Iowans at Risk – Radon Gas

Home Inspections Explained Series, Part 2

A silent killer continues my series on home inspections: radon gas.  It is a naturally-occuring radioactive gas that is the #1 cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers and causes approximately as many deaths in Iowa each year as car accidents.  Nationwide, radon kills more people than drunk drivers, drownings and fires – combined.


The United States Environmental Protection Agency has labeled the entire state of Iowa as high-risk for radon gas in homes; every county is red in the EPA map shown here.  Radon can be found in any home – new, old, contemporary or traditional.   The average radon level in Iowa homes is six times the national average. The Iowa Department of Public Health estimates that as many as 5 of 7 Iowa homes have elevated radon levels. 


Where Does Radon Come From?

Blame the glaciers that created our fertile farmland.  In addition to rich topsoil, it left deposits of ground-up uranium in our soil and the upper crust of the earth.  Radon gas is produced by the breakdown of uranium and radium, and the gas can seep through foundations into buildings. Radon gas is odorless and invisible, so the only way you know if you have a problem is to test for it.  There are no “safe zones” – yours might be the only house on the block with a radon problem.


I’m Thinking of Selling My House – Should I Test for Radon?

For a $15 tax-deductible donation to the American Lung Association, you can order a short-term (2-7 day) radon test for your home.  If you’ve never tested for radon in your home, you might consider this investment so that you don’t get surprised with the results of the radon inspection when you do sell your home.   If you’d prefer to get professional results that you can pass along to potential buyers, I’d be happy to refer you to a reputable radon inspector, whether you purchased your home with me or not.

I Want to Buy A House – Do I Ask for a Radon Inspection?

I recommend to all of my clients to test their prospective home for radon unless there is a new radon mitigation system installed.  The inspector will bring a radon testing machine into the home for 2-3 days to get an accurate reading of radon levels at that moment in time.

I’m Not Selling My House – Should I Test for Radon?

Yes.  For a $25 tax-deductible donation to the American Lung Association, you can purchase a long-term radon test kit for your home.  You place it in your basement, crawlspace or main level if you have a slab foundation.  Then, you wait 3-12 months and send it back in for analysis.  The long-term test gives a very good idea of the average radon levels in your home, which is important as radon levels fluctuate and tend to be higher in colder months. I am currently conducting a long-term radon test in my own home to protect the health of my family.

The National Radon Program recommends that homeowners test for radon every two years.

Radon Mitigation

You are not required by law to mitigate radon if you get a high test result, but I strongly recommend that you do so.  Mitigation is typically easy and usually costs $1000-$2500, with higher costs typically associated with multiple foundation types (crawlspace and basement).   The Iowa Department of Public Health has great advice in their 10 Step Radon Action Plan.  Most radon mitigation systems include a radon monitor, but you should still continue to test for high radon levels every two years, or whenever you do major home remodeling that may disrupt the mitigation system.

Further Reading

The Iowa Department of Public Health

A comprehensive resource:  American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest

Iowa Radon Home Buyers and Sellers Fact Sheet

Kansas State University National Radon Program Services

Linn County, Iowa Radon Information (Johnson County does not have its own resource page)

Environmental Protection Agency Radon Information

*This is the second article in a series about home inspections.  If you missed it, please go back and read the post on Orangeburg pipes.  Stay tuned for more home inspection content!


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