Home Inspection Issues & FAQs

What is Radon?

From the desk of Jeff Remas, President
REMAS Inspections


If you live in Pennsylvania or are thinking about it, I'm sure by now you have heard aboutRadon_zones_3 Radon.  Pennsylvania is a  class 1 radon state due to it's higher than average levels of Radon gas. Everyone knows that Radon is a colorless, odorless gas, but where does it come from and what can it do to us?

It all starts with Uranium in our soil. That's right, radioactive Uranium! The Uranium eventually decays and starts to break down into Radium, another radioactive element in our soil. Both Uranium and Radium are solid and metallic. The "half-life" or the time it takes an element to lose half of its strength of Uranium is 4.5 billion years. The "half-life" of Radium is 1,620 years. So as you can see, it is going to be here for quite a long time. When the Radium in the soil starts to break down, it forms a gas as a bi-product called Radon which is what all the fuss is about. By the way, the "half-life" of Radon is only 3.82 days so it does not last very long, but it does pack a punch. Because radon is a gas, it can move about and enter homes. Pretty "geeky" stuff here so far but as long as you are still reading, I will have no choice but to continue on our little Pocono science class. Now we know that Radon loses half of its strength in about 3.82 days but as it decays the bi-product of the Radon released Alpha particles of radiation. If anyone remembers Alpha, Beta & Gamma radiation class, you will remember that the Alpha particles are the largest but slowest moving of radiation. It is these Alpha particles that enter our lungs and cause the most damage, even while we sleep.

Now I could get into more specifics about how Radon gas breaks down into the Alpha particles called the Polonium Daughters. A "Daughter" is the nuclear term for a by-product of an element. When I first heard this term I thought is was a pair of twins from New Jersey, but I was wrong of course. Anyway, it is actually the Alpha particles produced by the Radon gas that cause the damage to our lungs. Let's look into that.

Radon_in_a_home The Alpha particles from the decay of Radon attach themselves to dust particles and enter the lungs. Many of these particles then attach themselves to the lining of the lungs where they decay and deliver radiation doses to different types of lung cells. The energy from the radiation can either kill the lung cell or transform it. This transformation has the potential to develop into lung cancer. Those who smoke and are exposed to lung cancer are twenty times more likely to develop lung cancer. There have been approximately twenty scientific studies from all over the world and all have indicated and increase in lung cancer due to exposure to radon. Not great information is it?

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection; there are an estimated 860-3,800 lung cancer deaths per year in Pennsylvania due to residential radon exposure. An estimated 40% of Pennsylvania homes have radon levels above EPA's action guideline of 4 pCi/l.

Radon is measured in Pico-Curies per liter of air. A Pico-Curie is one trillionth of a Curie which is a measurement of radiation. The EPA has set a radon action level of 4 pCi/L. This means that the Agency recommends that action be taken to reduce Radon levels in homes or buildings that are found to be at or above 4 pCi/L.  Radon mitigation systems range in price from $600 to $1200 and are usually guaranteed to reduce the levels to within safe ranges.

Jeff Remas, PA-DEP#2268

Pocono Crawlspaces - Common Issues & Advice

From the Desk of:
Jeff Remas, President
REMAS Inspections, Inc.
West Pittston, PA
Web Page

Every day that I wake up & head out to inspect someone's home that has a crawlspace, I could probably fill some of my inspection forms ahead of time. It is an unfortunate fact is that many crawlspaces in the Pocono Mountains have moisture problems. As we all know, there are plenty of horror stories out there about crawlspaces & moisture problems so why don't we talk about the cause and cure of these problems.

There are two different types of crawlspace setups, vented and non-vented.

Vented: There are vents that provide adequate cross ventilation, the sub floor of the home is insulated along with the pipes in the crawlspace to prevent freezing, there is a vapor barrier on the ground and the vents get closed in the winter time. A small heater or heat tape is used help keep the pipes from freezing in addition to the insulation on the pipes.

Non-vented: The crawlspace foundation walls are insulated, the sub-floor is not. The vents are blocked off with insulation all year long, a vapor barrier is in place on the crawlspace ground and the air is conditioned with a dehumidifier. A small heater and pipe insulation are still recommended.

Causes & Cures:

1) No rain gutters. Although controversial, we all need gutters to keep the rainwater away from our homes. The average roof sheds 1,000 gallons of water during 1 inch of rain. This water will fall along the foundation and find the crawlspace very quickly. The best rain gutter covers are solid and cover the gutter opening, allowing water to come in by curling under the cap via gravity. Mesh and screen covers just get clogged up or collapse.
2) Downspouts terminate along foundation. The downspouts need to shed water away from the home at least 6 feet or more or to underground pipes that lead away from the home.
3) Terrain slopes toward foundation. Make sure that the landscaping does not do this. All surface water should be directed away from the home. A swale may be necessary if your home is built on a slope. The foundation can have significant structural damage caused by water along the foundation that freezes in the winter collapsing the foundation inward.
4) Inadequate ventilation. Don't forget to open those vents that you closed for the winter. A crawlspace needs a minimum of 1 square foot of ventilation for every 150 square feet of crawlspace floor area and should be within 3 feet of the corners allowing for cross ventilation. Low decks, other types of construction above or against vents along with shrubs can block the vents making them useless. Your home needs to breathe.
5) Insulation installed upside down. Depending on how you have your crawlspace set up, either vented or non-vented, you may have insulation in the flooring. The paper side of the fiberglass insulation should always face the heated living space and sit against the sub flooring. When it faces downward towards the earth, it has a tendency to trap moisture between the sub floor and the paper hiding moisture damage. If your crawlspace is set up properly as a non vented crawlspace, no insulation is necessary in your floor.
6) Damaged or loose vapor barrier. You should have a 6 mil thick poly vapor barrier on the ground of your crawlspace, overlapped and sealed around columns and the walls. This will help to keep the ground moisture vapors from rising up into your framing. Most homeowners will add gravel on the top for protection.
7) No or non functioning sump pump. If you have a sump pump installed, make sure it is at the lowest point in the crawlspace and all area easily drain to it. The pump should be inspected regularly and function automatically. If you get standing water in your crawlspace even with items 1 through 6 in place, you need a sump pump. Nothing can take the place of a properly installed perimeter foundation drainage system by the builder but a sump pump is the next best thing. The pump should be in a plastic cylinder in the ground and eject water outside, away from the building and not into the septic or sewer system.
8) A non vented crawlspace with no dehumidifier. If you are going to set up your crawlspace as non-vented, you must condition the air with a dehumidifier and have the water collected piped to the sump pump or install a condensate pump. If you don't pipe it to drain automatically, you will be emptying the collection device daily. Buy a quality dehumidifier with an adjustable, automatic setting so it does not run all of the time.

Please remember that a crawlspace is an integral part of your home and should be kept neat, clean and easily accessible. Inspect it often looking for signs of moisture or mildew and consult the local code official for any repairs. Remember the old saying "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure".

From experience, my personal preference is the non-vented crawlspace. Talk with your home improvement specialist or builder to see what is best for your situation. All systems should be professionally installed and inspected by local code enforcement.

Jeff Remas
REMAS Inspections, Inc.