Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

My new house has radon

  1. Mar 17, 2006 #1

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    So I got the results of my new townhouse's radon test tonight and it has 16.4 pCi/l - the EPA limit is 4 and the national average is 1.3.

    I'm not the panicky type so this doesn't upset me much, but I'm just wondering if anyone has any experience with radon. I figure the current owner can seal the basement walls and add some ventilation and it'll be good, right...?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 18, 2006 #2
    I think any repairs to be undertaken by the seller have to be stipulated in your bid. Check with a real estate lawyer. Was your bid contigent upon the results of the inspections? Can you get out of it based on this?
     
  4. Mar 18, 2006 #3
    No wonder it was for sale.
     
  5. Mar 18, 2006 #4
    Radon: element 86, noble gas, atomic weight 222. Weighs more per mole than lead. A weird and interesting element. I wonder what volume 222 grams of it would occupy under normal conditions.
     
  6. Mar 18, 2006 #5
    Who needs birth control when you have Radon. I would check your boys from time to time just to make sure there isnt any shirkage in non-cold weather conditions, if you know what I mean. Kids are annoying anyways, who needs kids?
     
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2006
  7. Mar 18, 2006 #6
    Why, 22.4 litres, of course!

    (conversion - 1 mole @STP ~ 22.4 liters)
     
  8. Mar 18, 2006 #7
    Russ - is the seller paying for mitigation?
     
  9. Mar 18, 2006 #8
    How'd ya figure that? Ejicate me!
     
  10. Mar 18, 2006 #9
    All noble gasses have the same volume at Standard temperature and pressure. (one moles worth of the gas. One mole has the same weight as your atomic number, in this case 222g).
     
  11. Mar 18, 2006 #10

    Bystander

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Well, now you know how closely building codes were followed during construction --- radon areas have required perforated plastic pipe under slabs for twenty years or so (not with actual ventilation equipment attached and running, but for use in the event of who knows what). If it's on "hard rock," don't sweat it, you got a lousy test result (walk-out basement trap that much over hard-rock? Uh-uh) If it's on fill, it ain't properly compacted, and it's probably got more in it than just hot stuff.

    Actually, there are a couple areas back east that do have fairly "hot" granites, 10s of picos per liter. Didn't think they were around Philly, though. They are known, and if this is one of them, building codes sure as hell required the foundation and slab ventilation system, and if it ain't there, there are other things missing.
     
  12. Mar 18, 2006 #11
    Thanks. I did not know they all had the same volume at STP.
     
  13. Mar 18, 2006 #12
    Russ, When I first moved to Omaha, I installed radon mitigation systems. (only for a couple months or so). I wouldn't say I know much about it, but I might be able to answer some of your questions, if it is pertaining to installation.

    I can tell you I live in a "Zone 1" area. Highest Potential (greater than 4 pCi/L). Also, I have a sister-in-law who is a real estate agent. After I saw how easy it was to install radon mitigation systems, I thought about adding it as a service of my side business. After talking to her, she told me that even here, radon testing is not a requirement to sell/buy a house. The catch is, once it has been tested, the results have to be disclosed to potential buyers. Her personal opinion was that real estate agents that suggest radon testing, (and then quickly give out the name of a person to install the system once it's found), is an un-ethical business practice. Which I have to say I agree with, and hence I don't offer it. What I find most significant is that radon isn't deemed that much of a threat to be required in the buying/selling process. Maybe we are just behind in the times.
     
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2006
  14. Mar 18, 2006 #13

    Chi Meson

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    The Curies shoulda never invented that stuff!
     
  15. Mar 18, 2006 #14

    BobG

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    The EPA says radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers: Health Risks - radon

    As to what to do, the EPA also has a FAQ about radon and buying/selling houses: Home Buyer's and Seller's Guide to Radon

    I guess the seriousness depends on how much trust you put in the EPA's study (which was done by the University of Iowa with help from University of Kansas and St.John's).
     
  16. Mar 18, 2006 #15
    Those levels are extreemly dangerous russ_watters!
     
  17. Mar 18, 2006 #16
    I trust, very much, the EPA's study. I smoke, so I guess I'm screwed anyway.
     
  18. Mar 18, 2006 #17

    FredGarvin

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Even if you don't care about the radon levels or can get it remediated, there is the aspect of resale and value that you need to take into account. Russ, I am pretty certain that you plan on getting married and moving out to a bigger place at some point, right? I would seriously consider the fact that you may have a hard time selling that place in the end when you want to move up.
     
  19. Mar 18, 2006 #18

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    It does have the pipe installed and yes, the agreement of sale was contingent on the test (that's why I got the test).
    Yeah, southeastern PA is pretty hot. My parents' neighborhood has a number of houses in it that required mitigation.
    A lot. Enough that after reading the study (I actually found it and read it last night) it changed my opinion somewhat - I had actually thought radon to be a relatively minor risk. Still not something to be too concerned about if it is taken care of properly, but an annoyance.

    What I'm actually more worried about is Fred's point - what it does to the value of the house. The appraisal's next week. If mitigation works, there shouldn't be an issue - and I wouldn't much care - but perception is reality and if it scares away potential buyers, then it does have a real impact on the value of the home and ease of sale.
     
  20. Mar 18, 2006 #19

    Astronuc

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    EPA's Radon Mitigation Standards
    http://www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/mitstds.html

    Sealing might help, and ventilation seems necessary, and should help.

    If the basement is not ventilated now, then the current levels reflect accumulation. It might be worthwhile to ventilate the basement for say a week and then test again.

    It seems the house already has the required mitigation systems? They may not be effective if the house/basement has >> 4 pCi/l.

    Also, consider FredGarvin's comments.
     
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2006
  21. Mar 18, 2006 #20
    Are you talking about "drain tile" here? Which is the perforated pipe that is under the slab and drains into a pit in the basement, where the sump pump is. Do you have a sump pump or even a basement? The reason why I ask is this is a good starting point on how how much radon is getting into the house in the first place. (When installing, the perferred method was utilizing the existing drain tile, by covering the sump pit and using this as the suction point.)

    I think here it's a double-edge sword. A potential buyer could be turned off by the un-asthetic quality of having a 4" pipe running up through the house. Here I state that that most housing designs don't have many points in the house where you can route it without going into "living spaces". The places that are the best are usually already occupied by plumbing vents. Then the other alternative is running it out the side of the house and up past the roofline. Un-appealing as well.
     
  22. Mar 18, 2006 #21

    Moonbear

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I'm actually more puzzled as to how you're getting that high of radon levels accumulating in a walk-out basement.

    Yes, resale is the big issue here, as well as living in the place if mitigation doesn't work. Think about it...you're a well-educated person, knowledgeable in science, and not prone to overreacting to things, and it's even giving you pause before buying the house; how will someone who hears the word "radiation" and thinks all their children will be born glowing green perceive such a purchase? Plus, the appeal of a walk-out basement is that you'll actually use the basement for entertaining, not just a storage space, and if the radon levels get that high there, then you're not going to want to use it.

    Since this is a "starter" home for you, and one you'd want to move up and out of eventually, maybe sooner than later even, I think you need to give serious consideration to the challenge this is going to present for resale.

    I know that once you get your heart set on buying a home, it's really tough to walk out of the deal, but you'll find another one, and it's better than being stuck with a home you can't resell when you're at a stage of your life when you know this is just a "first" home, not the one you're going to grow old and raise a family in.
     
  23. Mar 18, 2006 #22

    Bystander

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Quick question: is that neck of the woods still oil heating country? Or, have gas prices dropped enough to get "clean" furnaces into new construction?

    Reason I ask, "large" amounts of Rn move in gas lines, enough so that it is occasionally necessary to handle old compressors as rad waste, single digit number for total number of incidents I've heard about. Test should have involved multiple charcoal collectors; if one was closer to water heater, or gas-fired furnace, and showing a higher count, mystery is solved. Resale value has still taken a bite, but the "problem" can be explained.

    Levels that high in a walk-out basement via diffusion, migration along grain boundaries, through the foundation-slab gap? Sumpin's a little odd.
     
  24. Mar 18, 2006 #23

    Moonbear

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Hmmm...Russ, the company that did the testing...do they also do mitigation work? I'm wondering if there's any potential conflict of interest to report the one anomolous, likely false-positive, reading over all the non-detectable readings, for example.

    If you really like this place, it might be worthwhile getting a second radon inspection from another independent company. See if they get the same results. In terms of resale, and in terms of the cost of the house, consider the added expense that you'll want regular monitoring being done for two reasons: 1) if there really is radon at that high of levels, you want to be monitoring for your own health to ensure any mitigation is working or to know to do more, and 2) for resale, if you can show that although when you moved in there was a high reading, with continuous monitoring over the duration of your residence there, that was shown to be an anomolous reading and it's been low ever since, then that will help ease concerns any next buyer might have.
     
  25. Mar 18, 2006 #24

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    There were two tests in the basement - 16.4 and 16.3. The first floor also got tested at 7.9. The place is only 2 years old, so accumulation is unlikely. The heat is propane - via a neighborhood-wide distribution from a tank.

    Yes, the basement has a sump pump, and I assume that's how the mitigation will be done, but I'm not really sure. I need to get more info from my realtor and the seller, plus I'm still trying to educate myself on this issue.

    Thanks for all the replies, everyone.
     
  26. Mar 18, 2006 #25

    Moonbear

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I might be pickier than other people, but when I was shopping for houses, if I saw a sump pump, I immediately checked it off my list. My reasoning is that people don't install sump pumps unless they're needed. And it means the basement doesn't just get a little trickle of water that you might be able to seal up, but that there's enough seepage to create a small pond during a rainstorm. While the sump pump theoretically will keep the water from accumulating (depending on whether it can keep up with the amount of water coming in), it still means a substantial amount of water gets in and the basement will be damp so you can't finish it or put much in it without raising it all up off the floor.
     
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook