Understanding Radon

AND A COOL INTERACTIVE MAP, TOO!

 The map areas correspond to zip codes. Click on each for a summary of information about radon in the area.

The map areas correspond to zip codes. Click on each for a summary of information about radon in the area.

Radon is dangerous. I think just about everyone knows that. But how dangerous is it? That's where things start to get a little fuzzy. A friend and colleague recently endured a few months of radon poisoning with almost deadly results. This can happen to anyone that lives in a home with exposure risk. It's important to understand this deadly gas, why you should be aware of it, and how to mitigate the risk to you and your family.

The State of Oregon publishes an interactive map of indoor radon risk levels that was recently updated. This is a useful tool, but be aware that no matter the risk level in your area, you can still encounter a radon problem.

SO WHAT IS RADON?

You can't smell it, see it, or taste it. It's literally radioactive. It is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. But what in the world is this stuff and why does it want to kill us? Let's go into geek-speak for just a second.

 Not the best illustration, but it's colorful!

Not the best illustration, but it's colorful!

Radon is a colorless, chemically-unreactive, inert gas discovered in 1899 partly by Ernest Rutherford and in 1900 partly by Friedrich Ernst Dorn. It is 9 times denser than air, which is an important factoid to remember. It easily penetrates almost any material in a building, including sheetrock, concrete block, wood paneling, and most insulations.

Radon is naturally occurring in the ground and is the result of the breakdown of uranium present in soil, rock, and water. It occurs in several isotopic forms, of which radon-222 occurs most frequently. When this gas is released into the environment, it results in the formation of decay products that are radioisotopes (a chemical element that has an unstable nucleus and emits radiation during its decay to a stable form) of heavy metals (polonium, lead, and bismuth). These decay products can easily be inhaled because they rapidly attach to other airborne materials (like dust). It also may be ingested if it is highly concentrated in groundwater (well water), but the inhalation of radon is of higher concern.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF RADON EXPOSURE?

Respiratory problems are the most common signs of radon-related distress. These problems can include: a persistent cough that doesn't get better, difficulty breathing, chest pains, the coughing up of blood, wheezing, hoarseness and recurring respiratory infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis. Radon exposure can lead to lung cancer.

A lesser known symptom of radon exposure is neurologic issues. Anxiety, memory loss, and depression could be a sign of radon exposure. However, brain health and function issues have many, many other possible causes, so this is not a symptom often mentioned.

Serious effects from high radon levels are cumulative over a long period of time. It's important to periodically test for radon, but the presence of high radon levels in your home or a home you are thinking about buying is not a reason to panic.

WHERE DOES RADON OCCUR?

Radon is found in every state in the country. If you take a look at the map and find that you are in an area that is considered low-risk, you still may encounter a radon problem. It often enters the home through cracks in floors, cracks in walls, gaps around service pipes, joints between floor and walls, gaps around drains/pipes, etc. You may have no problem at all with radon while your immediate neighbor is dealing with extremely high radon levels.

HOW DO I TEST FOR RADON?

 Okay, so this vat is 100% more like the stuff the Joker falls into than it is like radon, but I'm running out of visuals, here. 

Okay, so this vat is 100% more like the stuff the Joker falls into than it is like radon, but I'm running out of visuals, here. 

Short term, long term, and continuous tests are available for radon. Tests should be conducted in the lowest livable area of your home (remember how radon is denser than air?). If you are considering selling your home, I highly recommend conducting a short term radon test before listing the home on the market. It doesn't cost much and is very much worth knowing the results before you're in the middle of a transaction!

Most people start with a short term test to determine whether or not further testing is necessary. The test takes between 2-7 days and are then mailed to a lab to determine the results. These are available at most home improvement stores and online. 

Long term tests measure radon levels between 90 days and a year. They are more accurate than short term tests because radon levels can vary significantly from day to day and month to month. These tests are usually available through state agencies and online retailers.

Continuous radon testing devices plug into an outlet and can be used for both short and long term testing. They will give you a running average radon level. These are available from online retailers such as Amazon.

Home buyers: It's important to note that if you purchase a home in summer and conduct a radon test, you should conduct another test in winter when radon levels are more likely to be an issue.

SHOULD I TAKE ACTION?

One out of every 15 homes in the U.S. have radon levels that should be lowered. Fortunately, reliable techniques exist to reduce radon levels in homes so that almost any home with high radon levels can be fixed. If you have a radon problem, you can hire an experienced radon contractor or accomplish the repairs yourself.

The EPA recommends doing a second test if an initial short-term test registers 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher. A long term test is ideal, but you can perform a second short term test if you need results quickly. If the second test results in levels higher than 4 pCi/L, consider taking action to mitigate radon levels in the home.

WHAT CAN I DO TO MITIGATE RADON IN MY HOME OR REDUCE RISK?

 Ventilation = good

Ventilation = good

It does take more than just sealing cracks in the foundation to mitigate radon risk and/or exposure. Active soil depressurization or fan and exhaust systems have proven to be cost-effective and reliable. 

Radon that escapes out into the air is not a problem as it quickly becomes diluted. Therefore, ventilation is key. Ventilation can be increased through opening doors, windows, and vents. Many people like to block their crawlspace vents in winter and/or install additional insulation in their crawlspace. Blocking crawlspace vents provides very minimal energy savings so unplugging these vents and possibly moving some insulation around may be all it takes to mitigate a mild to moderate radon problem. A heat recovery ventilator (air-to-air heat exchanger) can also be installed to increase ventilation.

All information above is provided for educational purposes. It is always recommended to consult a radon professional if you have any concerns about radon in your home.

- Brandi Whitaker

Success with Elevate!

The Elevate Real Estate Program can transform your life and bank account. With my customized platform, I’ll show you how to use real estate to make smart financial decisions that will pay off and elevate your lifestyle for years to come. My mission is to help clients achieve financial freedom from their real estate investments while providing outstanding customer service throughout the process.

If you look at economists’ charts on real estate investments you’ll find that, when considering real estate as a long term investment, you can earn investment income for yourself to help prepare for other areas of your life such as retirement.

About 10 years ago Rebecca Ostrom reached out and was interested in learning more about the Elevate Real Estate Program to earn money for retirement. When we met initially we discussed her options and what she was comfortable with. Together we came up with a game plan to purchase a property that she could use to generate revenue. As her trusted real estate adviser I was by her side every step of the way and I’m beyond pleased with her outcome.

Opportunities for growth can often be the positive outcome of unanticipated changes in life. With equity in hand from the sale of a jointly owned property I purchased a home with long term residency in mind. After a few years and as the result of a robust housing market I began to reconsider my options. I discussed with Marika if it seemed feasible to purchase a condo as my primary residence and then retain my current home as a rental property. She encouraged me to explore and suggested I discuss financial strategy with a trusted lender. I did just that and went on to purchase the condo. I began to once again seek change and hoped I might benefit from the continuing boom in the housing market. I consulted with Marika and within a five-year period was able to profit from the sale of both properties and grow my assets with limited tax implication. This investment approach boosted my retirement savings and provided another resource in order to grow my nest egg further. I look forward to the next real estate adventure with Marika and the opportunity to once again benefit from her wisdom, encouragement, and stellar work ethic.”

- Rebecca Ostrom

The Elevate Program has shown a consistent success rate with my clients and it can help you too! Rebecca’s story is just one. Helping her secure a nest egg for the future was very rewarding for me. Knowing that there’s money set aside if something should come up is comforting. If you’re interested in learning how to navigate this system please call or email me today! I would love to discuss some options with you and see how we can get the ball rolling on your financial goals.

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Portland Zoning Changes

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW (AND PROBABLY A BIT MORE)

 The joy of understanding zoning.

The joy of understanding zoning.

Depending on whether or not you've received snail mail concerning zoning changes, and depending on whether or not you read the fine print, your Portland home may undergo a change of zoning next year. This leads to a lot of questions and one very important piece of advice:

  1. Why is the zoning changing?
  2. When does the new zoning take effect and who does it impact?
  3. Where can I go for more information?
  4. Can I stop the change or change my current zoning?
  5. How does zoning work?
  6. What does this mean for home buyers and sellers?
  7. Most Important Advice Ever

1. Why is the zoning changing?
For the past ~8 years the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) has been working on a new Comprehensive Plan for the City of Portland. This is a long range (20 year) planning tool that sets the framework for physical development in the city. Most of the legislative work is done but there are always additional projects in the works that you can comment on and provide testimony for (such as Central City 2035).

2. When does the new zoning take effect and who does it impact?
Approximately 24,000 homes will be affected by the zoning changes (including yours truly!). These changes are going to be effective on January 1st, 2018. However, there is the possibility that it could go into effect later than this date depending on the state acknowledgement process.

3. Where can I go for more information?
To find out whether or not any particular home will undergo a zoning change, you can visit this website. To find out what your current zoning is, visit this website and enter your address. Feel free to contact me for help and any questions you might have.

4. Can I stop the change or change my current zoning?
There's no way that I know of to stop the zoning change if you are part of this particular update because it was adopted by the City Council in December of 2016. However, zoning changes all the time and there are a lot of factors to consider if you think your property should be zoned differently. 

While your current zoning may not allow for the development that you want, your property may be part of future zoning changes (comp plan). If so, you may be able to go through a quasi-judicial process to apply for a zoning change which will have a good chance of success. Otherwise, you can apply for a change of zoning but there is absolutely no guarantee of success. Either of these processes carries a high cost and should be carefully considered. Input from professionals is crucial.

5. How does zoning work? (high level overview)
Your base zone may be something like R2.5 or R5. R means residential and the number corresponds to the number of units that can exist per thousand square feet (2.5 = 1 unit per 2500 square feet). Except when it doesn't... don't ask. It can be more complicated than this based on other rules, such as location (for instance a corner lot may allow for more density) and overlay zones (such as design overlay zones that require certain design elements). Specific overlay zones, plan districts, and other regulations will all impact the development potential for your property.

Zoning is (unnecessarily?) complicated so don't expect to understand everything just from knowing what the code is for your zone. You can consult your realtor for help to better understand your situation.

 This is a zone map of a little piece of Portland. You definitely do not need to understand what all this means.

This is a zone map of a little piece of Portland. You definitely do not need to understand what all this means.

6. What does this mean for home buyers and sellers?
For buyers and sellers, zone changes can certainly impact the highest and best use for your property. A change from R1 to R5, R10 to R20, etc. may mean that a property no longer has the development potential it once had. Or the property may be changing to allow for higher density development. For a seller, knowing and understanding the current and planned zoning is crucial.

For buyers, understanding the zoning of both the home that you are interested in, as well as all the neighbors, can make a huge difference in whether or not it makes sense to buy the property. For instance, the home you are wanting to buy might be zoned for lower density residential but the corner lot next to it may be zoned for higher density development. Even if that corner lot only has a single level house on it now, it could be developed into a 3-story complex in the future!

Most Important Advice Ever (well, maybe not ever but it's still good advice)
There's a lot more to selling and buying homes than listing on the MLS or placing an offer. Find a real estate agent with the knowledge, smarts, and time that will do the work for you to maximize your dollars! (Along those lines, feel free to contact me anytime.)

- Brandi Whitaker

The Oregon Energy Fund: Neighbors Helping Neighbors

We recently chatted with Brian Allbritton, the executive director at the Oregon Energy Fund. This is a local non-profit we definitely stand behind because it is a way for neighbors to assist their neighborhood. Here’s a little more about the history of the organization, how it works day to day, and how you can help - it’s easy!

History of the Oregon Energy Fund

The Oregon Energy Fund started in 1989 and has been helping people for nearly three decades. Though it wasn’t always called the Oregon Energy Fund (it was most recently called HEAT Oregon), it has been dedicated to what the organization stands for since the beginning: helping people in crisis pay their utility bills.

Former governor Victor Atiyeh recognized there was a problem in Oregon: there were too many people that needed help that had no recourse. In these cases, people were financially stable enough in good times to make them ineligible to receive federal or state assistance in bad times. Even a minor crisis easily kept them from paying their utility bills.  

Mr. Atiyeh, along with several other politicians and energy executives, got together to figure out how to address this need. Now present in each and every Oregon county, the statewide non-profit has been operating without a single government dollar ever since.

Need for the Fund

There are many residents that receive no form of government assistance but would require help should an emergency arise. Emergencies such as big snowstorms, car accidents, or bad illnesses can mean a change in income and even unexpected bills. Fines on unpaid utility bills and reconnection fees for shut-off utilities compound the problem.

The need for emergency utility assistance has only grown since the fund began. Rent increases continue in much of the state, especially Portland, and wages are not keeping up with the cost of living. This is why the Oregon Energy Fund helps roughly 10,000 of our neighbors each year.

How People Get Assistance

The Oregon Energy Fund partners with organizations in each county. These are often community action agencies but are sometimes social services organizations. The organizations are there for the community — they meet with applicants, review needs, and determine eligibility.

Residents receive a one-time grant which the Oregon Energy Fund uses to directly pay the vendors, relieving those in need. The Oregon Energy Fund takes the weight of unpaid bills off the shoulders of people in crisis.

How You Can Help

The Oregon Energy Fund accepts donations and offers an option for recurring donations. You can visit their website to set it up. If you’re looking for a way to help your neighbors that has a very real and significant impact, this is a great and easy way to do it!

By partnering with highly effective agencies in each county, the Oregon Energy Fund can assure you that your money is being used in the most efficient way possible to help those around you.

Your donation ensures that Oregonians have somewhere to turn for help when they need it. Facing a change or cancellation to your utilities is a personal and detrimental problem. Together, we can work to solve it!