You have probably heard the term “radon” floating around recently, most likely in connection with real estate. But what is radon? Why is it getting so much attention? And do you really need to get your home tested for it?
Radon is a tasteless, odorless, colorless gas that occurs naturally everywhere in the environment, all over the world. It is a radioactive gas that is produced when radium decays. While there are some areas of the globe that naturally experience higher concentrations of the gas, in most outdoor locations there is a sufficient amount of ventilation so as to minimize any effects that the gas would cause. The situation indoors however, is another story. Inside, radon gas can have a dramatic affect on air quality, especially in more tightly enclosed or less ventilated indoor spaces like basements, etc. Over time the amount of radon gas in these enclosed spaces can build up causing a threat to any who inhabit the space.
Exposure to radon is actually quite dangerous. Radon is a carcinogen, or cancer causing gas. The EPA has estimated that radon is responsible for thousands of lung cancer deaths each year. In fact, many sources have noted, that, its cancer-causing affects are surpassed only by cigarette smoke. Radon is one of the primary causes for lung cancer in the United Sates. Fortunately, in almost all cases, these cancer-causing affects can be avoided. Currently the EPA estimates that one in every 15 homes in the United States has radon levels that are above the recommended limit.
What is the recommended radon limit? What do you need to do to make sure that your home is not full of cancer-causing radon gas? The answer is quite simple. The only way to know where your house stands with radon is to have it tested. Or if you are building a new home, you can help prevent radon build-up by requesting that the builders use radon-resistant techniques. These radon-resistant techniques have been proven to reduce the amount of radon in the air, and they are often less expensive to install while a home is under construction than they are to add to an existing home.
The maximum recommended radon limit is 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L). That means if your house tests at 4 pCi/L or higher you will definitely want to take repairable action. And while the EPA has strongly recommended that people whose homes test at 4 pCi/L or higher seek mitigation for their homes, they have even encouraged people whose homes test at 2 pCi/L to look into repairative measures.
There is a cost to have your home tested for radon, but the process is fairly simple and non-invasive. A radon collector is placed in the lowest living space in your home (often the basement) for a range of 2 to 7 days. The only thing you will need to do while the collector is in your home is to ensure that the reading device is not blocked. After the selected time period has elapsed, the collected data will be sent to a lab for testing. Then within a few days to a few weeks you will get your results. If your homes tests at a level under the recommended 4 pCi/L, taking further preventative action will be up to you. However, if your home tests above the recommended 4 pCi/L, it is strongly encouraged that you have mitigation devices installed.
Mitigation is more costly than radon testing. Getting your home properly mitigated can cost you anywhere from a few hundred dollars all the way up to a few thousand dollars. And while that may seem a bit pricey, the benefits far out weight the costs.
First of all, there is the more obvious health benefit. Having your home properly mitigated significatnly decreases the likelihood that you or your family will contract radon-related lung cancer. For many people, this point alone is enough of a reason to take the appropriate action.
For those who require additional inspiriation, it most often comes in the form of real estate. More and more people are becoming aware of radon and the need for testing. New home buyers are regularly encouraged to ask about radon testing in the homes they are looking to purchase. Because of this it is recommended that anyone looking to sell their home have it properly tested for radon and get it mitigated if needed. Several home sales have been lost or had the sale price greatly reduced because the home for sale was not properly mitigated. Today’s home buyers want their homes tested, and they want appropriate proof of the result.
There are a variety of ways that a home can be properly mitigated. The method used will depend largely upon how much radon reduction is required and will be determined on a case by case basis. Some of the more typical mitigation options include:
o adding a gas permeable layer underneath your home (a layer-often gravel-is placed beneath the flooring system to allow soil gasses to move more freely)
o plastic sheathing is used in crawlspaces to hep prevent radon gases from entering the home
o any openings found in the foundation are sealed to prevent gas from entering the home
o a 3 to 4 inch gas-tight PVC pipe is installed running from the gas permeable layer of a home (usually the basement) out through the roof to increase radon ventilation
Radon testing and mitigation can seem like a daunting endeavor, and the very real potential threat of lung cancer can be quite frightening. Fortunately the solution to this issue is not only valuable, it is also fairly simple and pain free. Radon testing is too important to be ignored and should be done, if not for your physical health, then at the very least for your financial health as a homeowner and potential home seller. You need to become familiar with radon gas, and radon testing. So whether you own a home, are looking to buy a home, or are planning to sell your home, you can’t afford not to have your home tested.