Why does your exterior concrete crack and move, and what to do about it.

On nearly every home we inspect in Colorado, there is inevitably some issue that make it into our report concerning exterior concrete. Cracking sidewalk slabs, heaving driveways and sinking front porches are extremely common defects that make it into our reports. Let’s discuss why concrete on grade (aka “flatwork) is always moving and options you have for maintenance and repairs.

The Basics:

When concrete is first laid on the ground, some work is required to prepare the grade for the concrete. Typically this means removing debris and poor soils, re-filling the area with the proper fill dirt and leveling everything out. The area should then be compacted to a certain extent so the concrete lays flat and the soil does not sink over time with the added weight. Steps should be taken to shed water away from the concrete. Control joints are added in specific locations so when the slabs inevitably move, they do not create ugly cracks through the middle of the slab. A good example of this is a typical sidewalk that is made up of several slabs instead on one giant concrete path. The space between the slabs are the control joints.

The Problems:

Cracking- This happens for many reasons. Concrete can shrink when curing after installation and produce small hairline cracks. Slabs can sink or heave on one side while being stable on the other, creating a crack at the weak point. Too much weight on a surface can cause cracks to form. Concrete mixtures should be tested before they are poured to ensure they fit the application. For example, your patio doesn’t need to bear the same weight as your driveway, so the concrete mixtures should be different. We also expect cracks eventually on all concrete surfaces over time, so it is not always a defect, it’s just old.

Heaving- Anytime water or significant amounts of moisture saturate the underside of the slabs, heaving (lifting) can occur. The pressure from water can be immense. The hydro-static pressure from water alone can literally lift up your entire house, so the relatively light weight sidewalk slabs do not stand a chance. Any siding materials or deck posts that may be sitting on the slab will also lift, causing more damage. To make matters worse, water expands as it freezes. Here in Colorado, we have very frequent freeze/thaw cycles. On Monday it’s 10 below and snowing 10 inches, on Tuesday its 60 and sunny. All of that snow will melt, pool up somewhere, and unless it sheds away quickly will be freezing again by Wednesday. Hopefully it isn’t under your concrete slabs.

Sinking- Concrete sinks when something is going on underneath the slab. The soils may not have been compacted enough before installation, or water may have washed away the soils leaving a space for the heavy slab to sink. It is also possible that heavy objects have caused a slab to sink (your 67′ Buick shouldn’t be parked on the sidewalk, Randy).

Trip Hazards- This is one of the main reasons we (as home inspectors) call out concrete issues during an inspection. All of the previous defects above can cause an edge, or “lip” in the concrete that could cause a person to trip. We’re always looking out for safety issues and will not hesitate to add them to your report. It may not be a concern to you now, but it may be an issue for Grandma when she sneaks up to your house at 10pm all hopped up on Bingo Night and trips on the sidewalk that’s heaving. Consider Grandma, and have the problems repaired.

Notice a common theme here? Water! It’s not always the culprit, but water is definitely the root cause of many concrete issues. These slabs are often installed near the house and, more specifically, the gutter downspouts. When water drains out of the downspouts after a rain or snow melt (a LOT of water) it pools around and under the concrete slabs. This will cause premature erosion of the soils and introduce water. Add in some freezing temperatures and you can be certain the concrete will move significantly and cause cracking, heaving and sinking.

The Maintenance:

You don’t always know how the concrete was installed to begin with, but you can do a little maintenance to prolong the life of your concrete surface:

  • Sealers- Concrete sealers are a product that homeowners can apply on their own. These are applied like paint, are usually clear in color and are installed in very thin layers. Sealers help protect the concrete from harmful UV rays, and help seal the porous concrete material, basically helping to shed water off of the surface. Not all sealers are created equal, nor should you apply them without consulting a concrete professional first. It’s important to use the correct type of sealer, and to apply at the right time. Some are applied within a month after the concrete is poured, some are not. Consult a pro first.
  • Crack Repairs- Remember that water should shed away from concrete and not pool underneath it, right? One way water will get under the concrete is from a crack that has already formed. Patching these cracks with an approved concrete caulking material is one way to slow down the water intrusion. This is especially important on new, thin cracks that have recently formed. If your driveway is sloped downward to the street, large cracks along the lower part of the slab can accumulate a LOT of water runoff when it rains or the snow melts. Concrete caulking will only work on cracks that are up to about 1/2inch in width, so if you have a crack wider than that (none of my business!), you may have to use another type of filler. A concrete mixture could be used in that situation. When in doubt, call a professional.
  • Mudjacking- Ahhhh technology. There exists a way to lift an entire concrete surface in a consistent, quick, inexpensive and very effective way. It’s called mudjacking and it is now very popular. If the slab has sunk (or even just part of the slab has sunk), a mudjacking professional can inject mud or a polyurethane foam mixture under the slab and slowly raise the concrete to the desired height. It doesn’t take long to do, and it’s usually much cheaper than completely removing the old slabs and starting over. This technique can be used on just about any surface unless is completely full of cracks. In that case replacement is likely the only option. Check out this video (2 mins) to see it in action.

Do the preventative maintenance on your sidewalk, porch, driveway, patio and even garage floor and you will significantly prolong the useful life of your concrete surfaces. Left alone for years and it will surely destroy itself and be costly to replace. As always, call text or email us at Green Door Home Inspections with your questions. Happy to help.

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.

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 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 sewer line general cleaning 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.

What is a Range Anti-Tip Device?

Did your inspector make a comment about the lack of an Anti-Tip device? Don’t panic! Let’s take 2 minutes and discuss this little device.

An Anti-Tip device is a very simple bracket that provides a very important safety feature. It is designed to prevent a fixture from tipping over unexpectedly.

It’s that simple. Nowadays, we see these installed on large dressers, televisions and even refrigerators. They cost less than $10, and are often included for free with a new appliance, like your freestanding range/oven.

This is one of the most common issues we find during a typical home inspection. Our inspectors simply pull back on the top oven and if it starts to tip over, we set it down and make a recommendation to have the Anti Tip device installed.

How big of a deal is the lack of this device? Well, that is up to you (the new owner). If you have small children, the door to the oven could be in the open position and used like a ladder. The now weighted down door could cause the entire oven to tip over, injuring the child. Again, it’s up to you. As inspectors, we are working for our client’s best interest. We’d rather you are aware and make a decision, than not know at all. If you’d like to read more about the device, read this from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Can you order a Home Inspection during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Yes. Colorado’s “Public Health Order” describes what services are deemed Critical. It explains:

“Professional services, such as legal, title companies, or accounting services, real estate appraisals and transactions…”. Read more HERE from the Colorado Association of Realtors.

Home Inspections are a professional service occurring during real estate transactions. As such, we are continuing to inspect home for our clients. We are also taking necessary precautions in order to provide safety for everyone involved.

Here are some of safety precautions we are taking:

  • Inspectors must complete “COVID-19 Safety Guidelines for Home Inspectors and Contractors” before inspecting homes. This course was provided by the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. NACHI.
  • The Inspector will wear a face mask and gloves at all times.
  • Personnel at the inspection will be limited. In most cases, this means only the inspector will be present at the home.
  • Minimum 6 feet distance from any personnel onsite.
  • Verbal contact with agents, homeowners and clients prior to the inspection in order to ensure the procedures are clear for everyone.
  • Limiting time onsite. We will take the time to provide a quality and thorough inspection while onsite, and avoid any delays or unnecessary time at the home. We have the ability to gather the info quickly, and build a report later (Offsite).
  • Walk-throughs with the client can be conducted from video recording, or a ZOOM meeting.

We take this public health situation seriously, and we hope our clients will too. A little bit of effort goes a long way in ensuring the safety of our clients, inspectors, agents and partners. If there are other concerns or considerations from the client or homeowner, please reach out to us at anytime.

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.

10 step guide to preparing your home for Winter.

It’s that time of the year again! Take advantage of the Fall weather and knock out these 10 steps before the snow comes. A little maintenance goes a long way, and it isn’t very difficult.

1) Add caulking around doors and windows: Caulking is inexpensive, easy to install and very important for weatherproofing your home. Find the gaps and cracks on the interior and exterior and seal them up.

2) Replace worn weatherstripping around door jams: Weatherstripping is the rubber or foam strip that helps seal your doors. Over time, they wear out and let the conditioned air escape to the outdoors. Check the entire area around the door. If you can see daylight around the perimeter of a door when it is shut, you’re losing energy.

3) Drain irrigation systems: Water left sitting in the irrigation system can freeze and cause major damage. Hire a pro to blow out the system with compressed air and turn off the entire system until spring.

4) Disconnect hoses: Turn off your exterior water taps, drain the hoses and store them inside or in a garden box.

5) Check your downspouts: Accumulated snow on your roof will eventually melt, sending hundreds of gallons of water down the gutter system. Make sure it gets diverted away from your house with downspouts and extensions. Check the regularly for ice build-up and other clogs.

6) Have the chimney inspected: Even if you do not use your fireplace as a primary heating source, you should have the chimney inspected and cleaned every year. If there is a problem with your furnace, you will need heat until it is fixed.

7) Have your furnace serviced: It goes without saying, your furnace is incredibly important during the winter. An annual service by a professional will help keep it running smoothly and efficiently.

8) Store your mower: Gasoline engines need to be properly maintained and prepped for storage. Check the manufacturers recommendations regarding long term storage of the engine. You may need to drain fluids and use fuel additives. If your mower takes batteries, charge them up and store them indoors. They will last much longer.

9) Insulate water lines: If you have water lines running inside of an exterior wall, consider adding insulation to them. Check your basement, crawlspaces and garages as well. Freezing weather can wreck havoc on the water inside these lines. If you find a frozen pipe during the winter, call a professional plumber immediately. Attempting to thaw out a plumbing pipe can cause it to burst. Call a pro!

10) Service the water heater: Water heaters need maintenance as well, and they will inevitably be working harder in colder temperatures. Now is a great time to have a professional drain the tank and service the entire unit.

There are plenty of other steps you can take to prepare for the Winter months, but these are some of the most important ones. Most of these can be completed by yourself and a professional in just a couple days. If you want more information about your home and help deciding what needs to be done, consider an Annual Home Maintenance Inspection by a Certified Professional Inspector.

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 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.

How do we test for Radon?

During a typical home sale, we do a “short-term test” that is roughly 48 hours in total. This means that a test device is strategically placed in the home and the 48hr radon test begins. 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”. This means keeping all windows and doors closed except for normal entry and exit, and not operating fans or other machines which bring in air from outside (Swamp coolers, whole house fans etc). 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 hours 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 about 10 minutes each time. Once to drop the monitor, and once to pick it up at least 48 hours later. If there is a home inspection scheduled with the radon testing, the monitor can 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 48 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 $800 to $1500, depending on the specific home construction and installation techniques.

Order a Radon Test HERE.
Read more about Radon HERE.

Guide to local Contractors

When you need repairs on your home, it may be a little daunting trying to find out who to call. I always recommend using a locally owned company that has the proper license to perform the work. They should be able to verify that for you at any time. Use this list as a good starting place for hiring professionals in Castle Rock and the surrounding areas.

Roofing- Frailey Roofing or Valor Roof and Solar
Plumbing- Pro Plumbing or Courtesy Plumbing
Heating/Cooling/Ventilation- Coyote HVAC
Radon Mitigation- Aristeia Radon
Sewer and Drains- ProActive Sewer and Drain
Lawn and Sprinkler-Natures Carpet
Asbestos/Mold Remediation- AsbesTech
Interior Painting-Wild Fox Painting

*If you don’t see a category listed here to meet your need, contact us for current partners and recommendations. These recommendations are based on experiences personally or professionally. They are for informational purposes only. You do not need to use these specific companies in order to perform any recommended repair from an inspection report. This is simply a courtesy starting point.

Before the Home Inspector arrives.

Use these 5 tips to prepare your home before the inspector arrives.

1) Make sure you give access to the entire home (Interior and Exterior). Obviously, the front door will need to be opened and the entire house will need to be unlocked. But think about other locks, door codes and access points that are not so obvious to guests. If an Inspector cannot access a crawl-space because there is a refrigerator blocking the access point or there is a security fence in the backyard without a key, the inspection will not be able to be completed on time. Make sure to let the inspector know of any home security codes as well. Your agent should be able to help you pass this information along. Read about what areas are going to be inspected here.

2) Clean up personal items. This is an important one. Inspectors will not move personal items in order to inspect areas of the home. Leaving items in the way can block an inspector’s view, and they will have to make note of that. To avoid any call backs and delays due to personal items, clean and organize a little. Make sure there is a pathway to all major systems (Furnace, Air Conditioner, Electrical Panels, Under-sink Cabinets). Move clothing in a closet that has an attic access. Take children’s toys out of the bath tubs. Allow entry into the crawl-space and attic. You get the idea.

3) Leave the utilities on. Unless there are preexisting safety concerns or a licensed professional has turned them off, the utilities should be left on as usual. This allows the inspector to test each major component within the home. If the home has been vacant for some time and the utilities cannot be turned on, make sure all parties are aware of it prior to the inspection.

4) Take Fido to the park. I know, I know…Fido is just the sweetest Great Dane that has ever lived and he would never bite a guest. That’s great. Well, Fido may decide that the unfamiliar inspector who looks different, is poking around the food dish and is stepping on his favorite squeaky toy is actually NOT welcome today. It’s an awkward situation for the inspector, and for Fido. Make plans to keep the pooch outside when the inspector is inside, or vise versa. Although we are “Pet Friendly” inspectors, and your pet snake is very cool, please keep him in the cage today….locked!

5) Take yourself to the park. (Or the Mall). It’s your home so it is obviously your choice, but there really isn’t any point in staying in the house while the inspection is taking place. What we prefer at Green Door Home Inspections is to meet the owner at the scheduled time for a handshake and to discuss anything that hasn’t already been addressed. Let us know if you’d like a call when we are finished up. If you decide to stay throughout the inspection, please, give us a little breathing room. This is not the time to discuss concerns with your home, brag about paint colors, or to showoff your doll collection. These inspections can take a lot of time, lets get it done as efficiently as possible.

Spend a few minutes following these tips and preparing for your home before the inspector arrives to ensure a smooth process without the call backs.