January 18, 2012

Realtor gets sued for not suggesting a radon test!

If you know who Rihanna is then you know more than me. She sued her real estate agent for selling her a home with high radon levels. Have you sold a past customer a home with high radon? What, you don’t know? Well of course you don’t, as you haven’t been calling me or my competition for radon testing. Radon tests are required as point of sale inspection in some states, and in many others it is a customary inspection like your home or pest inspection. So why don’t we usually test in California? I don’t know. Almost all of the radon tests I have done were for buyers from the east coast. We live in an area with high radon levels and many of our homes are above the EPA recommended levels, so it doesn’t make sense that most realtors in the area don’t recommend testing and many do not know the basics of radon gas and how to discuss this topic with their client.

So what is radon?

A chemical element with symbol Rn and atomic number 86. It is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas, occurring naturally as the decay product of uranium or thorium. Its most stable isotope, 222Rn, has a half-life of 3.8 days. (Wikipedia)

I hope I didn’t lose you there. To break it down, radon is a gas that is very common in the Tahoe area due to the large amounts of granite we have under our feet (not because of the granite floors and countertops). This rock gives off a gas that rises into the atmosphere. Not a big issue. It becomes a problem when a home is built on top of the earth, and not only traps the gas that is rising naturally, but also creates suction on the earth, sucking this gas into our homes. Through a natural stacking effect (the way at which heat and gas rises) and mechanical ventilation systems in the home including bathroom exhaust fans, heater exhaust, water heater exhaust, stovetop exhaust, dryers; you name it, most appliances create a suction in our homes when they duct out their exhaust. So now we have this gas in our home, what now?

The issue is that radon, like many unstable elements, will break down giving off radiation. The actual radon gas is not the problem; it is the radioactive elements that it breaks down to. They attach themselves to the lungs, and give off radiation that can lead to lung cancer. The statistics are staggering!

So now you know what it does, how do we deal with it?

Radon should only be measured by the homeowner or a certified radon tester. Do not do this work yourself!! If the homeowner is cheap, as we know many are, they can purchase a charcoal device that will absorb the gas and then they can send it to a lab that will give them a report with their radon levels. The device should be left in the lowest livable level of their home, and have all windows and doors closed 12 hours before and during the test for “closed house conditions.” They just need to read the directions as it explains the process. If they would like to have a certified radon tester test their home with a piece of equipment that measures radon levels every hour, then they can hire our service for a fee. Of course this is what I recommend, especially for real estate transactions.

After radon is found, there is a solution. It is called a radon mitigation system. In basic terms, it creates suction on the earth like the house. It will divert the gas through PVC piping with the help of an in-line fan to vent this gas out above the roof line and diverting it from entering the living space of the home. Since we deal primarily with earth floor crawlspaces, installation of a radon membrane is usually necessary. We also have to deal with snow up here. In many no snow areas they run the fan and piping on the exterior of the house and vent the gas over the eave with a gutter pipe. If we did this in Tahoe, the gutter pipe would be ripped off after the first snow storm. So we are limited to installing the fan unit in the attic, and the exhaust pipe through the home and out the roof.

Radon mitigation systems, by law, should only be installed by a certified radon mitigation contractor. They typically cost between $2,500 and $4,000 and in most cases will run for 10 years without needing to replace the fan. If preferred, a homeowner can install a system on their own and use Tahoe Mold and Water to design a system and provide radon mitigation equipment.

Hopefully you now realize that radon is a big problem and is something that our local real estate community needs to know about and encourage our customers and clients to test for. Don’t be the last to know, check out the resources provided to enhance your knowledge and always feel free to call us.

Tahoe Mold and Water offers free consultations over the phone to any licensed CA/NV agent or broker. Call Ned at (530) 448-6494. He is a certified radon measurer and a radon mitigation contractor.

Radon is estimated to cause about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year, according to EPA's 2003 Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes (EPA 402-R-03-003). The numbers of deaths from other causes are taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2005-2006 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Report and 2006 National Safety Council Reports.
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