What is radon? Isn’t that made up just to scare people?

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Rumor has it that my grandfather, an architect, thought that radon was a big nothing–one of those many things that people get irrationally agitated about.  Well, while it is scent-less and invisible, buyers and sellers need to take the gas seriously.  The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that radon causes 20,000 lung cancer deaths per year!  How does this happen?  Radon is caused by a decay of radium, which is found in the soil and sometimes, in water.  It’s possible that the soil around your house emits more radon than is considered safe.  To find out, I recommend that buyers test for radon (which usually costs around $125 and spans the course of two days).  Because radon is the heaviest known gas, the machine that will measure radon levels sits on the lowest level of the house.  Windows and doors are closed, air systems and fans are off so as not to disturb the air in the house.  If the reading comes back at over 4 picocuries per litre, that is higher than the EPA recommended limit, and the levels need to be remediated.  Radon can be remediated in one of two ways: with a passive system or an active system.  Both systems require the installation of tubes that travel through a hidden part of the house, essentially funneling the gas from the soil out of the house.  The active system uses the help of a fan to funnel the gas out, while the passive system doesn’t use a fan.   Last but not least, these systems are relatively inexpensive.  A ballpark estimate might be something like $1200-1500, depending on the house.  So while you do need to test for radon, high radon levels needn’t be a deal-breaker because this is a problem that can be easily solved.    

I have a passive remediation system in my 1950s house.  It’s pretty simple: a tube snakes through the laundry chute and goes out through the roof.  Viola–no more high radon!

A few more notes: Some people make the mistake of thinking that a condo on a third floor won’t have high radon.  It’s less likely that radon will be high there (because radon is heavier), but certainly not impossible.  It’s better to be safe than sorry with this one!       

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