Monday, January 01, 2007

Is it skill or is it luck?

Sometimes when you find certain defects during the course of a home inspection, you don't know whether to attribute it to skill or luck. My guess is it's a combination of the two.

Not too long ago, I inspected a home and happened to notice that the laminated flooring near the front door had become slightly delaminated. Not a big deal, right? However, something made me get down on my hands and knees and take a closer look. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the bottom of the door trim was spongy and wet. And when I opened the adjacent closet door, I smelled a musty odor in the closet. This led me down to the basement and after pulling down the insulation stuffed between the floor joists, I discovered a large, wet area under the door and closet and possibly some mold.

Now I don't know whether this was due to a one-time spill or a leaky door frame (probably the latter) but it definitely got the buyer's attention.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Day In The Life (Of A Home Inspector)

Most of the home inspections that I perform for my clients go smoothly and are incident-free. My clients usually attend the inspection, and for about three hours, they get an opportunity to become very well-acquainted with the property that they want to purchase.

Occasionally, things don't always go smoothly. And almost every time they don't, it's because the homeowner is present during the inspection. Usually, this is a recipe for disaster, especially if the homeowner is not well-acquainted with the home inspection process.

"Why are you inspecting the (insert one of the following: attic, plumbing, furnace, wiring, foundation), are you a licensed (insert one of the following: carpenter, plumber, HVAC technician, electrician, structural engineer) ?"

Essentially, what they are really saying is "Who are you to come into my home and pass judgement on it? My house is perfect, there's nothing wrong with it, and this home inspection is a waste of time."

Of course, taking the time to explain the role of a home inspector to the homeowner is the real waste of time, because all the homeowner is trying to do is reduce your credibility with your clients. For my client's benefit, I will take the time to explain how costly it would be to hire a specialist to inspect for each area of their expertise as opposed to a general practitioner (like myself) who has been trained to spot problems in a wide range of areas.

Typically, the rest of the inspection is spent in an adversarial joust with the homeowner as they try to defend the conditions that may be found:
  • "That foundation crack only leaks in the spring."
  • "That stain on the ceiling was from the one time that an ice dam formed on the roof."
  • "There's nothing wrong with the attic ventilation." (same house with the ice dam above)
  • "The chimney flashing only leaks when the wind blows from the north at 20 mph or more."
  • "Nobody ever told us we needed a railing on those stairs."
  • "Polarity, shlamarity, that outlet has always worked just fine."
  • "We've been using the garbage disposal with our septic system for 20 years."
  • "The leach field is fine, we just had a new one put in 5 years ago." (same house with garbage disposal above)
  • And so on.....

For home buyers, my advice is to ask your real estate agent to contact the seller's agent and request that the homeowner not be present during the inspection. This will give you the time to look around freely, ask any questions of the inspector and not feel inhibited by the presence of the homeowner.

For homeowners, my advice is to vacate the premises during a home inspection. What you don't know won't upset you, and you'll have ample opportunity to challenge any findings, if they are even brought to your attention. At worst, you might find out about some conditions of which you weren't even aware.

Friday, March 10, 2006

What Killed Dana Reeve?

Although it seems like the purpose of this blog is to promote radon testing based upon my previous entries, I can assure you that it is not. However, I am passionate about radon and how uninformed the general public is about it's potential to cause cancer. As most of you know, Dana Reeve, the recent widow of film actor Christopher Reed, died this past week from lung cancer. The news stories that I saw stated that she and her husband were not smokers. However, most of these accounts said that it was a mystery as to how someone could get lung cancer without having smoked or at least being subjected to second hand smoke.

Well, it's not a mystery to me nor should it be to you! Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in people that don't smoke! The U.S. Surgeon General has said it and the EPA has said it. They just do a lousy job of letting everyone know. More than 20,000 deaths in the U.S. each year are attributed to radon. Although we'll never be sure of the exact cause of the lung cancer that killed Dana Reeve, radon is certainly the most likely candidate. Get your home tested for radon. What you don't know can kill you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Dear This Old House

Dear TOH,

Having just received the December issue of TOH magazine, I want to applaud you for your "How It Works" article on carbon monoxide alarms. Most importantly, with this article you've reminded your readers of the danger posed by an invisible, odorless gas that can kill, while providing them with some interesting facts about CO alarms. However, one fact really struck me. In the article, it states that more than 200 deaths occur in the U.S. each year from CO poisoning. As important as this number is, it pales in comparison to the number of deaths caused by another invisible, odorless gas in all of our homes. Radon gas.

The EPA estimates that 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. each year are caused by elevated levels of radon gas in some of our homes. That number exceeds the combined number of annual deaths caused in homes by falls, electrocution, fires or CO poisoning, yet most homes have code mandated safety features like railings, GFCI outlets and smoke or fire alarms (only 1/3 have CO alarms as per your informative article). In the state of Maine, where I live, one out of every two homes has a radon gas level higher than the EPA recommended mitigation level!

There's a huge disconnect here and our government hasn't done a great job in getting these important words out: Get Tested! It's the only way to find out whether a home has high radon levels. The good news is that if a home has elevated radon levels, it usually can be mitigated to acceptable levels at a reasonable cost.

You folks have an opportunity to perform a great public service by making your readers and viewers more aware of radon gas and how they can get it reduced to acceptable levels, both in new home construction and in existing homes. Please check it out.

Here are some links that I have found useful when explaining radon gas to my home inspection clients: (public service announcement)

Thanks for listening and keep up the great work!

Phil Petroska
Harrison, Maine

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Here I Go Again (About Radon)

Time to get up on my radon pedestal again!

The other day, I ran into another real estate agent who's severely misinformed about radon gas and the potential health effects it can cause. Maybe 10 or 15 years ago, I could understand the distrust of the facts about radon, but not now. We know so much more now than we did then. Radon gas causes lung cancer. Simple. Black and white. Just like the Surgeon General Warning on cigarette packs, on January 13, 2005, the Surgeon General issued the following National Health Advisory:

"Indoor radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and breathing it over prolonged periods can present a significant health risk to families all over the county," Dr. Carmona said. "It's important to know that this threat is completely preventable. Radon can be detected with a simple test and fixed through well-established venting techniques."

For the full advisory text, visit

Getting back to my misinformed real estate agent friend, as he stood outside taking a drag from his cigarette, he said, "I just think this radon stuff is a bunch of baloney."

Enough said.

For the facts about radon, visit

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Got Radon?

Although I've been offering radon detection services for a number of years, it has not been something that I've actively pushed. However, this past week, I conducted a radon test on a one year old home that resulted in an average reading of 100.2 pCi/L. The EPA recommends that you fix any home that has radon concentrations of 4.0 pCi/L or higher. So you can see that this home has a huge radon problem.

For those of you who don't know, radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that eminates from the soil and seeps into homes through cracks and other openings in basements, crawlspaces and slabs. There is no safe level of radon, but the lower the concentration, the lower the risk. Lung cancer caused by radon is estimated to cause more than 20,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, making it the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. The good news is that most homes with high radon levels can be fixed at a reasonable price.

If you haven't had your home tested for radon, do it now! Kits are available in most hardware stores for less than $25 which includes the cost of analyzing the samples. The only way to determine whether your house has a radon problem is to test. You can't go by neighborhood location, soil types, etc. A house located next to a high radon home could have perfectly normal results, but you have to test to be sure. For more information, visit

I know that from now on, my home inspection clients will be required to sign a waiver agreement acknowledging that I have given them the option to test for radon, in the event that they decline to have testing performed.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

This Is Not A Lava Lamp!

I came across this fixture during a recent inspection.

Sort of reminiscent of a Three Stooges episode, don't you think?

As best as we could determine, the liquid was water that may have entered through a leak in the roof, probably at the plumbing vent. The water gravitated to a low spot on the ceiling where this fixture was located and dripped into the light fixture.

There was no access to the attic, so the exact source of the leak could not be determined.