Radon in Old Homes: A Homeowner’s Guide
“Radon” is part of our series on
This is one thing on your Old Home Checklist that you can’t see: Radon is an invisible natural gas that leeches from the ground. It can be a health hazard in large quantities; if present in a house, it would be found in the basement. Any home can have a radon problem, no matter how old it is, but older homes and those with unfinished or dirt basements have an especially high risk for issues. You should ask the realtor or homeowner to see the radon report for your prospective home, or ask to have one done. Many states require a report done by/at the expense of the homeowner at the time the house is listed for sale.
If you’re not familiar with radon…
- It is a radioactive gas produced by the decay of elements found in soil and rock.
- Low levels are fine; in fact, we inhale a little bit of radon in every breath we take.
- However, exposure to high levels can be fatal: it’s linked to 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States.
- This is serious stuff, so if you determine that there’s a radon issue in the house, ask a professional for help!
You won’t be able to tell right away if there’s an issue in a home. You can buy a radon test online and perform the test yourself if you’d like. However, we always recommend talking to a professional. This tool from the EPA can help you find the contact information for radon professionals in your county. You should test for radon at least twice every year.
If the levels of radon in your prospective home are pretty high, don’t panic! There are steps you can take on your own to avoid danger. Here’s where to start:
- Seal cracks in floors and walls– If you’ve got the moxy to tackle it yourself, the supplies (or a DIY kit) to seal your basement can run between $100-$200.
- Install a ventilation system–this is no small project, but if you’ve got the time and skills, you can DIY a basement ventilation system.
- Finish the basement–if your basement is mostly exposed dirt or otherwise unfinished, why not hire a contractor to finish it? This project will be pricey, but it will add space to the home, and ensure there’s no chance of radon poisoning in your family’s future.
A safer bet than DIY-ing these projects is to hire a certified contractor. Remediating a radon problem often requires technical expertise and special skills, so if you’re not the most construction-savvy, it’s in your best interest to discuss a plan of action with a professional.