When you have a home inspected, either before buying or selling, issues might come up that will surprise you. Radon might be one of those. How important is it, and should your home be tested for it?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is a radioactive gas that has been found in homes all over the United States. It comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water and gets into the air you breathe. It typically moves up through the ground to the air above and then into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Radon can also enter your home through well water. Your home can trap radon inside.
According to a January 2005 advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General, “Indoor radon gas is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and breathing it over prolonged periods can present a significant health risk to families all over the country. It’s important to know that this threat is completely preventable. Radon can be detected with a simple test and fixed through well-established venting techniques.”
How big of a problem is it in our homes? The EPA says any home can have a radon problem. It doesn’t make any difference if your home is old or new. Well-sealed and drafty homes can have a radon problem, as well as homes with or without basements. The truth is that you and your family are most likely to get your greatest radiation exposure at home because that’s where you spend most of your time.
The EPA notes that nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the United States is estimated to have an elevated radon level of 4 pCi/L or more. Find out more about radon levels where you live from the radon office in your state.
If you live in an area with lower radon levels than those the EPA considers sufficient for taking action, it may be up to you to decide if the home should be checked for radon. Again, the office dealing with radon issues in your state may have useful information for you.
On the other hand, if you live in an area where elevations of radon are typically low, that doesn’t mean the home you’re purchasing has low levels. Naturally, if radon levels are generally high where you live, you should most certainly have your home tested.
Keep in mind that the EPA and the Surgeon General recommend all homes be tested for radon. Incidentally, Both EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor, since the lower levels are where concentrations of radon are highest.
Testing is the only way to know for certain if you and your family are at risk from radon. You can’t reliably predict radon levels based on state, local, and neighborhood radon measurements. EPA says not to rely on radon test results taken in other homes in the neighborhood for estimating the radon level in your home. That’s because homes which are next to each other can have different radon levels.
If your home inspector doesn’t test for radon, ask for a recommendation of someone who can. Companies offering radon testing may offer different types of radon service agreements. Some agreements let you pay a one-time fee that covers both testing and radon mitigation, if that’s what is needed. Contact your state radon office to find out more.