When purchasing a home it is important for a home buyer to do their due diligence. Part of the due diligence period is having a home inspection done on the home that is being purchased. This includes testing for radon in a home.
A general home inspection of a home’s systems and structures is a good idea. You should also consider additional inspections, including the testing for radon gas…. not only in the home but the well water if the home is on a private well.
What Is Radon?
Radon is known to be a carcinogenic gas. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the US and prolonged exposure to high levels drastically increases the chances of lung cancer.
What Causes Radon in a Home?
Radon is a gas caused by the natural breakdown of uranium and other elements found in the rock and soil. It eventually gets into the air by working its way up through rock and soil and water. It penetrates a home through the basement floors and walls.
Here in New England, radon is moderate to high risk and it is important to have your home tested for radon.
The Problem With Radon in Your Home
Because radon is undetectable by any human senses, it is easy for radon to accumulate in your home without you ever knowing. As building codes get stricter and require home to be increasingly airtight, it also allows for radon to build up much easier than an older home.
Radon is everywhere, you can’t avoid it. Even those beautiful, glossy granite countertops can emit trace levels of radon. Go outside and you will find traces of radon gas. Luckily it dissipates quickly outside.
But, the bad news is inside homes it is trapped by the structure itself. In certain areas, the accumulated concentration of radon builds to unsafe levels. Usually the highest levels of radon will be detected in the basement and lower levels as radon is emitted from below.
Prolonged exposure to high levels of radon increases your chances of lung cancer.
Testing For Radon In A Home
There are several ways to test for radon in a home. For practical purposes, I will discuss what is commonly seen when testing for radon during a purchase.
Testing for radon in a home for purchase will be a short term test due to the fact the results are needed immediately. Radon tests can be performed by your home inspector, your buyer’s agent or yourself.
A typical radon test is done with two canisters or vials placed 6 inches apart. The canisters have activated charcoal which absorbs the radon gas. They are to be placed in the lowest level of the home. Here in New England, it is typically in the basement.
Tests are left for a period of 48 to 96 hours and then are closed up and shipped to a testing laboratory. Results will be emailed to you within a day or two of them receiving the test kit.
Here in northeastern Massachusetts, test kits can be purchase and dropped off at AccuStar Labs in Haverhill or New England Radon in Salem NH. Test kits can also be purchased at your big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes and be mailed to a testing center.
Results may take up to 4-7 days from the placement of the radon test kits. Make sure you plan your test in accordance with your home inspection contingency in your contract, so your radon test is completed by your contingency date.
Continuous Radon Monitors
In the past several years, placing continuous radon monitors has become more popular. It is a machine that will chart the radon levels over a 2 to 3 day period of time.
Continuous radon monitor testing is more expensive but gives you almost immediate results. While it gives you the average over a period of time, it will also show you the peaks and valleys.
Home Much Does It Cost To Test For Radon?
Radon test kits along with the testing are relatively inexpensive. The test kits run approximately $40-100 depending on if you are placing and picking up the kits yourself or if your home inspector is doing it for you.
If you are buying a test kit from a hardware store and see the cost below $20 realize that is for the test vials or canisters themselves and do not include the actual testing and results.
Having a continuous radon monitor place for a couple of days will run $200-250.
Understanding The Results Of A Radon Test
Realize radon is everywhere. Your radon test will show some level of radon in a home. It is unavoidable. Even outdoors a test would reveal small amounts of radon in the air.
Remember it is suggested that radon is primarily a health issue when you have prolonged exposure to high levels.
So what are high or safe levels of radon?
There actually is not set and hard rule by any government agency. Though, the EPA recommends that 4 pCi/L (pico Curies per Liter) or higher is an actionable level and should be remedied. They suggest considering remedying radon levels between 2-4 pCi/L.
How Do You Remediate For Radon?
Good news…. is radon remediation in the home is relatively simple and not overly expensive.
The most common radon remediation system is the sub-slab depressurization unit.
Simply, a conduit is sunk into the concrete slab at the lowest point in your house. The conduit is redirected outside and above the roofline. A small low-pressure fan is in the conduit and that creates a vacuum underneath the slab and draws the radon gas out and above the house.
There is usually a simple monitoring system to know your radon remediation system is working properly.
Prior to installing, your radon remediation contractor will seal up visible cracks and voids, including installing special sump pump covers if you have one.
Usually, only one suction point is needed in a typical home. Most radon remediation contractors will guarantee results below 4 pCi/L. I will tell you I have had buyers insisting on levels below 2 pCi/L but I have yet to see a contractor promise that or put it in a guarantee.
How Much Does Radon Remediation In A Home Cost?
The cost of radon remediation can vary depending on the level of radon, construction of the home and the size of the home.
In my area of northeastern Massachusetts, radon remediation runs from $1200-$3000. The national average is around $1000 dollars.
Don’t Forget To Test Your Well Water For Radon
While we have talked about testing for radon in a home’s living space, it is equally important to test for radon in well water. Many home buyer’s overlook this step, but a seasoned buyer’s agent will recommend you test your well water not only for radon but a slew of other issues that come with owning a home on a private well.
If you have city water services, basic safety standards are already maintained for your drinking water. But if you are on a private well you the buck stops with the owner.
Water that reaches your well runs across bedrock and soil and absorbs radon. So there is a chance your well water can have radon as well. Don’t assume that because your living space has low levels your well water does.
On another note, you should be testing your well water for a slew of other issues as well.
Removing Radon In Your Well Water
Removing radon from your well water is a little more complex. There are two ways of removing radon in your home’s water. An aeration system or a granulated carbon system are your two choices.
An aeration system injects the water with air in a sealed tank and the radon is released from your drinking water and brought above the roofline of your house. An aeration system removes 85 to 99% of the radon and costs between $3500 and $8000. An aeration system is good for higher levels of radon in the water.
A Granulated Activated Carbon system is a specialized carbon filter that traps the radon in the filter. The system runs $1500 to $3000. While the Granulated Active System is cheaper it does require you to purchase and change filters on a regular basis. It is slightly less effective than an aeration system and is best for lower levels of radon in your water.
If you are thinking I don’t drink my water, remember you probably cook with it and the gas is released while the water is running… like when you take a shower.
Does The Buyer Or Seller Pay For Radon Remediation?
There is no hard and fast rule about who pays for radon remediation when levels are found to be high in a home.
I will impart my opinion though.
I believe that home buyers put in an offer on a home with known issues that they see. But often a home inspection may reveal latent issues that are undetectable on a buyer walkthrough..
My opinion is homes should be delivered safe, healthy and free of serious defects that require immediate attention that were unknown previously to the home inspection.
Of course you also need to take into account the price point of a home you are purchasing as well as the current real estate market conditions. Where buyer competition is high, in a seller’s market, you may want to take on radon remediation yourself so you don’t lose the home.
But, if it is a buyers market, I absolutely think you should at the very least request radon remediation from a seller. The worst case scenario the seller says no. As a buyer, you can then make the choice to back out of the deal or move forward.
In the end, REALTORS® are obligated to disclose any known issues with a home. If the property has to go back on the market, the agent must disclose high radon levels (not necessarily the seller depending on your state). Homes that have bee put back on the market for home inspection issues can also be suspect by home buyers. It just may be in the seller’s best interest to correct the issue and move on with you as the buyer.
In the end, it is between you and the seller to negotiate who will ultimately pay to correct high radon levels. If you find your radon levels to be high (over 4 pCi/L) in a home you are testing, I would discuss with your buyer’s agent about asking the homeowner to remediate the high levels of radon gas in the home prior to closing. Radon remediation is a very common repair request after a home inspection that many sellers may consider.
Final Thoughts On Radon In Your Home
Radon is real. But sometimes it is hard to take it seriously because you can’t see it, smell it or taste it. It is important to protect your family from the life-threatening effects of radon gas in your home and if you have a private water system.
The short term testing done for real estate is just a glimpse of exposure to radon for a short period of time. Radon fluctuates minute by minute and day by day. Winter tends to have higher readings than summer.
If you truly want to protect against the effects of radon gas test your home once or twice a year to get a good picture of radon in your home.
Other Real Estate Resources:
- Having a home inspection can triggering scheduling other inspections. Home inspections are your chance to do your due diligence on a home. Sharon Paxson gives us 6 tips to help you prepare for your home inspection.
- Your home inspection is important. Make the most of it when you are buying a home. Paul Sian has put together a must read guide to home inspections.
- Home inspectors know a little about everything, but certainly aren’t experts. Michelle Gibson raises the question…. are home inspectors always right?
- Not every home inspection is perfect. You may realize you may be biting off more than you can chew. So what do you do when you have a bad home inspection?
Radon In A Home- The Invisible Killer, was written by Kevin Vitali of EXIT Group One Real Estate. Kevin will use his experience of over 18 years to help you buy or sell your home. 978-360-0422