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Do you have a radon problem and are looking for a company to install a Radon Mitigation (removal) system? Reading this review may save you lots of hassle if not actual lung cancer.
Summary: Beware Hera Tech a.k.a. Hera Environmental located in Cherry Hill, NJ and headed (mostly) by Subash Rashat. I say "mostly" because he says the owner is his son, Nikhil Rashatwar, but I can find no mention of his son on the website and have never heard from his son except for, I believe, the very first time I called on November 10, 2017. I spoke to a person identifying himself as Nick Rashat but, in answer to my question of his position there, said "I'm just a worker - I do the testing".
FYI, the US EPA has set an action level of 4.0 pCi/L. At or above this level of radon, the EPA recommends you take corrective measures to reduce your exposure to radon gas which is usually done by having a radon mitigation (removal) system installed. Note that the less radon, the better. There is no "safe" level.
First, a short note about myself because reading a review from an unqualified person is likely a waste of time. I have written many reviews of both excellent and terrible companies and am as fair, honest and unbiased as anyone can be. (During the past few months, people have told me to dump Hera Tech and find someone else but I continued to be on his side and give him the benefit of every doubt). I have an excellent technical and science background and have done lots of research on radon. Everything I write is either factual which I can prove or clearly stated as my feeling or opinion. Detailed records and notes have been kept during the several months of dealing with Hera Environmental.
I want to say up front I really dislike writing bad reviews. Really dislike it. I don't like to say unkind things about anyone or things that may impact their business. It takes thought and time to write reviews like this but, when doing research before hiring a company, it's pointless unless someone takes the time and effort to do it. Between the research, phone calls, traveling and meetings to take care of this issue, the past few months has been a part time job. We've lost time, work, money and almost our health. I don't see how it could be an isolated event and feel it's my moral responsibility to put the information out there for others so they can make an educated decision. It's a shame and I considered not doing it but the cumulative shenanigans were just too much. In other words, there's only so much nonsense someone can put up with before being pushed over the edge.
Note: I'm using both "Hera Tech" and "Hera Environmental" because they seem to go by both names and I just wanted to be sure.
2. Short Story
* Before purchasing a house, an independent company tested the radon level in the basement and reported the level as 9
* The sellers hired Hera Tech who installed a system and retested the level at 2.2
* The House was purchased.
* We immediately retested and found the level was still around 10.
* Hera did more work and retested to find the system still not working (7.6)
* Hera did still more work and retested to find the system still not working (6.9)
* Subash dragged his feet and wanted to drill more holes and run more pipes blindly without doing testing or analysis but after over four months, we had to finally put a stop to the madness.
3. I'm Angry
Many people are unaware of the dangers of radon. It occurs naturally and be anywhere. Radon increases your chances of lung cancer. I care about my family and can't begin to tell you how livid I am because this has put my family in DANGER! If I hadn't noticed and caught this problem, we would have been needlessly exposed to radon for at lease several months! A problem Hera Environmental was paid to fix and said they DID fix. They DIDN'T. It's bad enough to have to deal with a problem like this for several months. How would you like to buy a house and avoid setting up and using your finished basement for that long? How would you like to think the radon problem was fixed and find it was not? How would you like to find out you have been needlessly exposed to it? I really can't tell you how angry I am.
4. Cause for Concern
Knowing radon levels can vary daily, I purchased an electronic meter which takes hourly readings. It is recommended to have a test done every two years to make sure the radon levels stay below 4.0 (the lower, the better) because radon is an invisible and radioactive gas which increases your chances of lung cancer. I was surprised and concerned when my meter was showing levels around 9. This is a relatively expensive meter which I compared to several certified tests and it is fairly accurate. The State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) offers a free radon test to verify the test done by a radon mitigation company so we took advantage of that and the tests came back around 10. In other words, not only was the verification test done by Hera Environmental completely wrong, the system they installed did nothing to reduce the radon level.
Hera Tech warranties the levels stay under 4.0 for one year after the original installation or they will fix it at no charge. Four months later the problem has still not been fixed and this is where the story begins to get long and detailed but read on if you are at all considering hiring Hera Environmental. It's your money, your choice and you take your chances with them. I feel they are not a total rip-off company and if your radon problems are easily fixed they may do an acceptable job. The problem is when the job is above-average in difficulty but you can't know in advance. There are other companies that I feel will do a much better job with potentially much less hassle. (See who we used at the end)
The first question is how they said the house passed after they installed their system. Subash, the "Environmental Specialist" does the testing himself using the E-PERM method. Since this type of test cannot be validated, it is up to the person doing the test to do it correctly and honestly. The measuring machines must, by law, be calibrated once a year and detailed records kept. I'm not accusing them of purposely falsifying the test but in my time dealing with them I have obtained detailed, publicly available records of all the citations they received from the DEP for the past few years and the report is currently a worrisome nine (9) pages long. No other company I checked has more than one page, if anything. Some of the citations have to do with not keeping proper records in general and not keeping records on or not having their machines calibrated as required among other things. I've heard talk about them having their offices raided due to falsifying numbers but I can't prove that even though I have good sources so I believe it. Does this give me a bad feeling? It certainly does. In fact, although I am NOT implying anything like this really happened, I can propose a very believable scenario that goes like this.
5. One Scenario
* I believe most people will not bother retesting in the first place. If a company does the work and says the house is safe they will believe it and be done.
* If someone ever does retest, they will likely wait two years which is the recommended time. Remember you have to pay to have these tests done.
* The warranty period starts from the date of installation. Hera Tech gives you one year.
If I were an unscrupulous radon mitigation system installer, this is how I would run my scam.
I would do my basic installation and then test. If my system worked, I would provide true test results and be done. Everyone is happy. On the other hand, if the basic installation did not do the job, I would falsify the test and say it passed. If the customer does not immediately retest they would never know. If they test in two years and discover the problem, they will probably hire me back but would have to pay me as the warranty is over. But if they retest right away (like I did), I would have to go back and do more work (as in my case) but I would have had to do that work anyway and could have avoided it if they didn't catch me. Win some - lose some. Radon levels vary with the season and even the weather so they might test when the levels were naturally low and not realize there is a problem. Don't forget the warranty starts on the date of installation so the longer I drag my feet, the shorter the time you have in which to make me do free warranty work. It has been over four months for us and even if Hera Environmental solves the problem tomorrow that means we only have eight months of warranty on a system that was worthless for the first four months. Again, there are a few low-probability yet conceivable scenarios to explain an invalid radon test so I'm not saying anything was intentionally done wrong, but that's how I would picture a questionable radon company working so be sure you do a follow-up test.
6. Not All Bad
I must admit they are not all bad. Suzanne, the office manager, does usually answer the phone and appointments are made quickly. On the other hand, they have absolutely no concept of decent customer service. I can't forget the time I started having problems and requested the owner call me. He did not. When I finally asked Suzanne when he would call, the actual answer was "when he's darn good and ready". Just Wow. Nice way to treat a customer who is having a problem. I believe Subash Rashat started the company and turned control over to his son Nikhil although I've never seen this in writing and I've never heard from or spoken to Nikhil except, perhaps on that first call. Their website shows Subash Rashat as the main contact. Subash is the "Environmental Specialist" and the actual labor has been done by Jay. Jay either really dislikes me or treats everyone rather rudely and abruptly. The first day we had an appointment for him to arrive at 9 and do additional work he called at 8:30 to claim a family emergency. He called on a personal cell phone so my phone bounced it to voice mail which delayed the message. Okay, it happens but I and others have to take off work to be available. I believe on another occasion he was quite late and a different time he just never showed up at 9 as scheduled. I called the office, and nobody knew where he was all morning. He finally called us around 1 to reschedule. When I asked him if he was going to tell us why he didn't show up that morning without explanation he just said "No". On another occasion he came for a few hours and left because he didn't have all the tools required to finish the job. And when I say he left, I mean he just disappeared without telling us. We didn't know whether he went to get something or went to lunch or even if he was coming back. We just suddenly noticed he was no longer there. And it happened more than once. When we mentioned it to Subash and told him he shouldn't do that, Subash has plenty of words, but none of them included saying it was wrong or that he would talk to the guy. There was never ever an apology. Suzanne has the same habit. If you try to talk to her about any problems such as no call backs or no-shows, it's always "water under the bridge" and "let's just move forward" but no discussion or answers. And she's the office manager.
Subash can be very defensive and asking the simplest questions caused him to accuse us of putting words in his mouth. He's a master at dancing around an answer without actually providing one. That's called "double talk". It is often impossible to get a yes-no question answered. Don't take this as bigoted or biased but he is quite obviously Indian. I've worked side by side with many nationalities over the years with no problems and know there are cultural differences. I did my best to be fair and understanding and attribute some of the things he did to culture and even did internet searches on why Indians have trouble saying no. It was very interesting and perhaps explains why he acts as he does but it doesn't make dealing with him any easier.
7. More Reasons
Let's continue with many more reasons you might be unhappy you hired Hera Environmental. The basic technique of reducing radon is to create a vacuum under a sealed layer such as the concrete floor or a plastic sheet and suck the radon through a pipe to the outside. One of the things they tried was putting plastic over the dirt crawl space floor with a suction pipe underneath. I'm sure you realize you're not going to get a vacuum without a good seal. If the plastic is not sealed to the walls, around pipes and where sheets come together, you obviously don't have a good seal and all that's being sucked out is room air. If this site permits photos, you will see pictures of plastic around pipes and pieces of plastic coming together with dirt floor plainly visible through the gaps. This is NOT a seal and is typical of the kind of work they have been doing. I doubt Subash climbed in the crawl space to check Jay's work but when I sent him the pictures and asked if he thought it was ok, I didn't get an answer. And here is the "flow restrictor" Jay installed INSIDE a pipe instead of using a real one... Duct tape that will dry out and a plastic slit that will rip and get bigger. Also, my understanding is you cannot just stick a pipe in dirt like what he did below. I'm told you are supposed to evacuate a hole under the pipe so air can flow. Are you starting to see why the radon levels aren't coming down?
One other thing the new company changed is the pipe coming directly out of the fan. This one fan is responsible for all the air movement. Two 90 degree angles impedes air flow a lot more than two 45 degree angles. And the fan used by Hera Tech was not the best choice for this situation and was replaced. Subash was going to replace this fan but I doubt it would have done much good with the rest of his system the mess it was.
Yet another thing I'm convinced of is their lack of testing before blindly sticking yet more pipes in the ground in order to try to fix the problem. Sometimes you get good airflow under a concrete slab and sometimes you don't. Testing is part of the radon mitigation process especially when you are having difficulties. You don't just drill more holes and jam more pipes in the ground. You test and find the best possible place to make your next attempt. Not only does Subash not test, he has told me you cannot. No, I don't understand why he cannot when everyone else says of course you can. The new company we hired did diagnostic testing before and verification testing afterwards. It's a simple process.
8. Heel Dragging
Shall we get to the heel dragging and delay tactics? Keep in mind the longer they drag this out, the less warranty time remains. There is also the possibility that radon levels will be lower in the summer which may help when they do the final testing. (This fiasco started around Halloween.) We were scheduled to have one of their post-work tests done at the beginning of a week. Suzanne called wanting to delay the test for another week because their machine had to be sent out for calibration. (Have they gone straight or are they tired of citations? ) She said the machine would not be back until Friday. Since the test canisters are exposed for about three days (Monday to Thursday) I didn't see the reason for a delay as the machine would be back on Friday ready to measure the canisters. Yes, I had to point this out. She couldn't argue with that logic so we did the test as originally scheduled. But nice try.
But now for my favorite heel dragging story and the one that ticked me off the most. In fact, this was one of the final straws. Subash was obviously running out of ideas on what to do even though he continuously claims he is the expert and knows more than the DEP. He told me he wanted some time to confer with the DEP because sometimes they give him ideas or useful suggestions. I asked how long he needed and he said you know it's the State and asked for one or two weeks. Yes, after all this time I gave him another two weeks. Obviously I am not as smart as I thought I was but I never failed to give him the benefit of the doubt and every opportunity.
I called him two weeks later at 9:40 AM on Feb 19, 2018 (Presidents Day) and he immediately said "Let me call you back in 10 minutes" but he didn't and I couldn't get hold of him all day. Late that afternoon he finally responded to my texts by texting back that the DEP was closed that day. I sent several texts and emails asking him what he had been doing the previous two weeks but did not receive a reply until the next day. During a phone conversation on Feb 27th, he mentioned he only contacted the state to "keep them informed". My contact at the DEP didn't think Subash called at all and Subash had no new ideas so he obviously misled me and blew me off for two more full weeks. Tick, tick, tick, goes the warranty clock.
9. Double Talk
Now I'll give you some examples of the double talk I've had to endure. That is, trying to get answers but receiving words that appear to answer the question but don't.
After several months of failing to fix the radon problem, I noticed Subash was starting to indicate he wasn't sure he could fix it. He started to say things like "I'll try one more time" and "This is the last resort we are going to do" and also started hinting the problem involved the French drain and additional work which would either be my responsibly or (possibly) he would do it at additional cost. He even quoted that additional price portion of the contract to me in an email. Unfortunately for him I can read and had to explain that particular section of the contract applied to the original installation. Since his own company verified the system was installed, operational and working, we are now in the warranty period and the contract clearly states Hera Environmental will fix the system if it falls to keep the radon level under 4.0 for one year at no cost. I further pointed out that if the radon level could only be gotten down with additional, major work, the original system could not have been sufficient and the house could not have passed in the first place.
He wanted to make yet another modification but, as I said, he didn't seem very confident to me. Because of those references to "one more try" I wanted to know what he would do if the next attempt did not work. Would he continue to try and fix it (or would he give up). I asked this question several times in a row and he said everything except "yes". For example, he said if it didn't work he would "troubleshoot the system" to find out what was wrong. That's not a "yes". He replied he has never given up before. Also not a "yes". And so on. Unfortunately for him I recognize double-talk when I hear it.
We have had enough. When a doctor botches an operation on you and you find evidence to make you believe it's not an isolated occurrence, it's very unwise to let him do it to you again. We have to find another company. One that can fix the problem.
I have spoken to many people regarding this issue in the past few months. The people at the NJ DEP have been wonderful. Normally, you would rather pound tacks with your head than deal with a state agency but the people at the DEP, especially Chuck who I have become good buddies with, have been unexpectedly friendly, understanding and helpful.
Another thing. If you search for his name, Subash Rashat, you will find him listed as the General Manager of Soruni Custom Builders. The website is quite vague and has something to do with "enriching your home building process" but I can't figure it out. I think he should be concentrating on fixing radon problems and returning phone calls as promised.
11. Time to Think
One week ago today, we offered Hera Tech the option of giving us enough money to cover paying for another company to take care of the problem. Since Hera Tech claimed to have fixed the problem for the previous owners we should not have to put out any money from our own pocket. I don't know what it will take to fix this problem and, since Subash repeatedly indicated it was a difficult situation, I asked for enough to make sure we had enough to pay someone else to get it fixed.
I felt this was quite reasonable because Hera Environmental would have to continue to spend time and money until the problem was solved even if it involved major work on the French drain. In other words, we offered to let them buy out the contract and warranty so the problem would no longer be theirs in any way.
I gave him a full week to think about it and received a call less than two hours before the deadline. Maybe the email I sent that morning reminding him of what I promised to do if we didn't come up with some agreement helped. (In case you are wondering, I was prepared to unleash my full talents if no deal was reached. I PROMISED! And no, you don't need to know :) )
12. One Last Shot
I'm happy to say we came to an agreement over the phone. We agreed Hera Tech would reimburse us a certain amount and in return we would rip up the contract and warranty so we could hire another company to take care of the problem. Sounds clear and simple, right? (Wrong) We agreed he would have it signed and bring it the next day for our signatures so I wrote it up and sent it to him.
The signed contract he brought was not the one I sent. He corrected the spelling of a name AND ADDED A NON-DISCLOSURE CLAUSE. Everyone with children has at one time or another caught a kid with a hammer standing over the proverbial broken cookie jar only to be told "I didn't do it". When I pointed out the additional clause, he claimed he only changed the name.
His addition ended with "This matter shall remain confidential and private between all parties concerned".
I asked "So you want me to sign an NDA"? He said "This is not an NDA".
You know the saying "Wipe that stupid look off your face"? I must have that look on my face all the time. I must appear to be an absolute idiot to him. Sometimes I am but not this time. That's an NDA.
He obviously doesn't read the tabloids or watch enough bad movies because he didn't admit to understanding a little extra financial incentive is usually involved if you want someone to keep their mouth shut. No, he didn't offer. In fact, he actually asked "Why should I pay you to buy your silence? " I suppose he thought it would be a friendly gesture on my part so the next potential customer could remain uninformed.
He tried to play innocent and make me believe he was just handed the agreement by Suzanne the office secretary (yes, I know she told me she was the office manager). Nonsense. I sent it directly to him. It was only two short paragraphs so of course he read it.
After months of wondering whether he is just not very good at his job or is intentionally devious, I have come to a very firm conclusion.
Needless to say, I absolutely, unequivocally, and very, very clearly refused to sign any agreement containing an NDA. This is NO WAY to treat people or run a business and the public deserves to know. They brought it on themselves.
13. Final Results
Soon after the new company ripped out the old system and installed it correctly, the radon level started dropping. The results they got after a few days was 1.1 pCi/L. I will have it rechecked by the state but am confident the problem has been solved.
14. A Better Company
We used Fran West (Fran The Radon Man) http://frantheradonman.com 609-820-8958
Fran, his son and another person worked all day analyzing and replacing the previous system. They tested air pressure under the floor before (with the old system) and after with the new. Yes, testing like it should be done. Testing like Hera Tech said could not be done. They did a beautiful job and were the nicest, friendliest people you could imagine. I highly recommend them.