Saturday, February 28, 2015

RADON ... It's a Gas!

It’s not as though we don’t already have enough to worry about with Global Warming, chemical and waste water contamination of our drinking water and all the other ecological mysteries that we think are threatening our demise. Do you remember when everyone was concerned about contracting cancer simply by sitting too close to an electric heater or using an electric blanket?  The big scare back in the 90’s was all about Electromagnetic Radiation or EMFs.  Even today there is no definitive answer to whether living next to a utility easement where there are high tension wires or step-up and step-down transformers within close proximity to a home will emit enough radiation to be harmful to your health. However, whether the danger is real or not the concern is there and it has stigmatized many properties perceived value.
Now there is RADON!

Once upon a time Radon was of no concern here on Martha’s Vineyard, but neither was smoking cigarettes. Some people still don’t care. The common belief was, it was only present in up-Island towns where the heaviest concentration of glacial rock existed. Today Radon is being found in every town on the Island and in some areas in quite high concentrations. 

Here is the point I want to make.
I think doing a Radon test should be the first thing any home buyer does before having a complete structural inspection performed. Repairing a fully depreciated roof or replacing a heating system is no big deal compared to finding Radon gas. Radon is a health hazard.

What is Radon?
It is a particulate gas that constantly emanates from disintegrating glacial rock formations or ledge rock, but there can be other sources. The EPA has set the ‘action’ level for Radon at 4 pCi/L (picocuries/liter). In Europe where they are less conservative the action level is 10 pCi/L.  To give this some perspective, since Radon is the #2 cause of lung cancer, the EPA guidelines state that a reading of 10-12 pCi/L is "equivalent to smoking one pack of cigarettes a day".  Am I getting your attention?

I have a section on my website explaining in more detail about Radon with links to resources. For further detail or if you want to schedule a consultation with a Radon Mitigation expert you can contact the company I use.

This is how the Structural Inspection process works.
As a buyer, before the Purchase and Sale Agreement is signed and you are in too deep, a Structural Inspection is performed.   The home inspector will usually recommend a Radon test as an ‘add-on’ or optional test. The test can be static or active and usually takes 24 hours and is best done in the colder months when a house is closed up.  The cost of the test is nominal, usually under $100.00 but it can run as high as $300.00. Compared to the cost of a complete structural inspection which usually averages $400.00 to $600.00 or even more depending on the size of the premises being inspected.  Finding a high level of Radon could possibly derail a home purchase more easily than most other findings in a Structural Inspection. 

Radon in the Water?
If it isn’t enough to find radon gas in the air, it can also be found in well water.  It is not as serious in well water but when it becomes airborne as spray that is when it can affect your health.  Well water systems can also be treated to neutralize the Radon by using high maintenance filtering systems.  If the initial Radon test shows high levels it is advisable to have a well water test done. Of course, if the property is on town water then you don’t have to worry.

My recommendation
Home buyers should investigate whether or not Radon is prevalent in the area they are thinking of purchasing a home.  Good sources for that information can be a structural inspector, an attorney or a well installer. As I said before, contract for a Radon test before having a full blown structural inspection performed.  If the levels are below the action level you are good to go. If the levels are within the margins, let’s say between 4 pCi/L and 12 pCi/L you can have a mitigation system installed for somewhere around $1500 to $3000.00 depending upon the complexity of the installation. If a mitigation system is installed and the after installation Radon levels are not well below 4pCi/L further ventilation work may need to be done.  Do a Radon test first and then you can worry about the rest. That is my advice.