Last Updated on November 2, 2022 by Luke Feldbrugge
If you are asking yourself “what is radon testing?” followed by “what is a safe radon level?”, you are probably in the final stages of selling your home (or buying one). Radon testing has become a standard for all home inspections, so if you are the seller, you’re going to need to pass this test. If you are a buyer, pay close attention to the results because it could affect negotiations with the seller.
This is suddenly very personally relevant to me, because my wife and I are selling our home and we got our radon test results back from the inspector last night. We did not pass. We are on very good terms with the buyers, so we agreed right away to split the cost of radon mitigation. That will cost us about $1,000.
What is Radon Gas?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that resides in the soil. What causes radon? It’s caused by the decay of radioactive particles (uranium and radium) in the soil. In outdoor air, it dissipates into the atmosphere, but inside of closed space radon can accumulate and build up. That’s why homes and particularly basements are places where you can find a lot of radon concentrations, and those concentrations create health risks for you and your family.
What causes radon in a house? Basically, the radon comes up through the soil and gets into your home through cracks and joints in the foundation. It’s completely invisible, odorless, colorless and can only be detected by sensitive instruments.
It is not uniformly distributed across the United States. Some areas have more exposure to high radon levels than others. If you want to see how your area of the country fares, there is a map from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showing different radon zones. As you can see, if you live in the West or Midwest, radon needs to be a concern for you when buying or selling a house.
What Does Radon Cause?
Cancer…specifically lung cancer. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer risk in the U.S., behind cigarette smoking. And if you smoke, radon gives you a greater risk of lung cancer. Like lead paint and asbestos, radon is an environmental hazard that is specific to the real estate world. The radioactive gas settles in your lung tissue, and over time it can lead to radon-related lung cancer.
In terms of symptoms, there aren’t any right away. Exposure over time can lead to health problems such as shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing that doesn’t go away. These, unfortunately, are all indications of radon-caused lung cancer. There are no medical tests for radon exposure, and if you have it in your system, there is currently no way to rid it from your body. As with all things involving cancer, the best way is prevention rather than waiting for symptoms.
What is Radon Testing?
There are a variety of tests out there, some that you can pick up at the hardware store that are easy and affordable. Unfortunately, easy and affordable don’t always make for terribly effective detection of the level of radon. The DIY tests aren’t bad, if you strictly follow instructions, but the tests done by home inspectors and licensed radon technicians are much more accurate and reliable.
The DIY test kits are small canisters of activated charcoal. You put them in the lowest area of your house (but not crawl spaces or near the sump pump) and then send them to a lab for testing. The jury is out on how long to keep them in place before you send them in. Some say short-term tests of few days are enough, but others recommend long-term tests of 90 days. It’s probably best to follow the instructions on your particular test kit.
Licensed radon testers can be hired, and their technology is quite a bit more sophisticated. For our test, the inspector had two NASA-looking cases with high-tech devices. He placed them on two lower levels of the house and picked them up in 48 hours. In the meantime, we were instructed to keep all windows closed and to not use the fireplace. Once he picked them up, he ran the numbers and texted us the results.
What is a high radon level? Generally any concentration of radon over 4.0. We did not pass with our radon level at 4.2 pCi/L. That meant we needed to agree to mitigation for the house before the buyers, and the bank, would go forward with the sale. In most states, the cutoff for high concentrations of radon is 4.0. What is a safe radon level? The EPA states that no amount of radon is safe, but below 4.0 is acceptable.
A certified radon mitigation contractor charges between $100 – $200 for testing. In our case, the home inspector was also certified for radon testing, so it was just part of our home inspection fee. In the case of DIY versus a professional radon tester, “both” is probably the right answer. If your Ace Hardware Radon Test Kit detects a higher radon level, you probably want to hire a licensed radon professional to give you an accurate reading.
What is Radon Mitigation?
If you are like me, and you just failed your radon test, you now need to figure out what comes next. You are now entering the world of radon mitigation (mitigation is a word engineers use instead of “fixing”).
The only way to fix dangerous levels of radon in your home is to hire a professional, who will install a radon mitigation system. What is a radon mitigation system? It’s essentially a pipe or pipes that the contractor puts under your foundation to ventilate the area. That involves some serious digging and specialized equipment. Hiring a state certified and/or qualified Radon Mitigation Contractor is your best bet to handle your radon problem.
The price range on a professionally-installed certified mitigation system runs between $1,500 and $3,000. The EPA says most homes using mitigation will reduce the average radon level below 2.0. You will need to remeasure radon levels in your home after the system is in place.
The EPA has a very good publication online that describes other things you can do to reduce high levels of radon in your house. One tactic that won’t be available to most people is to do radon prevention while you are building your home, before the foundation goes down. There are now radon resistant building materials you can use during construction for new homes. That’s probably a conversation you will need to have with your general contractor.
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When you work with Homes for Heroes to find a new home, we connect you with a team of professionals that can help you every step of the way. These include:
- Real estate agents
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- Home Inspectors
Of course, that last one is relevant to the radon discussion. Our inspectors are professionals who have committed themselves to serving all of our hero groups–military personnel, healthcare workers, first responders, and teachers. When you use our inspectors, as well as the rest of the team, you can maximize the Hero Reward check at closing–which is currently averaging about $3,000.
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