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Radon 101

Posted by Rona Fischman May 4, 2012 01:45 PM

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Over the past month, I have had an unusually high number of radon tests conducted by my clients that have come in over the EPA limit of 4.0 pci/l.

First definitions:
What does “pCi/l” mean? Pci/l means picocurie per liter of air. It is a measure of radioactivity of the air. That radioactivity has been linked to lung cancer.

What is radon? Radon is an odorless, radioactive gas that comes from the breakdown of uranium found in soil, rock, and water under houses. The house traps radon inside, where it can build up. It gets in through cracks or air gaps under the house. The highest levels will be found in the basement, then be present at lower levels as you go up into the other floors. Most household radon comes from rock and soil, and not from well water or building materials.

Second, a bit of house history:
The better insulated a house is, the less the house “breathes.” The improvements in insulation contribute to indoor radon. When we all had air leaking from our closed windows all winter, there was less chance for radon to build up in houses.

However, it is not a foregone conclusion that any house will have, or not have, an elevated radon reading. There are older houses with older windows that have a radon problem and new houses that don’t. It is also not a foregone conclusion that if the neighbors all don’t have elevated radon readings, your house won’t. One of the houses that had a very high reading recently (24 pCi/l) was next door to a recently sold house with a normal reading.

If an elevated radon reading is found, the EPA recommends either a short-term or long-term retest. The EPA recommends mitigation to keep your radon level below 2 pCi/l.

Radon can be found in water. Wells are tested for it. If you have municipal water, you can check with them about their radon testing.

For house sellers and buyers, it is a good idea that you understand what radon is and how relatively simple it is to test for and to remediate. Testing can be done with a canister from the hardware store for under $40 or so. A home inspector can bring a canister and set it up for you for slightly more money. Or, a machine test can be done for under $200. Remediation is under $1500 in most cases. (I had one client household pay more, but that was because they had an addition that was built on rock with no foundation space to put the system under the room. They paid $4000 or so.)

What are your radon stories?

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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