If you’ve talked to anyone who has bought or sold a house lately, you may have heard about radon testing or mitigation, and particularly, the EPA “recommended action level.” You may be wondering “What action should I take?” or “Does this matter to me?” Getting acquainted with some radon FAQ’s can help to answer both of those questions.
–What is radon, anyway?
Radon is a radioactive gas that naturally occurs in the environment as radioactive elements in the soil break down, especially uranium and thorium.
–Why does radon want to be in my house? Doesn’t it have enough room outside?
Sure, but it’s lonely. It enters your house through small cracks and gaps in the foundation. In some cases, it can get in via well water. I heard one story from a radon tech that a house with a large natural river rock chimney and fireplace had radon from the natural rock, but that was unusual.
–Should I be worried about radon?
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, so it’s good to be aware of it. If you’ve lived in your house for a long time and you’ve never tested for radon, it’s not a bad idea to do that. It’s surprisingly affordable to mitigate; most radon systems I’ve been involved with have run between $1500-$2000. For an environmental issue, it’s comparatively easy to deal with.
–If I want to sell my house, do I have to test it for radon first?
As of this writing, no. Chances are you buyer will test as part of their inspections/due diligence, and if the reading is high, the buyer may ask for a mitigation system to be installed or a credit toward the cost of a post-closing installation. The EPA recommends a reading of 4.0 pCi/l or lower. This measurement is “picocuries per liter,” and a curie is a measurement of radioactive intensity.
–How do I test for radon?
You can hire an environmental company to do a 48-hour continuous test, which will take a reading every hour and give you an average, or you can get an at-home test that you mail in to a lab for results. The at-home test is much more affordable, which gives you the option of doing it more than once, which is a good idea, because radon levels naturally fluctuate during the year. A 48-hour test may not give the full picture, so if you got an acceptable reading during a pre-purchase test, it wouldn’t hurt to do your own test(s) after you move in.
–Do I need to worry about radon if I don’t have a basement?
Yes, your crawlspace can be a source of radon that then sneaks into the house. One of the higher radon test readings I saw last year was in fact in a house that had no basement.
–What if I’m buying new construction? Is radon only an old house problem?
No, because the risk of radon depends on the soil composition where the home is built. However, current new construction codes require installation of a passive radon mitigation system. Many of these systems are adequate, but you should still test anyway during your inspections. Passive radon systems can often be made active by installation of a fan, if the passive system isn’t doing a good enough job. You definitely want to avoid the passive-aggressive radon system, which functions well enough but complains the whole time that you don’t appreciate it and threatens to stop working if you don’t send it flowers on special occasions.
Have more questions or concerns? I’m just an email, text, or phone call away, anytime!