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Radon Gas. A Silent Killer.

radon_gas_warningMontgomery County Council passes first mandated radon testing law in U.S.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) radon gas is responsible for the deaths of some 21,000 Americans a year.  The Cancer Institute states that the #1 cause of lung cancer outside of smoking is radon gas.  This past November the Montgomery County Council unanimously approved a bill that will require most single-family homes be tested for radon prior to be being sold. Montgomery County is the first in the nation to mandate radon testing, ensuring that buyers and sellers and are informed of the possible existence of radon in their homes.  This new law will take effect in October 2016.

What is radon gas?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from uranium deposits beneath the ground.  As the uranium breaks down, it gives off radon gas, an odorless, tasteless and colorless gas, which then rises and enters your home through cracks in floors, walls, construction joints, service pipes, and sump pump pits.  Radon can also be ingested through drinking water with elevated radon levels.

How does the gas hurt you?
If you breathe in radioactive particles over a long period of time the radiation from the gas breaks down the cells in your lungs and eventually causes lung cancer  This cancer can then spread to other parts of your body. Smokers are at the greatest risk of developing radon related lung cancer due to the stress already on their lung tissues from the smoking.

Who is at risk?
The EPA estimates that 1 out of every 15 homes in America may have elevated radon levels.  In our local area the geology suggests a high probability of elevated levels of radon gas.  Montgomery County is rated Zone 1 by the EPA (the highest level) with predicted average indoor radon screening levels greater than the EPA action level of 4 picocuries per litre or 4 pCi/L.

RadonEntryHow do you test for radon gas?
The EPA and the U.S. Surgeon General recommend that all homes be tested (and monitored) for the presence of radon gas.  Testing is relatively inexpensive with in-home test kits being offered for less than $20.  These test kits include a radon gas collector that hangs in the basement for 2-7 days and then are sent to a laboratory for analysis.  Long-term test kits are also available.  Radon levels fluctuate naturally and can be impacted by weather conditions.  There are often short contingency periods in real estate transactions to test for the presence of radon.  As a result, professional radon testing companies will provide sophisticated equipment to test for radon, resulting in test results in a matter of days at a cost of around $150.

What do the radon test results mean?
Radon is measured in picocuries per litre (pCi/L).  A curie, so named after the French scientists Marie and Pierre Curie and their ground breaking work on radioactivity, is the standard measure for the intensity of radiation in a given material.   The EPA recommends that mitigation steps be taken on a home if the long-term radon exposure will average 4 pCi/L or more. To give you some perspective that level is the equivalent of about 200 chest x-rays.  The issue in your home is that the house is often well insulated and the level of radon gas concentration can build, exposing you to higher levels of radioactivity and the potential health hazard.  Interestingly the EPA’s action level of exposure does not mean your home is safe at that level, or even corresponds to some known threshold with regard to a cancer effect.  It’s simply the result of the EPA’s cost-benefit calculation (economic cost to reduce risk vs. the economic cost of lost human life).  What?  Really.

How do you reduce radon gas levels in your home?
The typical solution for reducing indoor radon gas is the installation of a sub slab depressurization system.  This involves installing a PVC pipe in the basement floor which is connected to a fan.  When the fan is running a vacuum is created under the basement floor and the air from below the basement floor is drawn away and released above the roof.  There is literally no underground air entering the home when the fan is running.  We recommend you hire a qualified radon mitigation contractor if you want to reduce the level of radon gas in your home.  The contractor should have certification and training from either The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) or The National Radon Safety Board (NRSB).  In Maryland the contractor also needs to hold a Maryland Home Improvement Contractors license (MHIC).  The cost for these sub slab ventilation systems is typically between $1,000 and $1,500 dollars depending upon the configuration and unique properties of your home.

Will radon gas impact my future home sale?
The Montgomery County Council unanimously passed Bill 31-15 that requires a seller of a single-family home to test for radon and give the buyer a copy of the radon test results.   The seller of the property must either perform the radon test or permit the buyer to do so.  If the seller performs the test the results must have been from a test performed within one year of the settlement date.  There are some exceptions to the new law such as the transfer of a home into a trust, transfers related to divorce, foreclosures, estate sales and homes that will be torn down by the buyer.  The new law will go into effect on October 1, 2016.

My final two cents on radon.
Radon gas is clearly a health danger.  The EPA action level of 4 pCi/L may likely be way above the level of exposure that most people would feel comfortable having over their lifetime (200 chest x-rays anyone?).  I would be more comfortable with an action level that was based on the real risk of getting cancer than some cost-benefit analysis made by the EPA.  If you walk outside you are likely exposed to a ½ picocurie of “background” radiation from radon.  Shouldn’t that type of exposure be the goal for indoor air quality?  That may not be practical or technologically feasible today but perhaps until it is ALL homes should be equipped with an active radon reduction system.  New homes in Montgomery County do require passive radon mitigation systems to be installed.  This essentially gives the new home the required PVC piping (without a fan) so the current retrofitting of piping that’s needed in older homes is not required.  As the public learns more about the health hazards of radon, mitigation systems will likely become a standard feature, just like fire sprinkler systems in new construction and smoke detectors in older homes.  – Brian

Top 3 Impacts to Home Ownership in 2015

The Year 2015 brought with it some important changes for homeowners and would-be home buyers in Montgomery County and nationwide. Here are the top 3 changes this past year:

  1. Federal Reserve Rate Hike

    Fed Implements 0.25% Rate Hike in 2015

    Fed Implements 0.25% Rate Hike in 2015

On December 16th, 2015, the Fed raised interest rates by 0.25% for the first time since June 2006. While mortgage rates will not drastically increase quite yet, you can certainly expect to a see a gradual and continuous rise in mortgage interest rates in the year ahead. If you’re thinking about buying, act sooner rather than later.

In addition, if you have an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) or home equity line of credit (HELOC), it will likely adjust upward upon your next anniversary date especially if the Fed continues to raise rates incrementally in 2016.  Most economist are predicting that mortgage interest rates will remain at historically low levels but gradually rise into the 4.25% to 4.5% range over the coming year. 

2.  Mandatory Radon Testing Required to Sell Your Home

In November 2015, the County Council approved a new regulation requiring home sellers in Montgomery County to perform radon testing before the sale of any single-family home – the first such regulation in the entire country. There are a few exceptions to this testing rule – estate sales and tear-down properties are among them. The new regulation goes into effect in October 2016.  While there is no requirement for the installation of a remediation system based on testing results, a buyer will be permitted to cancel a home sale contract if the seller should refuse to do so. The cost of installing a radon remediation system is usually around $1,000.

Radon testing required as of Oct. 2016

Radon testing required as of Oct. 2016

There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding this new legislation. While proponents assert that buyers need to be informed about radon and the impacts of this odorless, colorless carcinogenic gas that may be present in homes, opponents challenge that the testing requirement is ridiculous for a number of reasons including flawed test results (home kits can be purchased from stores for around $40 for a 2-day test; however, the World Health Organization and the EPA state that 90-day testing is much more accurate). Opponents have also suggested that buyer educational requirements should suffice versus mandatory testing.

  1. Massive Overhaul in Home Sale Closing Process Nationwide

    Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is now in charge

    Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is now in charge

Thinking of buying or selling a home in 2016? As of October 2015, MASSIVE changes occurred in mortgage lending laws across the country. Thanks to the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has taken over the administration of RESPA (Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act) from HUD (Housing and Urban Development). With this new government agency comes sweeping changes including new forms, new rules and new time frames for a typical home sale. These changes are nationwide affecting home sellers, home buyers, settlement attorneys, mortgage lenders and real estate agents alike.

The goal of this reform was to simplify the information provided to buyers and make mortgages more transparent and easier for the consumer to understand. As with most any government agency created to “simplify” things, complaints run rampant that these new changes are more confusing, more time consuming and more expensive for everyone.

If you are planning to buy or sell a home in 2016, expect longer settlement times (45-60 days versus 30 days), new procedures and new forms you have never seen before. Contact Brian and Amy Maury or your mortgage lending professional to discuss these changes in more detail.

Day 199: Take the plunge!

Bethesda Community Pool

It’s been awhile since I visited the Bethesda Community Pool located at Little Falls Parkway and Hillandale Road near the Capital Crescent Trail.  I used to live in the Kenwood Forest townhome community nearby and take my older girls here all the time.

Late one afternoon last week I visited the pool with my youngest son.  We had a blast.  Since the last time I visited they’ve built an entirely new six-lane 25 meter lap pool on the property.  The main pool is in the shape of a “Z” and features a 50 meter long course and a shorter 25 meter course that goes into the well of the diving area.  The diving area includes a large slide.  My son is not quite able to handle the deep-end yet so, to much disappointment, he has to wait probably until next year before he can give the slide a try.

New Lap Pool

The pool is open weekdays 1:00 – 8:00 p.m. and weekends 12 noon to 8:00 p.m.  Did you have a paper route as a child?  If so they have an “early bird lap swim” from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.  Not that early really.  The pool features a pool house with his and hers entrances.  First you have to check in with the staff and there are numerous options for paying to use the pool.  The easiest way to enter the pool is with a pool pass.  Click here to apply.  You have to be a Montgomery County resident to apply (and yes they will verify residency) and a Family Pass for up to four people is $275 ($20 each person thereafter) for the season.  A couple can get a “Pair” pass for $240.  There is no gender requirement for a couple you just need to reside at the same address.  An individual pass will set you back $195 and seniors get $20 off that.  A senior couple gets in for the summer for $230.  Speaking of the senior rate, that begins at only 55!  The older I get the younger 55 seems.

Now maybe you’re like me and you just want to pay as you go.  Each trip to the pool will cost $6 for an adult and $4 for a child; seniors at $4.50.  If you come in after 5:30 for the “twilight” swim the cost is reduced by 50¢ to $1.00.  As if that was not enough, you can also get a “P12 Card” good for 12 visits for the price of 10.  If all this is confusing just call the pool at (301) 652-1598.  I’m surprised the County has not yet developed an iPhone app for all this!

Speaking of technology.  When we were paying for our “twilight” pass the other day I noticed people zipping through the line next to me courtesy of a finger ID technology the County has up and running at the entrance.  What you do is put your forefinger in a device that scans your fingerprint and then records your visit.  Not sure what happens if your fingerprint does not match or you are on the “no-dive” terrorist list.  Perhaps you’re forced into the baby pool for a dunking of noticeably warmer water.  Why is the water so much warmer and slightly discolored there anyway? The next time the temperature starts to soar, head on over and instead of just putting a timid toe in the water, put your finger in the scanner! ~ Brian

Day 13: No More Nasty-grams from the Meter Maid!

Coin, CashKey or now Pay-by-Cell

You’re late for an appointment in Bethesda.  You are driving into town…praying for a parking spot that is not higher than the 2nd floor up so you’re not snarled in slow-moving traffic.  You enter the garage and join the procession. 

You prey upon pedestrians like a cat on a mouse as they begin to approach a parked car.  Ah ha!  You got one.  You thump on your steering wheel impatiently as they slowly load up, turn on their car (check their cell phone or whatever! UGH!) and finally back out.  At last the spot clears.  You dash in, collect your things and bound out of your car.  Oh wait – the meter!  You dig in your pockets, in your bag…no quarters!  Shoot.  Back in the car you proceed with the frenetic search for change – the cup holder, the glove box, the floor.  At last, you find a couple of coins and make your deposit.   You RUN off to your appointment – late.

An hour later, as you saunter back to you car, the shocking realization hits you – YOUR METER EXPIRED!  Maybe if you run, you will beat the meter maid and not get a ticket.  You bolt into the garage and to your car only to have the sinking realization that there is a little yellow envelope nestled under your windshield wiper.  As you open it, you can almost hear the ridicule, “nananananana, we got you!”  Do not pass go…go directly to the Montgomery County web site and PAY!  So much for the quarters you frantically hunted down.

It is my hope that today, with this blog, you will never again receive a little yellow nasty-gram on your car in Bethesda.  Parking garages all over Bethesda have now been outfitted with a Pay-by-Cell service.  I am reluctant to try anything new but I have to admit, this new system appears to be pretty fool-proof and worth using! 

It’s simple.  Once you register on-line, you simply call from your parking spot, enter the meter number and the time you arrive.  You will then receive a text confirmation.  The best part is that you will also receive a warning text when your meter is about to expire and you can re-load additional time remotely using your phone!  No more interrupting a meeting or a meal to go feed the meter.  Another perk: when you return to your car if you call it to let the system know you are leaving, you will be CREDITED for any remaining balance!  Wow.  You don’t get credits with coins or Cashkeys.

A friend of mine encouraged me to consider the Pay-by-Cell system, even though she once received a ticket that was unwarranted when using the system.  She called customer service and they handled everything in a jiffy.  No need to contact the County at all.

Some tips to know before you begin:

1. Click here to register on-line at GoParkNow.com to set up your payment so you are ready to go when you get to a garage.  The minimum pre-load for a credit card is $25.00.

2.  There is a $0.35 convenience fee every time you park and use the system.  No one works for free; however, it’s a far cry from the cost of an expired meter and little yellow nasty-gram.  Plus you can get credits for time you didn’t use.

3.  Program the phone number into your cell phone (301-830-7074) to make it even quicker and easier to dial from the meter.

4. You still might want to carry coins or a CashKey for those garages that are not yet outfitted with the system.

Hopefully, parking in Bethesda will be a little less stressful with Pay-by-Cell and take that feeling of racing against the meter out of your meeting or meal experience!

~Amy