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Making homes greener and safer from radon

Guest Bonnie Smith

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Guest Bonnie Smith

For people who are shopping for new homes, EPA has some good news. Radon-resistant construction practices are being used more frequently in new homes built throughout the country.


Radon is a cancer-causing naturally occurring gas that enters homes through foundation cracks, drains, and openings. Although you can’t see, smell, or taste radon, it can reach harmful levels if trapped indoors. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers and claims 20,000 lives every year.


“It's never too late to reduce your risk of lung cancer. Don't wait another day. Test your home for radon,” said EPA Regional Administrator Donald S. Welsh. “And, if you are building a new home, use the radon-resistant construction practices."


Radon-resistant construction techniques help reduce radon infiltration into a home. The techniques include gas permeable layers beneath the home’s slab, plastic sheeting, sealing and caulking, a vent pipe to redirect radon, a fan and junction box.


It is more cost-effective to use radon-resistant techniques while building a home, than it is to install in an existing home. For new homes, materials and labor costs are $350 to $500 compared to retrofitting an existing home for $800 to $2,500. Techniques vary slightly for different foundations and site requirements. The techniques may also increase your home's energy efficiency.


Based on the most recent analysis by the National Association Home Builders Research Center of homes built during 2001, 65,000 new homes incorporated radon-resistant features. This is six percent of the 1,124,000 new single-family detached homes built.


Whether your new home is new construction or not, EPA encourages you to test it for radon. A simple home test costs less than $25 and testing is the only way to detect radon levels. If your home is not new, a radon mitigation system can also be installed if your radon test levels are above the recommended levels of 4 pCi/l.


For tips about test kits and finding a qualified professional to fix a radon problem, contact your state's radon program at www.epa.gov/iaq/whereyoulive.html or visit the National Safety Council Web site at www.nsc.org/issues/radon.


For more information about radon, visit EPA’s Web site at www.epa.gov/radon or contact the radon program in each state, at www.epa.gov/iaq/whereyoulive.html. You can also call National Safety Council’s radon hotlines: 1-800-SOS-RADON (24 hour recording) or 1-800-55-RADON (to speak with a specialist), or 1-866-528-3187 (for Spanish speakers).

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I found this Bonnie:


National Radon Fix-It Program

Lowering Radon Levels: Help for Consumers

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that you can't see, taste, or smell. It is measured in picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air. The radon gas from the soil can enter a home or building through dirt floors, hollow-block walls, cracks in the foundation floor and walls, and openings around floor drains, pipes, and sump pumps. EPA recommends that action be taken to reduce radon levels if the annual average is 4 pCi/L or higher.


Radon is more concentrated in the lower levels of the home (that is, basements, ground floors, and first floors). Radon problems have been identified in every state. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that one in 15 homes in the United States has an elevated radon level (4 pCi/L or more). You can't know if you have a radon problem unless you test.


Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, estimated to cause between 15,000 and 22,000 lung cancer deaths every year. Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As they break down further, these particles release small bursts of energy. This can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer over the course of your lifetime.


Testing for Radon

Testing is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. Testing for radon is simple and takes only a few minutes of your time. Radon test kits are placed in the lowest lived-in level of the home and left for the specified period of time. After that time, the kit is sent to the laboratory for analysis.


If you decide to hire a qualified company to do a radon test or a qualified contractor to fix your home, contact your state radon office or public health official. To make sure you are getting a fair price, get estimates from at least two contractors, compare the things they promise to do, as well as the prices, and call their past customers to see if they were satisfied with the work. After work is completed, either buy another do-it-yourself test kit or have a different company test the home to see if radon levels are below 4 pCi/L.


Getting Help

The National Safety Council, a non-profit organization, operates the Radon Fix-It Program free of charge. The Radon Fix-It Program provides guidance to consumers with elevated radon levels (4 pCi/L or higher) to take the necessary steps towards fixing their homes.


The Fix-It Program operators provide referrals to technical experts in your state government, information on reducing elevated radon levels, information on choosing a test kit or a testing company, and information about testing in connection with a real estate transaction. They also provide lists of contractors certified by the National Environmental Health Association and/or the National Radon Safety Board who are qualified to offer advice and perform radon mitigation.


The toll-free Radon Fix-It Program is for people whose radon test results are 4 pCi/L or higher. People with elevated radon levels should call (800) 644-6999.


Real Estate Transactions

To ensure that the home you are planning to buy does not have elevated levels of radon, you should have the home tested. If time is of the essence during the real estate transaction, short term tests can be completed in a matter of days. Long term tests take three months or longer. Simple, relatively inexpensive do-it-yourself radon test kits can be purchased from a hardware store or by calling the National Radon Helpline at (800) 557-2366 for a discount rate of $9.95. You can also hire a professional testing company to conduct the test. Be sure that the test kit or testing company you choose is certified as being proficient in your state.


Remember, elevated radon levels can be fixed and can almost always be reduced to below 4 pCi/L. If testing confirms radon levels in the home to be at or above 4 pCi/L, consider having the radon level reduced before you move in. Talk with your real estate professional or settlement attorney about how to put fixing the home into the purchase agreement.


Sellers should consider beginning a long-term test as soon as the decision to sell is made. In many cases, the time interval between deciding to sell and writing a contact or going to settlement is greater than the 91 days or more required for a long-term test. The fact that your home does not have elevated radon levels could be a selling point to prospective buyers. If radon levels are elevated, have your home fixed.


Home Inspections

Home inspectors are often hired by buyers or sellers to examine a home before a real estate transaction is finalized. A professional inspection can alert a seller to existing or potential problems such as radon, allowing the seller to address them so as not to discourage a potential buyer. Before a buyer purchases a property, he or she wants assurances that the property does not have structural or other problems that could lead to unanticipated expenses after purchase.


Basic home inspections cover all major mechanical and structural systems such as heating, electrical, plumbing, and roofing. If the home already has a radon mitigation system, have it checked for proper operation. Many home inspectors are qualified to inspect for environmental problems, including measuring radon levels. If your home inspector is certified to measure for radon, consider asking him to test the home.

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