What Do I Do If My House Has Radon?

home inspectionRadon is a cancer-causing radioactive gas that comes from the natural decay of uranium, which is found in nearly all soil types. It can travel upward, through the soil, into the air and into your home through cracks, gaps or the water supply. Radon isn’t picky about the homes it enters. It can be found in homes with basements and without, new construction as well as 100-year-old homes.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Surgeon General’s Office estimate that radon causes approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year; only smoking ranks higher.

You cannot see, smell or taste radon. It typically takes years of exposure to the gas before health problems become apparent. The EPA estimates that as many as 8 million U.S. homes — across all 50 states — contain elevated levels of radon.

So, how do you know if it’s in your home? Testing is the only way to check your home’s radon levels.
Some states regulate providers of radon measurement and mitigation services by requiring registration, certification or licensing.

Visit the EPA website to get information about your state’s radon programs. If your state does not regulate testers, you may want to purchase a do-it-yourself radon test kit online or from a home improvement store. Be aware that, if you’re buying or selling a home, the EPA recommends radon testing before finalizing any real estate transaction. In fact, radon testing is required for certain HUD mortgage applications and by some local municipalities.

Radon levels are most commonly reported as pCi/l, or pico curies per liter. The EPA reports that a level of 4pCi/l or higher is unacceptable. If tests done on your home indicate a higher-than-normal reading, the EPA suggests retesting. If a second test also comes back with an unacceptable reading, you need to take steps to reduce your home’s radon levels.

Many states have regulations regarding mitigation, requiring that the task be handled by a licensed mitigation company. If your state does not regulate mitigation, the EPA recommends that work conform to criterion outlined in American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) Standard E2121.

The most common radon mitigation systems rely on fans, located in an attic or outside the building, to draw air out from under a basement, crawl space or concrete slab. The fans reroute gases coming from the soil beneath your house and exhaust them outside the structure, far enough from windows and other openings that they cannot reenter.

Once mitigation work is complete, you’d be wise to have your home retested — just to make sure the radon is gone.

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Mary Boone is a freelance writer for Zillow Blog. Read more from her here.