Annual Home Maintenance

I wrote this article because during my Home Inspections in the Colorado Springs and Denver areas, I get  many questions about maintaining the different parts or aspects of a home.  Your Home is such a large investment  so to protect your investment I have assembled a list of items which should be maintained or checked annually.
Preventive maintenance is cheaper than replacement of major items such as flooring, walls or Mold Mitigation.  This is not a complete list as many homes have unique features which may also require maintenance, use this list to build your own list.  Or have me Inspect your home on an annual basis.  During my Home Inspections I check about 500 items in and around the home.

EXTERIOR

  • Plants and shrubs touching your house should be trimmed and tree branches touching your roof line should be trimmed as well.  Plants and shrubbery  in contact with your house will allow moisture to decay exterior finishes and allow Wood Destroying Insects a habitat.
  • Check for wide gaps in your concrete slabs (walks & drive), especially at your foundation line, caulk as necessary.  Wide gaps will allow moisture under your slabs and cause movement which can lead to an expensive concrete replacement. 
  • Test your frost proof hose bibs, to do so turn your hose bib on (with out a hose attached) then turn off, a small amount of water should drain from the hose bib which would mean the valve is working correctly.  Malfunctioning hose bibs can be expensive when they freeze and rupture.
  • Test exterior GFCI outlets, this is a safety item which should not be ignored, it is a matter of your safety.  If GFCI does not trip, have it replaced by a competent Electrician.
  • Check all horizontal house trim especially above doors and windows for deteriorated or cracked caulking, replace as necessary.  When caulking is no longer effective, moisture may get inside your walls and cause mold growth or deteriorate your wall finishes.  Check for loose soffit material or loose siding which can allow insects inside your walls of attic.
  • Check rain gutters and down spouts, clean as necessary.  Down spouts should drain 3' to 5' away from wall lines.
  • Clean window wells as necessary, window wells clogged with leaves and debris can prevent proper drainage. The result can lead to water inside your basement or crawl space.
  • Check decks and railings for loose planks or railings, re-secure as necessary.  If surface coating is worn re-coat with a UV protectant which can extend the life of your wood.
  • Check fences and gates for loose screws, hinges & slats, correct as necessary.
  • Check irrigation valves for leaks and drips, repair as necessary.  Irrigation valves are normally located next to foundation walls and if they continue to leak the moisture could get into basement or crawl space or the wet soil at footing area could cause settlement and wall cracking.

GARAGE

  • Check garage door parts and hinges for loose bolts and screws, re-tighten as necessary.  Check auto reverse and photoelectric eyes and manual disconnect  for proper function. Defective components may create a safety hazard.  To test auto reverse function while door is in the closing position grasp bottom door edge with both hands, if you cannot reverse the doors operation with mild hand resistance the sensitivity should be adjusted.
  • Door from garage to house should have self closing hinges or closure  to prevent the spread of fire or fumes into living quarters.
  • Check in corners of garage for mouse droppings, exterminate as necessary.

BASEMENT / CRAWL SPACE

  • Check around windows and perimeter walls for signs of moisture.  If moisture does exist a specialist may be needed to determine cause. Moisture in basements and crawl spaces can lead to mold growth.
  • Clean window tracks for easy operation, you may need these windows as means of egress.
  • Check operation of sump pump, most pumps have an external float which can be moved in an upward motion to activate pump.
  • If furnace is located in basement check filter.  Filters should be changed every couple of months through the winter season.
  • At top of Gas Water Heater check around vent cap for dark residue, this is usually caused from back drafting, consult a licensed plumber for repairs.

KITCHEN

  • Test GFCI outlets, a defective GFCI can lead to electrical shock.  All outlets within six feet of wet areas should be GFCI protected. If outlet fails have a qualified Electrician replace.
  • Check for leaks under sinks, some leaks go un-noticed and can lead to expensive floor and cabinet repairs.
  • Clean under Refrigerator and if coil is accessible clean it also.  Keeping these clean can prolong the life of the Refrigerator and improve healthy air quality.
  • Check for loose caulking around sinks and counter tops, replace as necessary.  Loose caulking can allow moisture to come in contact with particle board which is under the formica surfaces and swells easily.
  • Clean aerator on faucet, small particles in water accumulate on screens and restrict water flow.
  • Check for anti-tip bracket on range/oven, install if missing.  This bracket prevents unit from tipping if child climbs on oven door.

BATHROOMS

  • Check GFCI's for proper operation, have replaced if defective. GFCI outlets are required for areas within 6' of wet areas.
  • Check for leaks under sinks, some leaks go un-noticed and can lead to expensive floor and cabinet repairs.
  • Check for loose caulking around sinks, tubs and counter tops, replace as necessary.
  • Clean aerator on faucet, small particles in water accumulate on screens and restrict water flow.
  • Check for loose water closet (toilet) or signs of moisture around bottom of toilet.  Toilets can become loose over time, re-tighten or replace wax ring as necessary.

INTERIOR AREAS

  • Have carpets professionally cleaned on an annual basis, this can extend the life of your carpets and promotes air quality.
  • Use hose type vacuum cleaner to clean floor ducts, floor vents usually lift out without the need of tools, it is amazing how much lint and debri can collect in floor vents and go un-noticed, this will also promote healthy air quality.
  • Test Smoke Detectors/Alarms and replace batteries on an annual basis.  Replace defective detectors.  Smoke alarms should be tested once a month and Experts agree Smoke Alarms and Detectors should be replaced after ten years.
  • Test CO Detectors and replace batteries. CO Detectors should be tested once a month and Experts agree CO Detectors should be replaced after ten years.  Colorado State Law requires sellers of homes to provide a CO Detector within 10' to the entrance of sleeping quarters.
  • Test AFCI (arc fault current interrupters) breakers in electrical panel if equipped.
  • Check Fire Extinguishers, most have a gauge close to the handle, the dial should indicate charged or in the green zone, if not replace or have recharged.
  • Having your home tested for Radon on an annual basis is recommended.  Radon levels can change with seasons and from year to year.  EPA declares Radon is the second leading cause of Lung Cancer, Radon Gases can be prevented by installing a Mitigation System.

  Inspections Done Right

Should I Worry About Radon?

Based on the amount of a requests I receive for Radon Testing , homeowners and home buyers are becoming more concerned about Radon gas. I think it’s important for homeowners and buyers on radon and radon testing.  I’ve included a list of links at the bottom of this article.  Please reach out ot me if you have questions.

What is Radon?

Radon is a colorless and odorless radioactive gas that is produced by the radioactive decay of radium. Radium is a product of a decay chain beginning with uranium, a naturally occurring radioactive element. Radium is found in trace amounts in nearly all rocks,soils,and groundwater as well as building materials, plants,animals,and the human body.

Where is Radon Found?

Radon is a natural component of the air we breathe. Radon gas decays to solid particles called radon decay products. Inhaled radon decay products account for more than two thirds of the natural background radiation dose to members of the public. Scientists have long known about the radiation dose from radon, particularly to miners; however, the general public in the United States became aware of the potential risk of radon in homes in the 1980s.

The map below shows the concentration of mapped Radon zones. Notice Colorado notice we in Colorado are in the Highest  Zone 1.   Colorado Springs and Elpaso County have a very high incidence of Radon Gas.

EPA Map of Radon Zones.

Is Radon Harmful to Your Health?

According to the EPA, radon is the second most important cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking. Radon exposure is also considered the  primary cause of lung cancer in individuals who have never smoked. The majority of radon related lung cancers are attributable  to long-term exposures at low or moderate concentrations since most of the exposures occur at these lower concentrations. Adverse health  effects, other than lung cancer, have not been consistently demonstrated in epidemiological studies.

EPA chart (vertical number of Deaths - Horizontal Causes of Death)

 

How is Radon Measured?

Radon concentration is a measurable quantity that is related to the amount of radiation that would be emitted by radon and its decay products  in a liter of air.  Radon concentration in air is expressed in units of picocuries per liter (pCi/L).Higher radon concentrations and smoking habits are related to a higher potential for adverse human health effects. The concentration to which an individual is exposed can be influenced by that person’s lifestyle,such as time spent indoors, building construction,local geology, and other environmental factors.

What Level of Radon is Acceptable?

The U.S. EPA has established guidelines for exposure to radon in homes. At levels of 4pCi/L or more, the U.S. EPA encourages members of the public to take steps to reduce the radon concentrations and to consider action at levels above 2pCi/L. The Health Physics Society concurs with the U.S. EPA guideline of 4pCi/L. However, because 4pCi/L is not a definite line between safe and unsafe, the HPS also agrees with the EPA s recommendation to consider action at levels below 4pCiL. Recent residential epidemiological studies have demonstrated that there is a statistically significant increased risk of lung cancer at concentrations below the U.S. EPA s action level of 4pCi/L.

Radon Testing Guidelines

You should have your home or building tested by a Certified Radon Measurement Professional.   Closed house conditions are required 12 hours prior to deployment of the tests and for the 48 hours during the test.  Closed-house conditions means keeping all windows closed, keeping doors closed except for normal entry and exit, and not operating fans or other machines which bring in air from outside.  Fans that are part of a radon-reduction system or small exhaust fans operating for only short periods of time may run during the test.

How Long does Radon Testing Take?

Many different types of Radon Measurement Devices are available.  Short term tests require a minimum deployment tome of 48 hours to 7 days.  For the Radon tests I conduct I use either a Charcoal Liquid Scintillation which is two small vials of activated charcoal  or Activated Charcoal Adsorption container filled with activated charcoal and covered with a screen and filter.   Both of these types are deployed for 48 hours.  Long  term can be a Continuous Monitoring which could be in place for a year.

What if my Radon Levels are High?

For existing homes with radon concentrations at or above 4pCi/L, proper radon mitigation can almost always reduce levels to below 2pCi/L. Homeowners, or others responsible for a particular building, should contact a qualified radon mitigation specialist to determine the appropriate actions to be taken to reduce indoor radon concentrations. Confirmation tests should be made after mitigation to ensure that the system is working properly.

What if I Plan to Build a New Home?

For new construction, particularly in areas designated by the U.S. EPA or state radon programs as  having the potential for indoor radon concentrations exceeding 4 pCi/L, radon‐reducing features or a full mitigation system should be installed at the time of construction. Nationwide, the average cost of installing radon resistant systems in new construction is in the range of several hundred dollars, while the cost of mitigating an existing home often exceed $1,000.

Radon and Home Sales?

Radon testing is standard for many real estate transactions along the front range.   Because real estate sales happen quickly, there is often little time to mitigate for radon and this becomes a price negotiation item regardless of whether the buyer is actually concerned with radon or not. The best thing to do is to test for radon NOW and save the results in case the buyer is interested in them.  If there is a radon issue, I can recommend a mitigation company to resolve your issue and get on with the purchase or sale of your home.

 

Radon References:

EPA on Radon

El Paso County Colorado Radon Services

InterNACHI Radon Information

Or Contact me for your Radon Testing or other Home Inspection Needs

Inspections Done Right

Instructions for Home Occupants Prior to Radon Test

Radon Testing Checklist

 Testing for radon is not complicated.  Improper testing may yield inaccurate results and require another test.  Disturbing or interfering with the test device, or with closed-house conditions, may invalidate the test results and is illegal in some states.  If the seller or qualified tester cannot confirm that all items have been completed, take another test.

Before Conducting a Radon Test

•    Notify the occupants of the importance of proper testing conditions. Give the occupants written instructions or a copy of this Guide and explain    the directions carefully.

•    Conduct the radon test for a minimum of 48 hours; some test devices have a minimum exposure time greater than 48 hours.

•    When doing a short-term test ranging from 2-4 days, it is important to maintain closed-house conditions for at least 12 hours before the beginning of the test and during the entire test period.

•    When doing a short-term test ranging from 4-7 days, EPA recommends that closed-house conditions be maintained

•    If you conduct the test yourself, use a qualified radon measurement device and follow the laboratory’s instructions.  Your state may be able to    provide you with a list of do-it-yourself test devices available from qualified laboratories.

•    If you hire someone to do the test, hire only a qualified individual.  Some states issue photo identification (ID) cards; ask to see it.  The tester’s ID number, if available, should be included or noted in the test

•    The test should include method(s) to prevent or detect interference with testing conditions or with the testing device itself.

•    If the house has an active radon-reduction system, make sure the vent fan is operating properly.  If the fan is not operating properly, have it (or ask to have it) repaired and then test.

During a Radon Test

Closed-house conditions means keeping all windows closed, keeping doors closed except for normal entry and exit, and not operating fans or other machines which bring in air from outside.  Fans that are part of a radon-reduction system or small exhaust fans operating for only short periods of time may run during the test.

•    Maintain closed-house conditions during he entire time of a short term test, especially for tests shorter than one week in length.

•    Operate the home’s heating and cooling systems normally during the test. For tests lasting less than one week, operate only air-conditioning units which recirculate interior air.

•    Do not disturb the test device at any time during the test.

•    If a radon-reduction system is in place, make sure the system is working properly and will be in operation during the entire radon test.

After a Radon Test

•    If an elevated level is found, fix the home. Contact a qualified radon-reduction contractor about lowering the radon level.  EPA recommends that you mitigate the home when the radon level is 4 pCi/L or more.

•    Be sure that you or the radon tester can demonstrate or provide information to ensure that the testing conditions were not violated during the testing period.

Leo     Inspections Done Right

Building a Tamper Resistant Radon Test

 

I too struggled on the best approach to a tamper resistant and affordable method to deploy my Radon Gas Detectors from Pro-Lab.  I took a trip to my favorite home improvement center and took with me a Radon Gas Detector bottle.  I went to the plumbing department with an idea of what I wanted to build.  The following is a list of items with photos and approximate costs to put this together.

2- 1 1/2” OD Crumb Cups         about $4.00
1 stick of aluminum angle         about $8.00
2- 1 1/4” PVC Couplings           about $1.00
2- 1 1/4” PVC Plugs                  about $2.00
1 bag cable ties                        about $3.00
1 cheap Tripod                         about $5.00

Parts needed for Radon Bottle HoldersCrumb Cup

Aluminum AnglePVC CouplingPVC Plug

 

You could substitute the Aluminum angle for some other product ( I just had the aluminum on hand) and the Tripod I found at Goodwill ( part of an old portable projection screen ) for about $5.00.

I cut the angle to 30” long to maintain the appropriate distance between the Radon bottles.  I drilled a hole in the center of the PVC plug the size of the pop rivet I used and attached one plug to each end of the angle.  Then using clear PVC glue, glued the couplings to the plugs.

I drilled a hole in the center of the angle to attach it to the tripod and also drilled opposing holes near the top of the couplings for the cable ties.  Take one cable tie and attach the Crumb Cup (upside down) to the top of the coupling.
 

Rado InspectionRadon Inspection In Progress

 When assembled and ready to deploy the Radon Gas Detector bottles, with the tripod setup, remove the caps and place them in the bottom of the coupling.  This will allow the top of the bottle to be level with the top of the coupling.  With the caps below the bottles you never wonder where you put them.   Place the Radon Gas Detector bottles in the couplings and install the other cable tie.  If you notice I have used red cable ties which I purchased in an electronics store, which the general public is not aware.  It would be difficult to block air flow to the Radon bottles.

  To retrieve the Radon Bottles use a small pair of side cutters and cut the long cable tie, (the short tie acts as a hinge) replace the caps and don't forget to fill out the rest of your "chain of custody report".  After I retrieve the samples I remove the bolt which holds the angle to the tripod so indeed it is very compact.

These stands are very compact, light, affordable and easy.

Don’t forget  to give the occupants good instructions on the closed house conditions required 12 hours prior to test and 48 hours for testing period.