Must-knows when buying house with radon issue

Mitigation system likely to be permanent fixture

DEAR BARRY: We are in the process of buying a house and were informed that the sellers installed a radon remediation system last year. Radon levels before the system was installed were about 7 picocuries per liter. What should we do about this situation, and what are the effects of radon exposure to occupants? –Ananda

DEAR ANANDA: If the mitigation system that was installed in the home has effectively reduced the radon level below 4 picocuries per liter, there is no need to worry. Ask the sellers for radon test results taken after the system was installed. If a follow-up test was not done, or if they do not have documentary results of the test, you should request that a test be done as a condition of the purchase.

Radon is a radioactive gas that is produced by the decay of uranium in the soil or in ground water. It is particularly common in areas where the soil contains granite or shale. Radon is regarded as the second-highest cause of lung cancer (next to smoking) and is credited with approximately 21,000 deaths annually in the United States.

Radon gas is emitted from the earth worldwide, with an average outdoor level of 0.4 picocuries per liter. When radon emerges from the ground beneath a building, indoor levels can become concentrated. The average indoor radon level in American homes is about 1.3 picocuries per liter. The threshold level for concern, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is 4 picocuries per liter. When indoor radon is measured at that level, remediation is recommended for the health and safety of occupants.

Fortunately, remediation systems are simple and relatively inexpensive. The type most commonly used is known as the soil suction radon reduction system. It consists of vent pipes with a fan that pulls radon from beneath the building. For increased effectiveness, cracks and seams in the floor should be thoroughly sealed.

Again, be sure to verify that radon levels have been sufficiently lowered. You should also ask for proof that the mitigation system was installed by a contractor who is licensed as a radon mitigator.

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For more information on radon, visit www.epa.gov/radon/pubs.

DEAR BARRY: I just completed an 80-hour classroom course in home inspection. Now that I’ve got my certificate, I’m not sure what to do next. What do you suggest? –Randy

DEAR RANDY: Now that you’ve learned the basics of home inspection, your internship is about to begin. Home inspection is a learn-as-you-go business. The longer you do it, the more you learn and the more proficient you become as a home inspector. And no matter how long you do it, you never learn it all.

The problem with the first few years in business is legal and financial liability for defects that you fail to report. Therefore, to spur the learning process, join a local chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors or a recognized state association, and participate as much as possible in their educational programs. If possible, find an experienced home inspector who will let you ride along on a few inspections. This is one of the best ways to learn the ropes.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

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