Real Estate & Mortgage Insights

Buying or Selling a Home? Get the Facts about Radon

Ask someone if they know what "radon" is and you will probably get an answer like, "Wasn't that the flying-bird-monster that Godzilla fought?" Well, of course they would be wrong, but that doesn't mean that radon is harmless. In fact, if you are buying or selling a home in today's real estate market, you need to become aware of this potential problem.

Radon - What is It?

Radon is an odorless, tasteless and invisible gas that is leaked through the Earth's crust. It is formed by the natural process of the breaking-down of uranium in the soil, water and rock. Over time, uranium breaks down and turns into lead. The entire transformation process takes place over fourteen steps. The release of radon is the sixth of those steps.

How Does Radon get Into Homes?

Since radon is a gas, it travels up through the ground. Normally, radon just gets released into the air and it is quickly dissipated, but if your home has cracks in its foundation, radon gas can actually seek into your home. Since the pressure inside your home is different from that of outside, your home actually works like a vacuum, sucking the gas in. This is especially risky in the winter since the windows are closed and there is no way for the gas to escape.

Another way for radon to get into the home is through well water. If your home has well water, there can be a potential for radon to be released as you shower. While this is possible, it is more common for underground gas leaking into the home to be the reason for radon entering the home.

Is Radon Dangerous?

Unfortunately, yes. Radon is a class-one carcinogen and is proven to cause cancer. As radon is inhaled, the radioactive decay particles attach themselves to the lining of the lungs. However, radon has a 3.8 day half-life, meaning that the particles will probably be exhaled before they have a chance to decay, but if your home has a high concentration of radon, your risk is increased dramatically. In fact, the Surgeon General has declared radon to be the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.

What is the Acceptable Level of Radon Exposure?

Radon is found in every state, so avoiding it entirely is impossible. In the United States, Congress has set into action a long-term goal of having radon levels inside the home being no more that what is found normally outside. For that to happen, the indoor level of radon should not exceed 0.4 pCi/l (picocurries of radon per liter of air). Currently, the average amount of radon in the average American home is 1.3 pCi/l. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises that action should be taken when indoor levels reach 4.0 pCi/l.

What to do about Radon if You are Looking to Buy a Home

The EPA advises that everyone purchasing a home should have the interior tested for radon exposure. Plus, find out from the owner if they have a radon reduction system installed. If they do, find out who installed it and when and see if the owner will provide you with before installation and after radon readings for your own information.

If the seller already had the home tested prior to putting it up for sale, make sure that the individual who performed the test was qualified through the EPA Radon Measurement Proficiency (RMP) Program, and/or certified by the National Radon Safety Board. You should also ask the seller where in the house was the test taken and if there were any structural changes made since the test.

What to do about Radon if You are Selling a Home

Of course, the right thing to do is to have your home tested for radon before you place it on the market. Once you get the results, be open with the prospective buyers and provide them with the test results. You should make sure you find a qualified professional to take the test and the test should be performed in the home's lowest point.

How to Combat Radon from Entering the Home

If you have a crawlspace where radon is seeping into, sometimes spreading a vapor barrier (plastic sheeting) over the ground can help reduce the levels. If you have a concrete floor in your basement, check it for cracks and have them properly sealed. Of course, in some cases, a special suction system may need to be installed in the home. This system is called a sub-floor de-pressurization system and it effectively draws the air from under the basement floor and exhausts it outside of the home.

While radon is definitely dangerous in high concentrations, making a few repairs can effectively help protect your home and your family from exposure.

Featured Articles