The EPA has produced a brochure about what radon is and how it affects people that we have summarized here for faster reading. The whole publication can be read on the Environmental Protection Agency web site.
This gas comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock (like granite), and water. It is "off-gassed" out into the air. A simple venting system is the most common method of fixing a radon concentration in a property.
Should you test the property you are buying? Sure, why not. But, don't make it more of a concern than other parts of the condition of the property. It could be something that this property needs to have addressed just like a new roof, or a termite treatment, etc. The tests are inexpensive, and treatment is also inexpensive if you find a higher than acceptable level. There is a map available to see if you are in an "active area" on the EPA website.
Is it ok to buy a house if there is this gas? If you are comfortable with the level, and/or how it is treated, sure. But, treat the results of a test like each part of your home inspection. As an example, if there are termites that can be eliminated, would you still purchase the property? And even replacing a roof will cost you more than most other repairs.
Simple testswhich remain in your home for at least 48 hours, depending on the device, give the quickest results. "Charcoal canisters," "alpha track," "electric ion chamber," "continuous monitors," and "charcoal liquid scintillation"detectors are most commonly used for simple tests. Short-term tests are used to measure a specific point in time, and are less useful in finding year-round average radon level. When you need results quickly, two short term tests in a relatively short time span will give good information. Testing once is the most common practice, except in areas already known for radon.
Long term research methods can take 3 months, and will give a better understanding of an annual average level of saturation.
The "acceptable" measurable level is below 4 pCi/L (picoCuries per liter of air). Just read the report that your company gives you to see what the level is in at your location. As your agent what the common practice is in your are when radon is found. Then decide what course to take.
Smoking increases the problems caused by radon. If you smoke, be more careful.
About 0.4 pCi/L is normally found in the outside air in any location. It exists everywhere already.
Sometimes radon is found in water from a well, but this is not normally considered to be a hazard.
Happy real estate-ing!
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