Radon: You Might Want To Get Tested, Dear.

January 8, 2008


Radon is an invisible, odorless gas that is a natural radioactive decay product of uranium, a common element in soil and rocks. Radon gas is considered harmless when dispersed in outdoor air but can be a serious health hazard when trapped in buildings.

Radon gas can seep into a home from the soil through dirt crawlspaces, cracks in the foundation and walls, floor drains, pipes and sump pumps. Radon can enter any home, old or new, even those with no visible cracks. Each building is unique, and the ground beneath it is also unique. Two houses side-by-side can have totally different radon levels. The only way to know what the radon levels are inside your home is to measure them.

Radon also can enter a home through the well water. If your water contains high levels of radon, the radon gas escapes into the household air when the water is running. The EPA says, “The radon in your water supply poses an inhalation risk and an ingestion risk. Research has shown that your risk of lung cancer from breathing radon in air is much larger than your risk of stomach cancer from swallowing water with radon in it.”

Recently some first-time buyers of mine found a house they liked, put in an offer, got it accepted and performed a standard home inspection which included a radon test. Now this home had an exisiting radon mitigation system in place and the home inspector said it appeared to be working fine. Radon is measured in Pico curries per liter of air (pCi/L) and the EPA tell us anything over 4.0 pCi/L needs to be treated and mitigated (it’s 9.0 pCi/L in Canada). Imagine our shock when the radon test came back at 86.6 pCi/L!!!! Off the charts. Well, my buyers freaked, the sellers freaked (because they live there still!)…we all freaked. When what we should have immediately done is relax, chill out and re-test. It now appears there was an issue with the first test and it wasn’t accurate at all. This news is coming hundreds of dollars later unfortunately.

There are two short term ways to test for radon. These are the most common in real estate as most sellers don’t want to wait months to perform exhaustive long-term radon study before selling their home. Plus the short-term tests get results faster. The first (and most common method) is the canister test. Two vials are left open in the lowest livable area of the property (usually the basement) and after 48 hours they are sealed and sent to a lab for analysis. We are lucky to have a lab right here in the area (AccuStar Labs) so most of us Realtors drop them off in person for analysis. Within about a day you can get the results right online and you’re go to go (or good to mitigate as the case may be).

The second method is a continuous electronic monitoring where a device is left in the lowest living area for 48 hours and it will tell you what the readings are on an hourly basis. No lab work involved in this case, and less room for human error as well. For these reasons, I am going to start recommending the continuous test to my buyers and sellers. Yes, it’s a little more expensive ($115 vs. $40) but my buyers spent $40 for the first test, the sellers spent $200+ to have someone come out and do a thorough analysis and my buyers may be spending another $115 for the continuous test for their own piece of mind. $365 vs. $115 if we just did the continuous test first.  

A few good site for learning more than you’d ever want to know about radon:




The more you know, the better off you are. Plus, you don’t want to end up with a third ear in your forehead (Thanks Rocket).


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