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A hidden real estate issue

Posted May 08, 2013 in Advice Column, Clive

The Iowa Legislature recently debated a topic that could potentially impact every future home sale in Iowa. The issue:  radon gas and whether a radon inspection should be required on every real estate transaction.

My purpose is not to lobby for or against but rather to explain — at a high level — what radon is and why every buyer and homeowner should at least be aware of it.

Radon is a radioactive element present in many homes — particularly here in Iowa where we have proven high levels. It’s usually found in igneous rock and soil and is a colorless odorless gas detectable only with specialized equipment. It typically enters homes through pores and cracks in a concrete foundation or poorly ventilated crawlspaces. Homes built in areas with porous soils are particularly susceptible to radon because the gas can more easily flow upward through the soil.

Why should we be concerned? Primarily because radon is a carcinogen proven to cause lung cancer and other similar respiratory ailments. According to the National Academy of Sciences, about 15,000 to 22,000 annual cases of lung cancer are directly attributable to radon and the Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.

Although radon inspections are still the exception in Des Moines, they are becoming increasingly prevalent as consumers have become more educated. According to Amerispec, one of the leading local home inspection firms, the number of radon tests conducted has increased five-fold in the last six years. Shockingly about 60 percent of those radon inspections tested positive for high levels based on EPA standards, so it’s clearly an issue, albeit one still not widely understood.

When a home is found to have high levels of radon, measures can be taken to fix the problem using radon mitigation equipment. This typically involves installing PVC piping under the basement floor to intercept the radon gas before it enters the home’s living space. A fan or air pump is then installed to actively purge the system and vent the gasses safely outdoors. In most cases, the cost of this mitigation system ranges from $1,200 to $1,800.

The presence of radon is not limited to specific locations. I’ve personally seen it identified in homes on the south side, Beaverdale, in various western suburb neighborhoods and in rural areas such as Adel. If you have concerns about whether your home has radon, test kits can be purchased from a local hardware store for about $10 (plus a $30 – $40 lab fee); or a professional company such as Amerispec can be hired for about $125 to perform the test.

For many home buyers, the additional cost of the radon inspection is often a dissuader.  Personally, I view it similar to a home inspection — if you’re willing to spend  $100k-plus on a house, it’s not too costly to spend a couple hundred dollars to ensure your new home is in proper working condition and, more importantly, safe for you and your family.

Information provided by Ted Weaver, ReMax Real Estate Group, 271-8281,

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