Radon is responsible for at least 15,000 to 20,000 getting lung cancer deaths each year in the U.S. In fact, radon exposure is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. This tragedy is compounded by the fact that both radon testing and radon mitigation are simple and inexpensive. While nationally 1 in 15 homes may show dangerous levels of radon, the average levels in many parts of the mid-Atlantic may be two to three times higher than this. There are no immediate symptoms of radon exposure and you cannot see, taste, feel, or smell radon. Cancer can show up five to 25 years after exposure and about 12% of lung cancer diagnoses are caused by radon.
Where Radon Comes From
Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally in the soil. It is a byproduct of uranium decay. Radon can be found in-new homes, older homes, homes in need of repair, homes without basements; there is no pattern. Your neighbor’s home might be radon-free, while your home has dangerous levels. Radon can come from the ground beneath a home, well water, and various building materials. The only way to know is to test your home, which can be done for less than $30 with a simple kit available at most hardware stores.
Before Buying a Home:
- Ask the seller for a copy of the home’s radon test results. If the home has not been tested, ask your home inspector to include a radon test in his report.
- Make sure that the Radon Testing Checklist items were met.
- Make sure that the last test was recent, at least within the past 2 years.
- Make sure that the seller has performed the test in the lowest, livable level of the house. This usually means the basement, but if the home has no basement, test in the lowest level of the house.
- Ask that the home be tested again if any changes have been made to the home’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system since the last test was done.
- Should you decide to renovate an unfinished part of the home, test for radon before work begins. It is much easier to install a radon system in an unfinished room. If your test results are close to the EPA action level (4.0 pCi/l), test the space again after work is completed.
When renovating an unfinished part of a home or building a new home, look to minimize radon presence.
To Minimize Radon When Building a New Home:
- The integrity of the slab should be maintained at all times.
- Sump pits need to be installed with a sealed cover.
- Use a gas tight radon drain for all floor drains.
- When framing, run a radon vent pipe from the basement to the high part of the attic. This pipe should not be to close to the attic eaves, so that a radon fan can be easily added at a later date if needed.
- If a sump pump is not required for the basement or if the construction is slab on grade, have drain tile looped around the perimeter of the inside of the foundation and have it terminate with a 3 inch PVC “rough in.” A 3″ PVC vent pipe is sufficient for spaces that are less than 2,000 square feet. Use a 4″ PVC “rough in” and a 4″ PVC vent pipe for spaces larger than 2,000 square feet.
How to Measure Radon
Homeowners can test for radon themselves. Order a radon test kit and when finished, make sure to return the radon test to the laboratory with all the required information filled out. Be sure to follow the test kit instructions to the letter. One of the most common mistakes is over or under exposing the devices. A radon test result of 4 picocuries (a picocurie is one trillionth of a curie and measures radioactivity) per liter or higher is considered to be a high radon level. The average radon level in homes is 1.3pCi/L and .4pCi/L outdoors. The 1.3 pCi/l national average includes homes in many regions that do not have radon issues. Keep in mind that the 4.0 pCi/l standard was established as a matter of practicality, not safety. EPA officials at the time were unsure whether the technology and methods employed in 1984 were capable of reducing radon levels further. Recent studies show a significant risk of lung cancer when exposed at levels between 2 and 4 pCi/l. EPA recommends reducing radon levels to below 2pCi/l if possible.
If your home does have Radon
Costs to hire a radon removal professional to lower radon levels average about $800 to $1,200. Homes with crawl spaces or without gravel under the slab cost more. Many radon removal configurations exist and include sub slab depressurization (SSD), SSD with a crawl space, and air exchangers. The work required for a successful radon mitigation are beyond the skills of most untrained homeowners.
What to Consider When Hiring a Radon Abatement or Mitigation Firm
- Ask to see proof of their certifications from National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) and/or the National Radon Safety Board (NRSB).
- Contractors must also be licensed as home-improvement contactors in each state they wish to work. The District of Columbia is an exception in the case of radon work.
- Make sure the contractor is fully insured.
- Have them describe all of the work they will be doing.
- Sign a contract and see that it includes all promises that were made verbally.
- Don’t pay for work until it is complete. Down payments are rarely required.
- Ask for at least a 20-year transferable warranty.