A home seller wrote for advice about her concerns over the accuracy of a screening test for radon gas performed in her home. The test results indicated that an elevated level of the cancer-causing, radioactive gas was present. She stated she was skeptical of their validity because her home is newer and does not have a basement. A lot of myths surround the radon issue, and some of the most common misconceptions are addressed below.
Myth: If my home has high radon, I would be able to tell.
Fact: Radon is odorless, colorless and tasteless. It does not make you feel light-headed or nauseated. It does not give you headaches. Long-term exposure to elevated levels of radon have been linked with increased chances of developing lung cancer, but there are no short-term physical symptoms to help a resident sense its presence.
Myth: This house doesn't have a basement, so it can't have any radon.
Fact: Even homes without basements can have elevated levels. Radon concentration depends on radon levels in the soil that is in contact with the house, and access routes into the house. Typical entry points for radon gas are: cracks, joints and crevasses in the foundation; plumbing penetrations; sump pumps; and even well water (dissolved radon). Elevated levels of radon can enter a ranch house by any of these means. Only a house built on stilts, having no contact with the soil, could be considered inaccessible to radon.
Myth: New homes don't have any radon, so there's no need to test them.
Fact: Many new homes today are constructed using radon-resistant materials that help reduce the entry of radon. However, offsetting these measures are the well-insulated walls and attics and airtight windows in newer homes, which reduce the natural "breathing" that helps to dissipate radon in homes.
New homes can be tested for radon once the structural and air infiltration components such as doors, windows, insulation and roofing have been completed. It is not necessary to wait a year or more to get an idea of the potential for elevated levels of radon in a newly constructed home.
Myth: Maryland doesn't have elevated levels of radon.
Fact: National estimates are that about one in 15 homes in the United States have elevated radon levels. For the Baltimore area, the estimates increase to almost 1 in 5 homes having elevated levels of radon.
Myth: Even if elevated levels of radon are found, it is difficult and costly to correct.
Fact: Even very high levels of radon gas can be reduced to acceptable levels. A full-scale remediation system can typically be installed in a house for between $850 to $1,500. Typically, radon remediation professionals can perform the corrective action in less than one day, and many offer guarantees that the radon concentration will be reduced to acceptable levels.
Dean Uhler has been a home inspector for more than 12 years and is president of Baltimore-based Boswell Building Surveys, Inc. Uhler is a member of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and is the treasurer of the Greater Baltimore Chapter of ASHI.
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