Preparatory stage for the construction of a ventilated crawl space in a brick building. (Photo: Francesco Scatena, Shutterstock).

 

Duane Duggan, Realtor and Author RE/MAX of Boulder

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated January as National Radon Action Month. According to the EPA, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Radon gas is emitted from decaying uranium naturally occurring in our soil, rocks and groundwater. Radon is radioactive and carcinogenic, seeping through a foundation to build up to dangerous levels inside a home – and in any other building for that matter. Because radon is invisible and odorless, it can often go undetected for years. The only way to find out if radon is at a hazardous level is to test for it.

Radon is not a new phenomenon – it has been around since the beginning of time. Current construction methods seal homes tightly to conserve energy, however, this allows for radon gas to stay trapped. Radon tests are not required by law or mortgage lenders during a real estate transaction. It has been the market which has dictated that most homes are tested for radon during a real estate transaction.

During the mid-1980s, radon became a factor in real estate transactions. It first came to light when Stanley Watras, a construction engineer at the Limerick Nuclear Power Plant in Boyerstown, Pennsylvania, set off radiation detectors on the way INTO work, not on the way out. As Stanley continued to set off the alarms when he arrived at work, it was determined that the radioactive material was on his clothes and the source was his house. As it turned out, his home had a radon level of 2,600 pCi/L. The current EPA recommended safe level is 4 pCi/L. By the way, pCi/L stands for picocuries per liter of air. In other words, his home was a hot radioactive site. Further research showed that the entire neighborhood Watras’s house was built on was part of the Reading Prong, a geological formation across areas of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York that contains elevated concentrations of uranium. The Watras’s house was built on top of a crack that radon was able to escape through. After this famous story, the real estate market started testing for radon during the real estate transactions. Relocation companies started requiring testing results of less than 4 pCi/L before committing to buy a home from a transferring employee. Today, most real estate transactions for single family homes will have a radon test performed as part of the inspection process.

The EPA has divided the country into radon zones. Most of Colorado is in Zone 1, which means the odds are high that a radon test will come in above the 4 PCi/L level. The good news is that in Colorado along the Front Range from Pueblo to Fort Collins, it is very rare that a house with an elevated level of radon cannot be mitigated. Most of the homes that show elevated levels are those that were built before the presence of radon became well known. In today’s construction, homes are built with methods that keep radon levels lower, even without an active system.

If a home does test for an elevated level, the most common fix is a sub-slab ventilation system. This system is actually fairly simple. It involves installing a pipe below the basement slab, along with a fan, and venting the radon out from underneath the house. After the system is installed, a retest is done to determine if the system is doing its job. Radon mitigation systems for the typical home can range from about $800 to $2,000. A very large home, with an elevated test might require two systems.

As a seller in today’s market, if you don’t have a radon system in place, generally it is a good idea to have your home tested before putting it on the market. If there is a high level of radon, you can have it fixed before it becomes an excuse for a home buyer to back out of a transaction. Most home inspectors will offer to conduct a radon test for a reasonable fee.

There are a variety of radon tests available. Short-term tests collect readings for two to 90 days. They are usually used in a real estate transaction since time is of the essence. A long-term test, however, will give you a truer and more definitive picture of the radon levels over an extended period of time. There are also continuous radon monitors or detectors that are much like smoke detectors. Radon levels change on a daily and seasonal basis due to weather conditions and variants in the construction of the home.

Since radon was first discovered in homes in the 1980s, we have learned a lot. Not everyone is in agreement how dangerous radon is. In most cases, the fix is inexpensive and simple so it almost always worthwhile to test for it and undergo mitigation. There is a wealth of information available on the EPA website at epa.gov/radon.

• See the EPA’s radon zone map at: gispub.epa.gov/radon.
• To learn more about the history of radon, visit: health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Radon_revisited.

Your Realtor® can advise you on your best strategy relative to radon in your real estate transaction.

By Duane Duggan. Duane has been a Realtor for RE/MAX of Boulder in Colorado since 1982 and has facilitated over 2,500 transactions over his career, the vast majority from repeat and referred clients. He has been awarded two of the highest honors bestowed by RE/MAX International: The Lifetime Achievement Award and the Circle of Legends Award. Living the life of a Realtor and being immersed in real estate led to the inception of his book, Realtor for Life. For questions, e-mail DuaneDuggan@boulderco.com, call 303.441.5611 or visit boulderco.com.