If you’ve recently bought a new home, you may have had an appraisal, inspection and radon test as part of the purchasing process. These items are often required by the mortgage lender; extending a loan secured by a home that harbors a dangerous condition or is structurally unsound can cost the lender money, so ensuring your home meets or exceeds all relevant standards can render it a much safer investment.
Generally, the results of your radon test won’t be reported to you unless they indicate high radon levels inside the home.
While high radon levels can result in denial of a mortgage loan–and can sometimes give you the right to cancel a purchase agreement without penalty unless the seller agrees to pay for radon mitigation–borderline levels may be enough to pass your lender’s standards, even though this data could indicate a radon problem that needs attention.
Read on to learn more about this tasteless, odorless, colorless gas and how radon mitigation services can keep you and your family safe after you’ve purchased a new home.
What Causes Radon
Radon, as the name implies, is a type of radioactive gas. Radon gas is generated within the earth’s crust by the natural decay of other radioactive minerals like uranium and plutonium, both generally contained within igneous, rather than sedimentary, rock. Radon can’t be seen, tasted, smelled or sensed; the only test for radon gas involves measuring the air for radioactivity.
This means that radon levels are naturally higher in parts of the country where uranium can be found in the soil. Radon levels are often higher in homes with basements or deep foundations, as the process of constructing a foundation disturbs the soil and allows radon gas to escape.
Mobile homes that aren’t on a permanent foundation and require no digging are unlikely to have high radon levels unless constructed in an area with generally high radioactivity.
What Radon Causes
Long-term exposure to radon gas is second only to cigarette smoking when it comes to common causes of lung cancer.
Radon exposure can also be exponential in severity. For example, a homeowner whose home has 4 picoCuries of radon per liter of air (4 pCi/L), considered the maximum upper limit of radon presence, is exposed to 35 times as much radiation as would be present at the fence of a radioactive waste site. The lower the radon level is in your home, the safer you are.
However, many homeowners aren’t aware of their home’s radon level, and those who are just below the 4 pCi/L limit may be told they “pass” the radon test without realizing the critical nature of this borderline-high reading.
Radon is of particular concern when there are small children in the home. Because children breathe more rapidly than adults and their cells split more frequently due to the speed with which they grow, childhood radon exposure can be far more harmful than adult radon exposure.
A sobering one in every five homes throughout the U.S.– including homes in every state from Maine to Hawaii–have higher-than-recommended radon levels, rendering this both a personal and a public health concern.
Mitigating Radon Levels
If you’re not comfortable with your home’s radon readings, you’ll want to enlist some help to lower these levels and control the amount of radon gas in your home at any given time. This is generally accomplished by the installation of a radon mitigation system.
The right radon mitigation system for your home will depend largely upon your home’s construction and the type of foundation it has. In some cases, you’ll need to keep radon from getting into your home at all; in others, your best bet is to focus your energies on reducing radon levels once the gas has already made its way into your home. Often, you’ll be able to stop the flow of radon before its point of entry through using an exhaust system of underground pipes and fans that can pump any radioactive air safely away from your foundation.
In homes with crawlspaces that allow air to pass between the bare ground and the bottom of your home’s floor, you’ll have even more of an opportunity to intercept any radon-containing air before it manages to seep upward through your floor. Reinforcing the subfloor can provide an additional layer of protection, as can repairing any cracks, holes or other defects in your foundation that may be allowing radon gas to flow through.
It’s also a good idea to have your home’s air regularly tested for radon for the first few years after the installation of a mitigation system. By sampling air in various parts of your home, mitigation specialists will be able to narrow down the potential points of radon entry to make your air filtration and exhaust system more effective and efficient at removing tainted air from your home.