Home Inspections and Radon
During a home inspection, if you ever want to raise the level of anxiety in a room with a prospective home buyer and a real estate agent, bring up the topic of Radon. The discussion and level of awareness of Radon and its effects has improved over the years as home buyers have become much more knowledgeable of this cancer causing gas. This article is only intended to give an over-view of Radon and is based on a three hour class Edifice provides for the real estate community. Although there are numerous references for the studying of Radon, this article and the class it is taken from will use information provided by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA website is epa.gov/Radon
It is interesting to note that many folks seem to have their own ideas about Radon and what it does. Again, as the EPA as our base, let us list what we know. Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, radioactive gas. It comes from Radium, Uranium and some granites in the earth. It comes up through the soil, can collect in homes and can cause lung cancer. The organizations that track the health effects of Radon state the following for the US: over 20,000 people a year die from Radon caused lung cancer, children are 3 times more likely to develop cancer than adults, 26% of lung cancer in “never smokers” is from Radon and Radon is the #2 cause of lung cancer.
The EPA map below shows the testing results for every county in Georgia. The darker colors show a higher incidence of Radon. The map shows that we have all three Radon zones in Georgia. And yes, Cobb, Fulton, Dekalb and Gwinnett are zone 1 counties with as high an incidence of Radon as the northern tier of States. Radon has been found in all counties in Georgia. You can pull up a map of your State on the EPA website.
Ok, if we can accept what we have discussed so far, what do we do now? Weather we are dealing with a prospective home buyer or a current home owner, the time line and decision-making process is the same. You have to conduct a test to determine the radon level in the property. Notice I said “Radon level” and not whether or not the house has Radon. Remember, we said that Radon comes up through the soil. In most areas there is always a level of Radon in the air, even outdoors. What we want to know is what that level is inside the living space. Because of subsurface soil conditions and home construction differences, the level of Radon in one home may be completely different from the house next door. Each home must be tested separately.
Radon testing is offered by most home inspection companies. Passive Radon canisters can be used and at the end of the test period the canisters are sent to a laboratory for analysis and the results sent to the operator. Electronic continuous Radon monitors are the recommended method because the results can be available at the end of the test period resulting in a quicker turn-around time. Regardless of the method used, the devices must be in the property a minimum of 48 hours and preferably longer.
Test results are shown in Picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L). Unlike mold and our next topic, VOCs, the EPA has actually identified a threshold level for Radon. The EPA recommends that any house with a Radon level above 4.0 pCi/L be mitigated. And just to muddy the water a little the EPA also states that houses between 2 and 4 pCi/l should “consider” mitigation. The mitigation or “fix” is pretty standard depending on the type of house with the intent to collect the soil gases before they enter the living space and discharge them to the outside. Most mitigation installations cost run between $1,200 and $2,000 and should conclude with another Radon test to assure levels are at an acceptable level. In the case of a real estate transaction, the seller almost always has to pay to have the mitigation done. Otherwise they have to disclose they have a carcinogen in the house. Radon problems can be fixed and if handled properly should not become a problem during the real estate process.
VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS (VOCs)
Home inspectors may add to the services they offer based on the needs of the market place. One of the more recent has been the use of Infrared technology as either a part of the home inspection or as a stand-alone service. Another, although not wide spread, is the testing for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).This service is usually an extension of mold screening when trying to determine the source of health problems in the home.
Again to quote the EPA, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are chemicals found in paints, lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, varnishes, waxes, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment, moth repellents, air fresheners and dry-cleaned clothing. VOCs evaporate into the air when these products are used or sometimes even when they are stored. VOCs irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, and cause headaches, nausea, and damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Some of them can cause cancer.
Formaldehyde in building materials and Benzene from tobacco smoke, stored fuels, paint supplies and vehicle emissions are some of the more common VOCs found when testing indoor air quality. Improved building standards resulting in tighter homes can drive VOC levels up to 10 times higher than outdoors.
Testing for VOCs usually involves taking an air sample within the subject property. The sample collection time can last 2-3 hours. The collection device is then sent to a lab for analysis and a report is sent to the operator. The time from the sample collection to receiving the results can be 3-4 business days. The VOCs identified in the lab analysis can guide the operator in the search for the source of the contamination.
This and all previous articles can be found on our website: edificeinspections.com