Q. My daughter and son-in-law have put a contract on a home up in Lancaster County PA. From the inspection they got a report that the Radon level in the finished basement was on average 21.5pCi/L (picoCurries per liter of air). They are moving to the area from MA and need a house. They have a four year old and a ten month old who will be playing in the finished basement. They are wondering if it wise to buy this house, if Radon mitigation systems work very well and what type of Radon mitigation system would be the best. Would the house be difficult to resell if they bought it? Are you familiar with Radon and Radon mitigation systems? We have never talked about Radon during the years I have attended your seminars at the senior center and I don't remember seeing any articles in "The Capital."
While checking the Internet for information, I found a variety of unusual deterrents being advertised. I am looking to you for advice on what's practical, reliable and legal to do to deter this woodpecker practice. This is also the first time I have experienced this situation in the 25-plus years I have been in my home. Thanks for any advice you can offer. I'll certainly convey it to my neighbors since I'm sure they would be glad to rid themselves of the annoyance as well.
A. I have written about Radon a few times over the last fifteen years writing this column and if you put them side by side in order of publication you can see my views on the subject evolve from skepticism to recognition of Radon as a real issue. Years ago, and Iím talking about 25 years, when the existence of Radon first came to the attention of home owners and building professionals, many looked a bit askance at the whole issue regarding a danger from Radon as some form of invisible snake oil. The hype was deafening. It took on the flavor of the disease of the month. On one side there was a stampede of what looked like opportunists who see dollar signs where perceived danger lies and on the other were those who doubted. I was a doubter. I needed lots of corroborating evidence and data from those who both know what they are talking about and who donít have a dog in the fight. Studies were conducted world wide and I watched as the evidence piled up pointing to the presence of Radon in dwellings as being a potential lung cancer cause. It is. For me that revelation came some years ago. Radon comes into the house from the soils upon which the house is built. And Pennsylvania is ground zero when it comes to Radon but there are many areas here in neighboring Maryland that exhibit high levels too.
Itís called a gas and I wont quibble with that definition but the particles are so tiny as to be measured in atomic parts. Itís radioactive and what happens when one inhales a Radon particle it becomes lodged in the recesses of the lungs and the body canít readily expel it. It then fires off an electron-- part of its atomic decay process-- and if that flying electron hits a DNA strand in a lung cell and damages it, that sets up a precancerous condition that can devolve into full blown lung cancer.
A Radon level averaging above 4.0 picoCurries per liter of air in the house warrants installing an active Radon mitigation system. Thatís an EPA standard.
Installing an effective Radon mitigation system is simple and straightforward. First the perimeter of the basement floor where it meets the foundation wall is sealed tight with caulk. The installer, utilizing the sump pit -- or drills a hole through the slab, seals the sump pit while installing a PVC vent pipe that looks just like a plumbing stack. That runs out of the house to a point just above the roof line. The installer places a low amperage in-line fan on the pipe that is attached to a power source and the low amperage fan, running constantly, depressurizes the area under the basement slab, intercepting the Radon and venting it to the exterior. I have gone into homes with this sort of a system installed and operating and retested for Radon and I have never seen this system fail-- it does the job.
Having an active Radon mitigation system in oneís house does not adversely affect itís resale value and since Radon is so easily controlled once itís detected it is no reason not to buy the property if all other factors line up favorably for buying this house.