It’s easy enough to tell when you have a leaky faucet that needs to be fixed, a light switch that isn’t working, or a ceiling that’s cracking. The signs of damage—and potential danger—are obvious even to a relatively untrained eye.
Radon gas is different. You’ll never see it, smell or it, or even know it’s there at all unless you test for it. But it’s a silent, slow killer if you’re exposed to high levels of it over an extended period of time. In fact, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer (after smoking) and responsible for over 20,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States every year—a bigger threat to public health than drunk driving.
Furthermore, it’s estimated that about 1 of every 15 U.S. homes has high level of radon, particularly in basement or ground-level floors.
Radon testing, therefore, is an extremely important matter included in every home inspection provided by CRIC Services.
What Is Radon and How Does It Enter the Home?
Radon gas is a natural byproduct of heavier radioactive elements (uranium, thorium, and radium) as they break down in rock, soil, and water. You’re constantly exposed to low levels of radon in the atmosphere just about everywhere.
Radon typically enters a home through cracks and holes in the foundation. From there, it can get trapped inside homes, slowly increasing the concentration to levels that become poisonous and damaging to human health.
What Are the Consequences of Radon Exposure?
There are no obvious symptoms of radon poisoning by itself, but long-term radon exposure (over 5 to 25 years typically) can significantly increase your risk of lung cancer. Early signs of lung cancer can include coughing, wheezing, chest pain, loss of appetite, and susceptibility to infections like bronchitis and pneumonia.
How Are Homes Tested for Radon?
You can test a home yourself for radon, although it is also included in all of our inspections.
The most common method is the “short term” test, which requires that you place a radon testing device in the lowest usable floor of your home for a period of 48 hours. The device is then analyzed by a lab.
If the short-term test indicates elevated radon levels, we recommend following up with a long-term test (90 days). Since radon levels can fluctuate day to day and over the course of a year, a longer-term test will provide a more reliable measure of the average radon level in your home.
For reference, the average indoor radon concentration is about 1.3 picoCuries per liter of air (pCi/L). A test above 4.0 pCi/L indicates that further action should be taken.
What Happens If My New Home Has High Levels of Radon?
While radon is a very serious problem, it’s also important to remember that the adverse health risks from radon exposure are cumulative. It typically takes several years of exposure to significantly increase cancer risk. And homes can be repaired or upgraded to reduce radon levels.
In other words, an unwelcome result on a radon test might does not necessarily mean you should back out of the deal—though you may wish to renegotiate a repair request or financial concession.
Basic repairs that can reduce radon levels include:
- Caulking up any foundation cracks and openings
- Covering any soil in crawl spaces with at least 6mm of polyurethane plastic sheeting
- Installing an airtight cover over your sump pump
If your home is found with higher levels of radon—or future tests prove that basic repairs are insufficient—you may need to install a radon mitigation system in your home. PVC piping and an in-line fan system is used to draw radon gas out of the soil through a hole under the slab or in the sump pump pit, then vent it safely outside your home.
This project typically runs from several hundred to a few thousand dollars to install, depending on your home, the placement of the vent, and the initial level of radon present.
How Often Should I Test My Home for Radon?
As we said, we will perform a radon test during the inspection before you close on any new home that you purchase. This ensures you have the information you need, collected by a qualified professional, before you sign on the dotted line.
That said, because radon levels can fluctuate over time—and also because home radon testing kits are inexpensive—we recommend you continue to test your home (using a long-term test) at least once every couple of years. You may also consider purchasing an electric radon monitor that plugs into a standard outlet and provides continuous testing throughout the year.
You should also perform a radon test both before and after any structural renovations, or changes in your living patterns—for example, moving your sleeping area from the second floor to the ground floor or basement.
Have any other questions? Have a home that you need inspected after your offer was accepted? Give us a call today at (720) 534-1197.