably the result of a hurried attempt to steal copper piping out of this vacant, bank-owned property, and it can easily be repaired by an HVAC technician.