Most buyers and sellers are warned of potential home health hazards, such as mold, asbestos and lead-based paint. However, many people overlook the serious issue of radon, a radioactive gas that is estimated to cause about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year. So, how do you protect yourself and your family from this potential threat?
What is radon?
Radon forms naturally from the breakdown of radioactive elements, such as uranium, which are found in all types of soils and rock. This odorless gas can easily enter a home through cracks or openings in the foundation, concrete walls, sump pumps, gaps around pipes, and even water. Once trapped inside, radon can accumulate and reach potentially dangerous levels, damaging the lungs of those who breathe it in.
High levels of radon are found in every state across the country and in every type of home or building, regardless of age or whether it has a basement. According to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), one out of every 15 homes in the United States has a high level of radon. That means approximately 7 million homes throughout the country are affected. The EPA says this class A carcinogen is “thought to cause more deaths each year than other household dangers like poisoning, falls, fires, and drowning.” It is the leading cause of lung cancer for non-smokers, making it the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.
The Radon Act 51 passed by Congress set the target for indoor radon levels at 4pCi/L, which is the national outdoor average. The EPA estimates that two-thirds of American homes exceed that number. Remember, just because your home is at or below the target level, does not mean it is acceptable. While any exposure to radon carries a risk, the lower your indoor level, the lower your family’s risk.
How do I test for radon?
Ideally, a radon test would be performed during every real estate transaction. It is not included in a standard home inspection, but a buyer can add a radon screening for approximately $125.
Radon testing is also recommended, whenever there is seismic activity, like an earthquake, or anytime there is new construction or major ground work happening near your home. The EPA says, “If you are planning any major structural renovation, such as converting an unfinished basement area into living space, it is especially important to test the area for radon before you begin the renovation. If your test results indicate a radon problem, radon-resistant techniques can be inexpensively included as part of the renovation.” The agency also suggests testing again once the work is complete.
Any homeowner can perform radon testing by purchasing a kit online or at a local home improvement store. However, if you are uncomfortable testing on your own, or would like to confirm the results of a home test, consider hiring a professional. The process is relatively simple.
The electronic testing device in the lowest possible living area, like a basement, all of the windows and doors throughout the home should be closed up 12 hours prior to testing in order to have closed-home conditions for an accurate reading.
The testing device is placed at least 24 inches away from an exterior wall, and set on a stand to keep it at least 24 inches off the ground. It is then plugged in and left for 48 hours. Once the test is complete, the device is hooked up to a computer to generate a report that provides an hour-by-hour look at radon levels in the home, and then calculates the average. If the test results in an average at or above the EPA’s recommended level, the problem can be taken care of rather simply by installing a mitigation system, which can run anywhere from $700-$3,000, depending on the application.
A lot of people don’t think about testing for radon, but it’s an important step, it is especially important to test in areas that are known to have a greater potential for elevated levels, but it really is a critical test for every homeowner. If you have not had your home tested in a long time, contact a professional and get it done. It is an inexpensive and simple test to ensure your home is safe.