Have you made your list of must-haves for your new house? Like any shopping trip, a list of what you need and want makes the project a lot easier. Aside from the gourmet kitchen or the extra bathroom, consider putting “safe indoor air” on that list.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), because the average American spends more time indoors than out, “the risks to health may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors.” This is especially important to note if you have very young children, as their lungs are still developing.
Indoor air pollution comes from a number of sources, including:
- Pollen and mold
- Cigarette smoke
- Pesticides, cleaners and other household products
- Building and furniture materials that contain formaldehyde, lead and asbestos
- Gases, such as carbon monoxide and radon
Radon gas dangers
Radon, a radioactive gas, has been found in homes nationwide. Insidious, it can be neither seen nor smelled. It is formed by the breakdown of rocks that emit radium and uranium and seeps into the home through cracks in the foundation. Exposure to radon gas, for prolonged periods, causes lung cancer. In fact, according to the National Cancer Institute, radon gas exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.
Radon test kits and home buying
It doesn’t matter that a neighbor’s house tested negative for radon, as houses on the same street may have vastly different radon levels. It doesn’t matter if the house is old or newly-built. The only way to determine if a house you are interested in purchasing has high radon levels is to test the air.
Some sellers perform radon tests prior to putting their homes on the market. This way, if there are problems, they have a chance to address radon gas dangers before selling. While this is commendable, check the seller’s radon test for:
- The date the test was performed
- Who performed the test
- The part of the house that was tested
Determine what, if any, changes have been made to the house since testing. Replacement or repair of heating and air conditioning systems may affect radon levels in the home.
While home testing kits are available to the public, and recommended as effective by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), many potential purchasers feel more comfortable with tests performed by professional testing companies. As a purchaser, you need to make up your own mind in regards to this.
If a house has not undergone a radon test, you may want to request one of the seller and have your agent insert a radon testing contingency into the purchase agreement. If the test doesn’t meet with your approval, or the seller refuses to fix the radon levels in the home, you can legally walk away from the contract.
Fixing radon gas issues
The EPA considers any home with radon levels of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher to be a problem, and suggests taking action to reduce the levels. Mitigation costs vary, depending on the age of the house and how it was constructed. The EPA has a list of approved testing professionals and radon mitigation services, by state, on their website.
Radon reduction typically involves a combination of techniques, such as sealing foundation cracks along with the installation of a vent pipe and fan, known as sub-slab depressurization.
The EPA recommends that you open windows and doors in the home to increase ventilation and to allow the radon to escape. The only problem with this natural solution is that, once windows and doors are closed, radon levels return to their previous levels within 12 hours. Which is exactly why winter is the best time to test the air in a home.