What is Radon and its Dangers?
Radon gas is a radioactive gas that comes naturally from the earth, not from a chemical or problem with the home itself. Radon can seep into any home that is in contact with the ground. It is undetectable unless you perform a radon test. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer and according to the EPA and CDC, it kills more than 20,000 annually. It is not something you want in the home you are buying. Read on to find out what to do with Radon when buying a home.
How to Test for Radon in a Real Estate Transaction
Nowadays, many home inspectors measure radon gas, mold, lead, asbestos and meth as an addition to their standard services. When buying a home, it’s wise to know as much about it as possible so having these extra tests done can save you from any unexpected surprises.
Radon testing in real estate typically involves a 48 hour electronic radon test. Some providers use continuous radon monitors, electret radon measurement devices or activated charcoal (passive) radon test kits. As long as these devices are calibrated and placed correctly, you can expect to get accurate results. It is very important to use a certified radon measurement provider to help make sure proper procedures are followed. In some states, these providers must be licensed by the state.
Understand “passing” and “failing” a Home Radon Test
The words radon test “failed” or radon test “passed” are thrown around out there. Pass/fail should not be used to determine radon safety. No level of radon is safe. The United States EPA has established the radon level of 4.0 picocuries per liter to be the action level for radon gas in homes. Meaning, take action to reduce radon levels that are greater than four picocuries per liter. But consider taking action if radon levels are between 2-4.
Remember that radon danger follows a linear curve of the amount vs the time exposed to it plus the additional factor that each individual may be more or less susceptible to radon related cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) takes the action level a step lower by recommending that you fix radon levels greater than 2.7 pCi/L So if you hear the word radon test “passed” be cautious because the radon test result may have been 3.9 pCi/L which is barely under the EPA action level and significantly above the WHO action level.
Radon Test Results When Buying a Home
Short term tests are good for real estate transactions. Radon levels can be higher in the winter or under different weather patterns from when the test was performed. If you are buying a home and the radon test comes back low, remember to re-test every so often to make sure that levels are low all of the time.
We hear from many people who are selling their home and the radon test comes back high; “How is this happening? When we bought the home the inspector said we passed the radon test.” Remember that the levels can fluctuate from time-to-time.
How to Fix High Radon Levels
Key point: All homes can be fixed. Radon mitigation systems and the professionals who install them can fix radon problems. There is not a radon clean-up solution because radon gas continuously seeps into homes from the soil below. You have to stop the flow.
Mitigation systems become permanent components of the home and have to be running all of the time to keep radon out. They do this by creating a permanent vacuum in the soil or gravel below the concrete slab or crawlspace membrane. This suction redirects the gas that’s coming from the earth, sends it through sealed ventilation pipes and the radon fan to exhaust above the eave of the home where it dissipates into the atmosphere.
Choose a Radon Mitigation Company
Important bit of advice: As a buyer, try to be the one to choose who installs the radon mitigation system. Oftentimes, the seller of the home just wants the quickest and cheapest solution to get the home sold. If you maintain the power of who does the work, you can ensure you get a high quality radon mitigation system that will work for a long time to keep levels low after you purchase the home.
Make sure you choose a certified or licensed radon contractor and:
- Make sure they can describe exactly what they are offering. Try to get a quote.
- Check the address of the company to make sure they are local. Ask for local references because radon mitigation methods vary from area to area based upon construction styles of homes and other factors. Local knowledge rules.
- Read the fine print of the warranty. Make sure it truly covers radon reduction.
- Be leery of the price war. Get several bids. Cheap is not always good when dealing with cancer causing radon gas.
- Make sure you get a firm price without hidden fees. Many times you will be quoted with a “basic” system and get surprised when they come to install and there are extra costs associated with system location, paint, fan model etc.
- Ask how it’s going to look. Some companies will install an unpainted exterior radon mitigation system that does not look nice on the home. Other companies will take the time and effort to either hide the radon system in the attic and vent above the roof or will customize the exterior system to better blend with the aesthetic of your new home. Check out pictures on the company’s website.
Who Pays for it and How Much Do Radon Systems Cost?
If you don’t negotiate it into your contract, the answer is you. Because you will either have to do it for your own health and safety after you move in or you will have to disclose to any future buyers if you go to sell. It’s very likely that your future buyer will make you fix the radon problem before they will purchase the home. It’s good to just take care of it during your real estate deal. Sometimes the seller pays for it all, sometimes they fund a credit and sometimes there is a split.
Most single family homes will only require one radon mitigation system. A basic radon system installed by a high quality radon contractor will run in the range of $1200-$1700. Different factors can impact the price of mitigation (crawl space, large footprint, type of aggregate under the home, etc.)..
Sometimes homes will require a system with multiple radon suction points or a higher suction radon fan. Other times the routing of the pipes may be more complex because of the construction style of the home. Every home has a unique set of circumstances to get rid of radon gas, this is why there is not just a one-size-fits-all radon system with a basic price.
Testing to make sure the radon system works properly.
One of the biggest problems in the radon industry is follow-up testing. Unfortunately, many people assume they are safe because they have a radon mitigation system but have never performed a radon test to make sure it’s actually working. Please make sure to do a radon test after a mitigation system is installed and also at least every two years after that.
Radon testing is simple and cheap if you buy DIY radon test kits. We have received numerous calls over the years from people who have radon systems installed by someone they don’t remember, “when we bought the home,” and now they are going to sell and the radon test came back high. What went wrong? There is a good possibility that the radon system never worked to begin with.
If you don’t perform regular follow-up testing, you may be exposed to high levels of radon under the false pretense that you are safe because you have a mitigation system. With that said, most radon mitigation systems installed by good contractors will work great to reduce radon levels.
Ongoing maintenance of a radon system.
A good maintenance plan is a good idea to keep the radon mitigation systems working well. Some companies will provide these services and some homeowners will do it themselves. Maintenance items can include: cleaning out the vent stack, re-sealing the cracks or sump pump, re-painting system parts, vacuum diagnostics, and most importantly the re-test as explained earlier.
Does radon affect the resale value of the home?
This is a common question out there. Many people fear that if a radon test shows high levels in a particular home, that the home is somehow tainted and devalued. This is not accurate. Remember that all homes can be fixed. Radon mitigation systems do an excellent job of keeping radon out.
More and more home buyers are seeking homes with radon solutions in place. A radon mitigation system is an improvement to the home. The systems can also keep out other soil gasses like, methane, trichloroethylene, chlorine, bad odors and water vapors. Having a home with a radon mitigation system in place and keeping the levels low will help reduce lung cancer risk.