of Home Improvements
It might be the ugliest home improvement. Last month, I finally did something about my radon problem.
Two men came and drilled a five-inch-wide hole in my home's bottom floor. They attached a suction system of white pipes and a big round fan to draw air-and radon-from underneath the house and vent it out through a black pipe stuck in the roof. The work took six hours and cost $1200-about what I paid a pro to retile my bathroom.
Despite the risks, radon until recently has ranked pretty low on many homeowners' action lists, including mine. You can't see, smell or taste it, which makes it-unlike mold-easy to ignore. The federal government recommends but doesn't mandate remediation for homes with elevated levels
But as homeowners and builders rush to make dwellings healthier on all fronts-from nontoxic paints and organic lawns to formaldehyde-free kitchen cabinets-radon is emerging as a hot button in both new construction and re-sales. The National Association of Home Builders' Green Building rating program requires installation of mitigation systems in certain radon-prone regions. Last year, the EPA launched a campaign encouraging the use of radon-resistant materials in new construction-such as plastic sheeting under a home's slab and a built-in vent pipe where a fan can be attached. New studies are examining whether granite and other stone countertops play a role.
become more interested in the green lifestyle, it encompasses radon as
well. It has taken time to build public awareness, just as it did with
As for resales, while no federal or state regulations mandate home radon testing, The U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory in 2005 urging all Americans to have one done. The majority of states have some form of disclosure law requiring the home seller to inform the buyer about property defects, such as radon-but only if the seller knows about them. Many experts believe this discourages testing and say a better model is an Illinois law that took effect this year. It requires sellers to provide information about radon risk in general, whether the home has been tested or not.
There is concern, though, that the push for more testing and remediation is overkill, burdening home builders and potentially slowing sales in a tough housing market. And while most scientists agree about radon's long-term risks, some question the benefits of reduction efforts. "Only after many years would a successful radon abatement program begun today be likely to reduce the number of lung cancers, and then only by a very small percentage," according to the Web site of the Health Physics Society, a scientific and professional organization focused on radiation-safety issues.
I have a second home in a rocky New York county. The indoor radon average is slightly above the government's recommended take-action level of 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L). My home was built in 1978. When I purchased it in 2003, the seller neglected to stipulate on the required disclosure form if the home has been tested for radon. (In the haste of the deal, I didn't notice.) When I tested, the levels came back between 5 and 13 pCi/L-a level higher than the EPA standard but not off the charts, according to pros I talked with. Most suggested retesting down the road, and when I did, the levels still hovered around 5 to 6 pCi.
Since my score could present a selling problem later, I decided to take action. Unfortunately I had to start from scratch, installing an "active solid depressurization system," which pulls air from underneath the home and re-routes it outside, often through the roof. These types of systems reduce radon readings below the 4 pCi action level in 99.9% of cases Other tactics include sealing basement cracks and installing a special ventilator.
The soil depressurization technique I used is called a "sub-slab suction" system, and involves a fan and piping that is drilled through the floor slab and routed up through hidden areas, like closets, and then typically into an attic and then outside. An alternative is to run the pipe up the home's exterior, where it is more likely to be visible. The cost of fixing an existing home typically ranges from $800 to $2500; the cost to builders to install similar measures in new homes ranges from $350 to $500.
Last month, I
finally did something about my radon problem. Two men came and drilled
a five-inch-wide hole in my home's bottom floor. They attached a suction
system of white pipes and a big round fan to draw air-and radon-from underneath
the house and vent it out through a black pipe stuck in the roof. The
work took six hours and cost $1200-about what I paid a pro to retile my
The U.S. Surgeon General and EPA recommend all homes be tested and fixed if the radon level is 4 pCi/L or more.
Find links to qualified testing and mitigation professionals in your state at www.epa.gov/radon and via the National Environmental Health Association (www.neha-nrpp.org) or the National Radon Safety Board (www.nrsb.org). The latter two groups offer proficiency listing/accreditation/certification in testing and mitigation.
DO-IT-YOURSELF TESTING: Inexpensive, easy-to-use radon test kits can be purchased in stores like Home Depot and online at sources including www.radon.biz, www.radonworld.com and www.rtca.com
HEALTH INFO: Studies about radon's health effects can be found through the nonprofit American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists (www.aarst.org) and the World Health Organization (www.who.int).