Do you need a Sewer Line inspection when buying a home?

The main Sewer Line is a large pipe (usually buried deep underground) that most interior drains go to. Basically, the drains from every sink, shower, tub and toilet eventually end up connected to the main sewer line. The sewer line itself is not visible once it leaves the home because it is buried underground. During a typical home inspection, we cannot see into a home’s underground main sewer line without the use of a specialty camera, called a sewer scope. The question is, should you pay to have a sewer scope inspection completed before you buy a home?

A few things to consider….

You are buying it-

This is the often the biggest surprise home buyers have when we talk about the sewer line. In nearly all jurisdictions in Colorado, the homeowners own the main sewer line inside of their home and the entire buried line all the way to a city connection (or city tap). The city connection is usually near the sidewalk area or even under the street itself. Maintenance and repairs are the owners responsibility.

Problems are not uncommon-

There are a host of potential issues with a main sewer line. The most common issue we find during a sewer scope inspection is that the line has significant buildup and needs a professional cleaning. That’s pretty straight forward. The rest of the problems are not so simple. We sometimes find completely disconnected lines, which means the sewage is literally dumping hazardous materials underground somewhere on the property. Tree roots can puncture the sewer line. Blockages can cause back-up into the interior of the home. The pipe itself can crack, separate, offset or even be compressed from pressure underground. Older sewer lines are sometimes made of a clay or concrete, which can fall apart easily and are likely to need a full replacement. Brand new homes are not immune to the issues either. We occasionally find broken lines on newer homes, often from construction vehicles crushing the line. The real kicker is that these issues are usually unknown to the current homeowners, so do not expect to see this disclosed during a home sale.

Sewer Lines are expensive-

Don’t take our word for it, ask around. A general cleaning of the line is likely in the $200-$300 dollar range depending on the area and method used. Any other repairs at all are likely going to be in the thousands of dollars, and possibly tens of thousands of dollars range. Nothing is cheap here. When a full replacement of the sewer line is necessary, it is not a small task. Remember, these are often buried deep underground which means heavy equipment, manpower and money. After the underground repairs are completed the soil, landscaping, sidewalks, driveways and even city streets will have to be repaired as well. Guess who pays for that? Yep, the homeowner.

When our clients ask if a sewer scope is necessary to add onto their full home inspection package, our answer is nearly always a confident “YES”. Currently we are finding issues in roughly 50-60% of the sewer scopes completed, regardless of the age of the home. When you consider a sewer scope inspection costs $150-$300, it makes sense to have this completed during your due-diligence and inspection period. Spending $150 to find out if there are thousands of dollars of repairs needed is a no-brainer.

Radon Testing, at a glance.

Your Real Estate Agent or Home Inspector may be suggesting that you do a “Radon Test” before you move into your new home. What is Radon and how is it tested?

Here are some quick facts to grasp the concept and links to more information.

What is Radon

  1. Radon is a radioactive element that is toxic, colorless and odorless.
  2. Radon is in nearly all soil types and gets into a home through gaps/cracks in the home and foundations. Basements usually have the highest concentrations of Radon.
  3. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, and second among smokers. Read more here.
  4. On average, indoor Radon levels in Douglas County (Colorado) are approximately 50% higher than the recommended “Action Level” set by the U.S. EPA.

How do we test for Radon?

During a typical home sale, we do a “short-term test” that is roughly 60 hours in total. This means that a test device is strategically placed in the home 60hr radon test begins. The 60 hour test consists of a 12 hour delay, followed by 48 hours of recorded testing. After the test is complete, a report is generated that shows the average radon levels in the home during that time.

Other notes to consider:

The test must completed in “Closed Home Conditions” (See the graphic below). This means keeping all windows and doors closed except for normal entry and exit, and not operating fans or other machines (Swamp coolers, whole house fans etc.) which bring in air from the outside . Fans that are part of a radon-mitigation system or small exhaust fans operating for only short periods of time may run during the test. Closed Home Conditions must be maintained 12 hours prior to the test, and for the duration of the 48 hour test. Our monitors include features that detect tampering of the conditions of the home, or of the monitors themselves.

The home will need to be accessed twice for approximately 10 minutes. Once to drop the monitor, and once to pick it up at least 60 hours later. If there is a home inspection scheduled with the radon testing, the monitor may be dropped off prior to the inspection so the results can be read at the time of inspection. Another option is to drop the monitor off during the inspection, and returning at least 60 hours later to gather the monitor and receive the report.

The EPA recommends taking action to mitigate Radon if the results of the test are 4.0 pCi/L or greater. (That’s Picocuries per liter, and I’m not going to define that here! It’s the number 4.0 that is important). The average indoor Radon level in the U.S. is 1.3 pCi/L. There is no “safe level” of Radon established by the EPA. It is up to the buyer or homeowner to take action or not.

Although a 48 hour test is typical for a home sale, long-term testing is more accurate. Long term testing will take at least 90 days, and usually isn’t possible during the diligence period of a home sale. If the initial test comes back high we recommend testing again, preferably for a longer duration. If there isn’t time for that, a Radon Mitigation system can be installed and another test can be completed later to verify the system is working as intended. Radon Mitigation systems typically cost $1500 to $2500, depending on the specific home construction, location and installation techniques.

Order a Radon Test HERE.

Colorado Radon Testing Laws. HERE (Effective July 2022)

Read more about Radon HERE.

What’s included in a Home Inspection?

A home is the biggest purchase most people will ever make, and a home inspection is always recommended before buying a home. It’s important to realize the condition of your investment.

While some little quirks may be nothing to worry about, there may be more serious issues that only a professional home inspector can assess.

Here’s a helpful info-graphic that shows you what’s covered in a home inspection

What's Included in a Home Inspection

Infographic courtesy of Spectora

R22 and older Air Conditioners

You may have an Air Conditioning unit at your home that uses R22 refrigerant. If your home inspector or HVAC professional has mentioned this to you, here is what you need to know.

Basically, R22 refrigerant (also called HCFC-22 or Freon) was widely used in many air conditioners up until about 2010. This product is being phased out of production due to environmental concerns from the EPA (read more here). If your AC unit is older than 2010, it likely still has R22 inside. You can look up the age here. The concern is that the cost to add R22 into a unit for repairs or maintenance will likely be expensive, and that cost will only increase with time as there isn’t a large supply. While the AC may be working just fine, it is important to understand costs to repair may not be feasible. Upgrades to a newer air conditioning system will likely be the course of action.

Most newer air conditioners use a more environmentally friendly refrigerant product called R-410A. You can easily find out which product you have by reading the manufacturers data plate that is mounted on the unit.

This is HCFC-22 (Commonly R22 or Freon)

This is R-410A, the new standard in Refrigerant.

How to know if your Radon Mitigation system is working.

Radon Mitigation systems are typically installed in a home to reduce the radon levels to an acceptable amount. The EPA is the governing body that gives us guidance on what an acceptable amount of Radon actually is. That magic number set by the EPA is 3.9 or lower. Ultimately, it is up to the homeowner to decide what level of radon is acceptable.

Now that a system is installed, how do you know it works? The levels were likely too high at some point and you (or the prior owner) decided to have the system installed, right? Well, Radon Gas is almost NEVER reduced to zero (no measurable radon) inside of a home, even with a mitigation system installed. Yep! You likely still have radon gas in your home.

The ONLY way to know if a system is reducing radon levels enough is to perform a Radon Test. That’s it. By far the biggest misconception I see with homeowners and buyers is that they do not need to test for Radon once a mitigation system is installed. This is incorrect and a very dangerous piece of advice. After a system is installed, the home should be tested to confirm the system works within 2 weeks. That way any corrections and improvements on the system can be made quickly. After that we recommend testing again every 2 years, during any change of ownership, after any remodels or renovations and after HVAC upgrades in the home.

What about this little device on the system, isn’t this showing the levels of Radon?

Radon Mitigation System Manometer
This device is NOT telling you anything about radon levels in the home. Specifically, this device is called a manometer and it indicates pressure within the system. Basically, the radon fan is either on or off at anytime, and this is your way of knowing. An active mitigation system will have a radon fan running 24/7. The fan is usually installed out of sight (in the attic, exterior etc..). When the manometer fluid levels out, it indicates there is no suction in the system so the fan is currently off. That lets you know the system is not working properly, needs repairs and radon gas levels are likely rising. The manometer simply gives the homeowner a convenient way to check on the system at anytime to make sure the fan is running. It’s also important to note that you may not have a manometer at all. They are only necessary when you have an “Active” system, meaning a fan is permanently installed. Some radon mitigation systems are designed to be “Passive”and do not need a manometer. This is common on new construction.

There are devices that actively monitor radon levels in the home and are quite accurate. This product by Airthings is a good example. A homeowner could install this device and use it in a similar way that a carbon monoxide detector works. It is important to note that while these devices can help indicate current Radon levels in a home, they do NOT replace a short-term radon test performed by a professional. Radon professionals should be certified to perform the test, use only approved devices that are approved by the NRPP, and use devices that are calibrated yearly in an approved lab. This is one area where it pays to hire a pro.

The absolute ONLY way to know the average radon levels in a home is to perform a test. We usually perform this test for our clients during a home inspection, but can do it at anytime. Don’t take it for granted, if you have a mitigation system installed you still need to test the home for Radon Gas.