Radon, a colorless and odorless radioactive gas is double the national average in Portland, Oregon according to new estimates reported in the Oregonian on January, 24th 2013. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States after smoking and the leading cause for non-smokers.
Radon seeps in through cracks and gaps in foundations following the path of least resistance – often finding its way into basements and homes. While the prospect of a dangerous radioactive gas is both daunting and frightening – doing the proper due diligence and working with qualified radon mitigation contractors can take the worry about this hazard away and allow you to enjoy your basement and home stress-free.
As a real estate agent with Meadows Group in Portland, I have been recommending testing to my clients for years as part of their pre-sale inspections. There are several ways to test – you can get test kits from your local hardware stores which are essentially envelopes with carbon in them that you hang in your basement; however, in the home inspection industry we have professionals with radon detecting devices that give a more through 2-3 day “snapshot” of the radon levels in the home. As many of these professional inspectors will tell you – the levels vary so much that one 2-day test cannot fully document the severity of your particular radon level. Weather can play a factor for instance; if there is a low-pressure system over Portland, the pressure can put more of a draw on the gas and increase the levels. When you’re buying a home however, often one does not have the option to test for longer periods, so 2-3 days of testing has become the standard when we inspect a home.
According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), if the radon level is 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) or more, one should install a fix for the issue. If it is under 4 pCi/L, one may still wish to install a system, but it’s within a “safer” level. Radon reduction systems work and they are not too costly. Essentially, radon is trapped in a well under the home and then “pumped” through venting above the roofline using a constantly running fan. Often there is a dirt crawlspace that is covered with polyvinyl, or in the case of a concrete floor a hole is installed to be the well. Some radon reduction systems can reduce radon levels in your home by up to 99%. Even very high levels can be reduced to acceptable levels. In my personal home we had a reading of over 5 and installed a system; once we re-tested levels were lower than those outside of the home. For more information, go to the EPA’s Radon page at: http://www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/citguide.html
When negotiating the contract during the inspection period – if the level is 4 pCi/L or higher the seller is generally compelled to install a mitigation system or provide a credit for one. If it is under 4 pCi/L, one may still ask for remediation from the owner – but if they are unwilling it may be something the buyer decides to do themselves, in the future, or they may decide that the levels are acceptable for them at that time. If your living patterns change and you begin occupying a lower level of your home (such as a basement) you should retest your home on that level. Here is a link to the EPA’s Home Buyer and Seller’s Guide: http://www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/hmbyguid.html
By Harlan Mayer, Portland Real Estate Agent and Principal Broker with Meadows Group Realtors. You can contact Harlan for more information at 503-288-3979