What Every Home Buyer Should Know About Radon

Canton, MI Radon Testing

If you are buying a home – or even if you aren’t – you might have heard of radon and that it is a possible hazard. What should you know about radon?

What Is Radon?

Radon is a colorless and odorless gas that is radioactive. It is naturally occurring and, under normal conditions, very easy to inhale. Radon has a very short half-life (3.8 days at the most) but is still common enough to be a health hazard in some areas. The EPA considers radon to be a significant hazard to human health.

How Dangerous Is Radon?

Radon contributes to radiation exposure and is almost as high a cause of lung cancer as cigarette smoking (causing 21,000 deaths from lung cancer in the United States). The vast majority of those also smoke, and the combination gives the highest risk, but radon is the number one cause among non-smokers. Radon may also slightly increase one’s risk of other cancers. Radon exposure has no immediate symptoms and the effects may take years to show up, making testing the only way to know if you are exposed.

How Much Radon Is There In the Ann Arbor/Livonia/Plymouth Area?

Wayne County is a relatively low radon area, with 61% of homes tested showing levels of under 2 pCi/L. However, there are some homes with considerably higher levels and about 17% have levels that would be considered hazardous. Therefore, it is very important to check the radon levels in your home or a home you are considering buying.

Should I Get A Radon Test?

Yes. A radon test is the only way to know a specific home’s levels for sure. If you’re buying a home, ask your home inspector for a radon test. If the seller claims the home has been tested, ask to see the specific results. As testing is inexpensive, consider repeating the test. It may be worth it as buying a home with elevated radon levels but no mitigation in place is both dangerous and expensive. The Michigan Indoor Radon Program has more information on testing and other resources.

We don’t recommend using a DIY home radon test kit, as there are many variables that can skew results. Professionals that do this everyday know how to set up the machines and perform a test to get accurate results.

If the home already has radon mitigation systems in place you should still consider getting a test to make sure they are working effectively.

How Is Radon Mitigated?

Radon mitigation generally involves reducing the amount of radon that builds up within the home. Radon leaks out of the ground and would normally simply drift harmlessly up into the atmosphere in very low concentrations. When it enters your home, however, it is caught by the roof (especially if you have the kind of insulation needed for Michigan winters) and builds up. Radon mitigation takes several forms. One of the most effective is active soil depressurization. This is a system which pulls gas that comes out of the soil out from under your house and exhausts it away from the building or through a vent on the roof.

If your home does not have a crawlspace, then a gas permeable layer under a plastic sheet can also be used to prevent gas coming into the home. Experts also recommend that below-grade openings be properly sealed and caulked. Some new homes are constructed with radon-resistant materials and systems already in place. If you are buying a new home then ask what the builder is doing to mitigate radon.

Radon is a very real health risk. Fortunately, it is also easy to deal with – however, you may not want to have to deal with the inconvenience and expense of installing radon mitigation systems in your new home. As a result, it is desirable to test radon levels before signing any kind of contract on a new house, especially in areas where radon levels are historically high. If you want a professional radon test done on your new (or existing) home, then contact Trademark Home Inspection for details. We will also be able to recommend appropriate mitigation if needed.

Are Home Warranties Worth It? What Homebuyers Should Know

Is a home warranty a good deal?

Is a home warranty a good deal?

Buying a home is stressful, and, while there’s a certain joy associated with finally getting those keys, that stress doesn’t go away completely on closing day. After all, you now have a house, full of expensive systems and shiny appliances, to worry about. And all of those items the home inspector pointed out. What happens if something breaks the day after you unload the moving truck? There is a way to alleviate that concern: a home warranty.

What Is a Home Warranty?

A home warranty is effectively insurance for the appliances and systems in your home. Technically a service contract, it covers repairs and replacements for these items when they break. That protection isn’t provided by homeowners insurance, which only kicks in when your property is damaged or lost to disasters, like theft, some major weather events or fire.

Home warranties commonly cover wear and tear to these items but not all home warranties are created equal, so make sure to read your policy:

  • Plumbing
  • Heating (furnaces and water heaters)
  • Air-conditioning
  • Laundry equipment (washers and dryers)
  • Roof leaks
  • Kitchen appliances, including refrigerators, ovens, ranges, dishwashers and garbage disposals

You can add other coverage as needed. Say the home comes with a pool, hot tub, well pump, computerized garage doors, security system, ceiling fan or ice maker. Home warranties usually last anywhere from 90 days to two years, with the option to renew once the policy expires.

The Benefits of a Home Warranty

Unlike homeowners insurance, which is required as part of the mortgage approval process, home warranties are optional. However, they are an invaluable safety net. Buying a house is already a major expense. The last thing you need is a broken furnace two weeks after closing, especially if it’s the middle of winter. The same goes for a busted water heater, which can cost anywhere from $523 to $1,000 to repair or replace.

Home warranties are particularly important if your new home is not so new and/or outfitted with older, outdated systems. Even if your systems or appliances don’t go down, the warranty spares you the expense of worrying about a major mechanical failure while you’re replenishing your bank account and emergency fund.

How Do Home Warranties Work?

If a covered item breaks, you call your provider to arrange for a contractor to come and assess the damage. If the contractor decides the necessary fix is covered by your warranty, they’ll do the work. You usually have to pay a service fee and, similarly to homeowners insurance, the warranty might have a deductible. That’s a set amount of money you put toward the bill before coverage kicks in.

Home warranties do carry some exclusions. For instance, they’re not an excuse for skipping routine maintenance as doing so can leave you on the hook for replacements or repairs.

It’s important to read the fine print of a home warranty you’re considering so you know what’s covered — and what’s not.

How Much do Home Warranties Cost?

Home warranties generally cost between $300 and $700 a year, depending on how comprehensive coverage is and the type of property (condo, single-family, townhouse, etc.) you own. The square footage of the house usually bears no effect on the price. Service fees can cost between $60 and $100.

You can capitalize on deals by looking into a home warranty during the real estate transaction. Sometimes, home sellers purchase a warranty as added incentive for prospective buyers. (These warranties, incidentally, protect their systems and appliances while the home is on the market.) You can also look into free or discounted policies provided by your home inspector.

Trademark Home Inspection, for instance, offers several coverages for free, including a 90-day home warranty, mold protection, SewerGard protection, roof protection and radon policy as part of its home inspection package. If you have questions about home warranties or want to schedule a home inspection in the Plymouth, Livonia, Westland or Ypsilanti area contact us today.

Winter Maintenance Tips – 10 Easy Projects to Tackle Before Cold Weather Sets In

Winter Maintenance Tips

Winter Maintenance Tips

The cool, crisp days of Fall feel fantastic after a long, hot summer. While it’s a beautiful time of the year, it’s no time to rest. The temperature is only going to drop as Winter approaches and now is the time to prepare your home for the coming onslaught of frigid wind and heavy snow. There are a plethora of Winter maintenance tips for homeowners, but here are 10 easy projects to tackle before cold weather sets in.

Many of these are items we point out during our home inspections. Don’t worry, they’re all fairly easy and won’t break your budget.

1) Install Weather-Stripping

Odds are, the doors and windows of your home are allowing some air to leak in, and out. This will cause uncomfortable cold drafts and it will make your furnace work harder to keep your home warm. A simple way to remedy this is to install weather-stripping. It’s easy and only takes a few minutes.

2) Seal Exterior Air Leaks

Small cracks in the exterior window trim, siding and door frames are a source of unwanted cold air leaks. Other openings like where your pipes and wiring enter your home are also potential trouble spots. This is a quick and inexpensive fix, using a color-match exterior caulk to fill the void.

3) Update Your Thermostat

Programmable thermostats are more reliable and regulate the heat in your home more efficiently, which saves you money and keeps you warmer. Many models are easily controlled with a smart phone or other device, meaning you can adjust the temperature, wherever you are.

4) Check Your Furnace

Your heating system is going to be called into action sooner than you’d like to believe. In order to assure that it is ready for the task, it needs servicing. It’s best to call in a professional to check and tune up your heating system, they’ll do a complete inspection and complete necessary repairs. This is one of the most common items we call out on home inspections.

5) Upgrade Your Insulation

Inadequate insulation lets warm air to make its way up and out of the roof. Likewise, the cold air leaks into your home, making it uncomfortably cold. The only way to prevent this is with an adequate layer of insulation. Handling and installing insulation can be hazardous, and is best left to a professional.

6) Prepare Your Pipes

Frozen water expands, which causes pipes to burst, sending water and ice flowing into your home. To prevent this costly, and potentially damaging problem, wrap your pipes in a foam-rubber or fiberglass material. In very cold climates, an electric heat tape wrapped around the pipe is also recommended.

7) Clean Your Gutters

Leaves, twigs and other debris also collect in gutters, creating a dam that traps water. As the temperature drops, this water freezes, causing an ice dam which leads to expensive repairs. While you’re cleaning the gutters, repair or replace worn or damaged gutters and downspouts.

8) Outdoor Faucet Care

First off, remove the hose from the faucet, drain the water from it and stow it away. Otherwise, a sudden cold snap could cause the water in the hose to freeze, causing damage to the faucet, pipes and your home. Turn off the faucet and then cut off the water supply from the inside to avoid this issue.

9) Drain Your Sprinkler

Your lawn looks beautiful all summer because of your sprinkler system, and it was undoubtedly a hefty investment. It’s vital that you prepare your irrigation system for the freezing temperatures ahead by draining it. Otherwise, much like your garden hose, water will freeze in the system, causing it to burst.

10) Lawn & Garden Prep

Clean any dead plant material from around your home, and remove any other debris from the yard, so there aren’t hidden dangers under snow. It’s also a good time to clear out dead branches from the trees in your yard. Heavy snow, ice and wind will cause dried limbs to fall, causing damage to your home.

Don’t let Winter creep up on you without preparing your home properly. It only takes a few minutes to accomplish many of the tips we’ve mentioned above, and most are very inexpensive as well. If you have any questions about home maintenance, please contact us if you’re in the Canton, Westland & Livonia Michigan area. We’ll be happy to help you in any way we can.

Barbeque Safety

barbeque safety fire
With barbeque season already here, homeowners should heed the following safety precautions in order to keep their families and property safe.

 

barbeque safety firePropane grills present an enormous fire hazard, as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is aware of more than 500 fires that result annually from their misuse or malfunction. The following precautions are recommended specifically when using propane grills:

  • Store propane tanks outdoors and never near the grill or any other heat source. In addition, never store or transport them in your car’s trunk.
  • Make sure to completely turn off the gas after you have finished, or when you are changing the tank. Even a small gas leak can cause a deadly explosion.
  • Check for damage to a tank before refilling it, and only buy propane from reputable suppliers.
  • Never use a propane barbecue grill on a terrace, balcony or roof, as this is dangerous and illegal.
  • No more than two 20-pound propane tanks are allowed on the property of a one- or two-family home.
  • To inspect for a leak, spray a soapy solution over the connections and watch for bubbles. If you see evidence of a leak, reconnect the components and try again. If bubbles persist, replace the leaking parts before using the grill.
  • Make sure connections are secure before turning on the gas, especially if the grill hasn’t been used in months. The most dangerous time to use a propane grill is at the beginning of the barbeque season.
  • Ignite a propane grill with the lid open, not closed. Propane can accumulate beneath a closed lid and explode.
  • When finished, turn off the gas first, and then the controls. This way, residual gas in the pipe will be used up.

Charcoal grills pose a serious poisoning threat due to the venting of carbon monoxide (CO). The CPSC estimates that 20 people die annually from accidentally ingesting CO from charcoal grills.  These grills can also be a potential fire hazard. Follow these precautions when using charcoal grills:

  • Never use a charcoal grill indoors, even if the area is ventilated. CO is colorless and odorless, and you will not know you are in danger until it is too late.
  • Use only barbeque starter fluid to start the grill, and don’t add the fluid to an open flame. It is possible for the flame to follow the fluid’s path back to the container as you’re holding it.
  • Let the fluid soak into the coals for a minute before igniting them to allow explosive vapors to dissipate.
  • Charcoal grills are permitted on terraces and balconies only if there is at least 10 feet of clearance from the building, and a water source immediately nearby, such as a hose (or 4 gallons of water).
  • Be careful not to spill any fluid on yourself, and stand back when igniting the grill. Keep the charcoal lighter fluid container at a safe distance from the grill.
  • When cleaning the grill, dispose of the ashes in a metal container with a tight lid, and add water. Do not remove the ashes until they have fully cooled.
  • Fill the base of the grill with charcoal to a depth of no more than 2 inches.

Electric grills are probably safer than propane and charcoal grills, but safety precautions need to be used with them as well. Follow these tips when using electric grills:

  • Do not use lighter fluid or any other combustible materials.
  • When using an extension cord, make sure it is rated for the amperage required by the grill. The cord should be unplugged when not in use, and out of a busy foot path to prevent tripping.
  • As always, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

 

Safety Recommendations for General Grill Use

 

  • Always make sure that the grill is used in a safe place, where kids and pets won’t touch or bump into it. Keep in mind that the grill will still be hot after you finish cooking, and anyone coming into contact with it could be burned.
  • If you use a grill lighter, make sure you don’t leave it lying around where children can reach it. They will quickly learn how to use it.
  • Never leave the grill unattended, as this is generally when accidents happen.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher or garden hose nearby.
  • Ensure that the grill is completely cooled before moving it or placing it back in storage.
  • Ensure that the grill is only used on a flat surface that cannot burn, and well away from any shed, trees or shrubs.
  • Clean out the grease and other debris in the grill periodically. Be sure to look for rust or other signs of deterioration.
  • Don’t wear loose clothing that might catch fire while you’re cooking.
  • Use long-handled barbecue tools and flame-resistant oven mitts.
  • Keep alcoholic beverages away from the grill; they are flammable!

In summary, homeowners should exercise caution when using any kind of grill, as they can harm life and property in numerous ways.