If you are buying a home – or even if you aren’t – you might have heard of radon and that it is a possible hazard. What should you know about radon?
What Is Radon?
Radon is a colorless and odorless gas that is radioactive. It is naturally occurring and, under normal conditions, very easy to inhale. Radon has a very short half-life (3.8 days at the most) but is still common enough to be a health hazard in some areas. The EPA considers radon to be a significant hazard to human health.
How Dangerous Is Radon?
Radon contributes to radiation exposure and is almost as high a cause of lung cancer as cigarette smoking (causing 21,000 deaths from lung cancer in the United States). The vast majority of those also smoke, and the combination gives the highest risk, but radon is the number one cause among non-smokers. Radon may also slightly increase one’s risk of other cancers. Radon exposure has no immediate symptoms and the effects may take years to show up, making testing the only way to know if you are exposed.
How Much Radon Is There In the Ann Arbor/Livonia/Plymouth Area?
Wayne County is a relatively low radon area, with 61% of homes tested showing levels of under 2 pCi/L. However, there are some homes with considerably higher levels and about 17% have levels that would be considered hazardous. Therefore, it is very important to check the radon levels in your home or a home you are considering buying.
Should I Get A Radon Test?
Yes. A radon test is the only way to know a specific home’s levels for sure. If you’re buying a home, ask your home inspector for a radon test. If the seller claims the home has been tested, ask to see the specific results. As testing is inexpensive, consider repeating the test. It may be worth it as buying a home with elevated radon levels but no mitigation in place is both dangerous and expensive. The Michigan Indoor Radon Program has more information on testing and other resources.
We don’t recommend using a DIY home radon test kit, as there are many variables that can skew results. Professionals that do this everyday know how to set up the machines and perform a test to get accurate results.
If the home already has radon mitigation systems in place you should still consider getting a test to make sure they are working effectively.
How Is Radon Mitigated?
Radon mitigation generally involves reducing the amount of radon that builds up within the home. Radon leaks out of the ground and would normally simply drift harmlessly up into the atmosphere in very low concentrations. When it enters your home, however, it is caught by the roof (especially if you have the kind of insulation needed for Michigan winters) and builds up. Radon mitigation takes several forms. One of the most effective is active soil depressurization. This is a system which pulls gas that comes out of the soil out from under your house and exhausts it away from the building or through a vent on the roof.
If your home does not have a crawlspace, then a gas permeable layer under a plastic sheet can also be used to prevent gas coming into the home. Experts also recommend that below-grade openings be properly sealed and caulked. Some new homes are constructed with radon-resistant materials and systems already in place. If you are buying a new home then ask what the builder is doing to mitigate radon.
Radon is a very real health risk. Fortunately, it is also easy to deal with – however, you may not want to have to deal with the inconvenience and expense of installing radon mitigation systems in your new home. As a result, it is desirable to test radon levels before signing any kind of contract on a new house, especially in areas where radon levels are historically high. If you want a professional radon test done on your new (or existing) home, then contact Trademark Home Inspection for details. We will also be able to recommend appropriate mitigation if needed.