It seemed about 10 years ago you couldn't open a real estate section in a newspaper without seeing an article about radon -- a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas -- that is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Radon dissipates to harmless levels once outside, however, it can cause life-threatening vapors when locked in your basement. The gas can enter through underground areas, such as crawl spaces, gaps between basement floors and walls, sump pumps, and the water supply.

The Environmental Protection Agency has recognized the public's lackadaisical approach to radon, which has spurred the agency to launch a new National Radon Strategy on the heels of a National Radon Health Advisory issued by U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona. The Chief Physician pointed out on the group's website that "radon gas in the indoor air of America's homes poses a serious health risk. More than 20,000 Americans die of radon-related lung cancer every year. Millions of homes have an elevated radon level."

EPA's Strategy carries the header "Reinvigorating National Attention and Action on RADON," and points out several national action steps, including the testing of all 100 million homes throughout the country. Nearly 20 percent of the dwellings have been tested already.

As you consider testing your own house for this silent killer gas, the National Environmental Health Association provides several questions to ask a potential vendor interviewing companies:

  • Will the contractor provide references or photographs, as well as test results of 'before' and 'after' radon levels of past radon reduction work?
  • Can the contractor explain what the work will involve, how long it will take to complete, and exactly how the radon reduction system will work?
  • Does the contractor charge a fee for any diagnostic tests? Although many contractors give free estimates, they may charge for diagnostic tests. These tests help determine what type of radon reduction system should be used and in some cases are necessary, especially if the contractor is unfamiliar with the type of house structure or the anticipated degree of difficulty
  • Did the contractor inspect your home's structure before giving you an estimate?
  • Did the contractor review the quality of your radon measurement results and determine if appropriate testing procedures were followed?

Compare the contractors' proposed costs and consider what you will get for your money, taking into account: (1) a less expensive system may cost more to operate and maintain; (2) a less expensive system may have less aesthetic appeal; (3) a more expensive system may be best for your house; and, (4) the quality of the building material will affect how long the system lasts.

Keep in mind there are certifications radon testers can attain which provides a basis level of education protection for the consumer. With that in mind, the Association recommends that the proposal and estimate include the following:

  • Proof of state certification and/or professional proficiency or certification credentials.
  • Proof of liability insurance and being bonded, and having all necessary licenses to satisfy local requirements.
  • Diagnostic testing prior to design and installation of a radon reduction system.
  • Installation of a warning device to caution you if the radon reduction system is not working correctly.
  • Testing after installation to make sure the radon reduction system works well.
  • A guarantee to reduce radon levels to acceptable levels or below, and if so, for how long.

The National Radon Safety Board operates an online service provider database that makes the search for a radon testing/mitigation company an easier task. Consumers can search for certain professional designations, such as Measurement Specialist (RMS), Measurement Technician (RMT), and Mitigation Specialist (RRS).

For more information on radon gas and its effects on your health and home, visit the following websites:

Environmental Protection Agency

Centers for Disease Control

National Environmental Health Association

National Radon Safety Board

Mr. Carr has covered real estate since 1989. He is the author of "Real Estate Investing Made Simple." Got a personal real estate issue? Questions can be posted at Anthony's blog.

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