WHAT IS RADON? Radon is a naturally occurring, colorless, odorless and tasteless radioactive gas (Yes, radioactive!) that is caused by the breakdown (radioactive decay) of uranium in the earth's soil, rock and water and gets into the air you breathe. Radon gas concentrates, to potentially dangerous levels, inside homes and other buildings.
WHERE DOES IT OCCUR? Radon gas migrates through the soil and into our homes at all times through cracks and other holes in the foundation.
Radon can also enter your home through well water. Radon presents a health risk when unacceptable levels are found in our homes and are inhaled for prolonged periods of time. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studies indicate that the indoor air of our homes with basements, homes on slabs, office buildings, daycare centers, schools, churches and factories are almost always 2-5 times more polluted than the air outdoors.
Any home can have a radon problem. This means new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements. When you consider that Americans spend up to 90% of their lives indoors, you and your family are most likely to get your greatest radiation exposure at home.
The Surgeon General of the United States has warmed that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. The risk to smokers is much greater than the risk to non-smokers.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE ELEVATED RADON LEVELS? According to the EPA, there is no way to tell if you and your family are at risk, unless you test. Both the EPA and the U. S. Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor.
You cannot predict radon levels based on state, local and neighborhood radon measurements. You cannot rely on radon test results taken in other homes in the neighborhood to estimate the radon level in your home. I have sold side-by-side twins in Phoenixville where one side tested above the 4pCi/L that are the EPA guidelines while the other half had only minimal readings.
WHAT DO I DO? EPA recommends that you take action to reduce your home's indoor radon levels if your radon test result is 4pCi/L or higher. If you are thinking of selling your home some time in the near future, I would recommend testing before you offer your home for sale.
If you are a Buyer, you will certainly want to check for radon. Testing for radon is not complicated. The typical test in a real estate transaction is a short-term test. Short-term tests remain in the home for two days. One method places two short-term testing devices in the same location, at the same time, for at least 48 hours. Another test utilizes a continuous working monitor which runs for at least 48 hours. Here is a radon testing checklist that would be used if a Buyer were requesting that a radon test be performed:
· Notify the occupant, whether owner or tenant, of the importance of proper testing conditions. Maintain closed-house conditions during the entire duration of a short-term test. Give the occupants of the home written instructions and explain the directions carefully. Typically, the owner/occupant will be required to sign a document that states that they are in compliance with the written instructions.
· Normal operation of the home's heating and cooling systems is permitted. Typical usage of doors to enter and leave the home during the testing period is permitted. Do not open windows.
· Closed house conditions must be in place a minimum of 12 hours before the test and during the entire test period.
· Do not disturb the test device at any time during the test.
INTERPRETING RADON TEST RESULTS: The guidelines that are used in Pennsylvania when selling real estate state that anything above 4pCi/L falls into the category where the Buyer has the right to request that radon mitigation be done. When the levels are extremely high, the solution is obvious and most Sellers do not object to correcting the problem. After all, if this Buyer did not go through with the sale because of an uncorrected radon issue, the Seller would have to disclose the presence of radon in the Seller's Disclosure. Issues arise about the correction of radon when radon levels are just at the 4pCi/L cut-off number, or slightly above, and the Seller balks at spending the money.
Sometimes this problem can be resolved by escrowing the cost of the remediation while a long-term test is put in place. Long-term tests remain in the home for more than 90 days. Alpha track and electric ion chamber detectors are commonly used for this type of testing. A long-term test result is more likely to tell you your home's year-round average radon level than a short-term test. If the results are still above 4pCi/L, then the remediation will be done. If the long-term test results are below 4pCi/L, the monies that were held in escrow will be returned to the Seller.
HOW DO I CORRECT THE PROBLEM? In most cases, a system with a vent pipe and fan is used to reduce radon. These "sub-slab depressurization" systems do not require major changes to your home. If you are the Buyer, you might want to meet with the installer to discuss placement of the pipe and how the installation will impact your plans for future expansion of the exterior of your new home. If you are planning a deck installation, you will not want that pipe right smack in the middle of it! Similar systems can also be installed in homes with crawl spaces. These systems prevent radon gas from entering the home below the concrete floor and from outside the foundation. The right system depends on the design of your home and other factors.
Radon mitigation contractors guarantee that previously elevated levels have been reduced. Another test will be performed after installation and if the radon levels are still not acceptable, the contractor will do whatever it takes to bring them down to acceptable levels.
If you have tested the air in your home and found elevated radon levels and your water comes from a private well, have your water tested. A radon in water problem is more likely when its source is ground water, e.g., a private well or a public water supply system that uses ground water. Some public water systems treat their water to reduce radon levels before it is delivered to your home.
WHAT COSTS ARE TYPICALLY INVOLVED? The cost of the initial Radon test usually runs between $100 and $125 and the Buyer in a Real Estate transaction pays for this test. A qualified radon-reduction contractor will evaluate the radon problem and provide you with a detailed, written proposal on how radon levels will be lowered. They will design a radon-reduction system that meets EPA standards and local codes and guarantee that the system effectively reduces radon levels to acceptable levels. A rough average of the cost of installation of systems that I have observed in my Real Estate career runs between $800 and $1200. Sometimes the Buyer and Seller split the cost of remediation. It is totally negotiable between both parties.
Suzanne V. Norris has been a Realtor for the past 29 years. She is a member of the Suburban West Realtors Association, Pennsylvania Association of Realtors and National Association of Realtors. She is an owner of CENTURY 21 NORRIS-VALLEY FORGE, 18 NUTT ROAD, PHOENIXVILLE, PA and can be reached at 610-933-8600. View 1000's of Homes on our website: www.c21norris.com