Like most home buyers, I’m sure you’ve made your list of must-have’s for your new home. Whether it be house hunting or that regular weekly shopping trip to the store for a few needed groceries to restock the pantry, a list of what you need and want makes the project a lot easier. Aside from the farmhouse kitchen or the big fenced in yard, 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. The scary thing about radon gas is that it is both invisible and odorless. It is formed by the breakdown of rocks that emit radium and uranium and seeps into the home through cracks in the foundation. Hence, I’ve seen higher levels of radon seeping into unfinished basements as opposed to finished basements, yet it can be found in both. 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 older or new construction. The only way to determine if a house you are interested in purchasing has high radon levels is to test the air. The EPA has a great “Home Buyer’s and Seller’s Guide to Radon” that you might like to take a look through.
Some sellers may perform radon tests prior to putting their homes on the market, if they hadn’t done one in the past. I highly advise this. Recently I had a homeowner who I listed a home for who had never heard of radon gas and certainly hadn’t tested it when she bought the house 12 years ago. During due diligence our buyer had a radon test performed and the results were an eye popping 22.0 pCi/L. Beyond the fact that she was trying to sell a home, she’d been living there unaware of radon gas levels that were over 5 times the EPA limit!
By testing upfront before you list, if there are problems, they have a chance to address radon gas dangers before selling. Yet while this is admirable, if you are the home buyer 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.
- Did they use one test monitor or multiple?
- Where did they place the test monitor?
If you are on the buying side, 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. In Georgia, the state does not certify radon testing or mitigation companies. They do provide however information on certifying agencies and associated companies that meet their levels of radon certification.
If a house has not undergone a recent radon test, you don’t generally need any additional stipulation such as a radon test contingency to be inserted into the purchase agreement. This would fall into buyer due diligence. State by state real estate contracts might be different so consult your local agent, but in Georgia for example, while in your due diligence time period, if the radon test is over 4.0 pCi/L – a point requiring radon mitigation to be performed – and 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 house with radon levels of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher to be a health problem, and suggests taking action to reduce the levels through radon mitigation. Beyond that, the World Health Organization states that radon levels in the home should be at a maximum of 2.6 pCi/L. Mitigation costs vary, depending on the age of the house and how it was constructed as well as the size of the home.
Once again, from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, “Certified radon mitigators with AARST and/or National Radon Safety Board (NRSB) are recommended. Choosing someone to fix your radon problem is much like choosing a contractor for other home repairs— you may want to get references and more than one estimate. Please note: Individuals holding the Residential Mitigation Provider Certification have completed a radon residential mitigation course, passed the exam, and registered with the certifying agencies. Certified radon mitigation service providers also agree to abide by local laws as well as the mitigation techniques detailed in the U.S. Radon Mitigation Standards. To keep certification current, additional training is required.”
You could feel confident in a company or individual listed on these sites:
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.
Once the radon mitigation system is installed, levels are tested to make sure they are below the EPA limit (4 pCi/L) and most certified radon mitigation companies will guarantee their work and that levels will remain below EPA maximum levels of acceptability for life.
Questions to ask a Radon Professional
Finally, and according to Atlanta Radon, these are questions you should ask your radon professional.
#1– You will be doing a significant amount of work in my home including drilling large holes in my foundation and working with the electrical system. What if something unexpected happens? Do you have General Liability Insurance coverage and what are your coverage limitations ? Can you show me these documents?
#2– What if one of your workers gets injured while working in my home? Do you have Workman’s Compensation Insurance coverage and if so, what are your coverage limitations ? Can you show me these documents?
#3– Is your company certified by both the NRSB and the NEHA / NRPP. Are you a member of the NEHA / NRPP, or the NRSB ? Can you show me these documents?
#4– Some radon mitigation companies use licensed electricians to install the radon fans as required by law. Will the radon fan be installed by a Licensed Electrician? Can you show me these documents?
#5–Do you guarantee the post mitigation test results to be below the EPA compliance level and maximum levels as recommended by the World Health Organization of 2.6 pCi/L or will you come back and make it right, at no additional cost?
#6– Will you visit the house to prepare your estimate? WARNING!!! Do not do business with a company that does not do a site visit to prepare your estimate.