Why Test for Radon?
After you have made you offer to purchase a home, you will arrange for a home inspection. You may also want to consider having a radon test.
Usually, you will purchase the test from your home inspector and leave it at the time of the inspection. The house should remain as closed-up as possible 12 hours before and during the entire test period: windows and doors shut, no usage of fireplaces, etc. Obviously, normal entry and exit is allowed. A passive radon test must stay in place for at least 48 hours. Generally, either you or your broker will return to pick it up at a prearranged time. If the test is a 48 hour one, do not leave the canister in place over 50 hours or the results may be invalid.
For a radon test, it is common to place two canisters at the site. After the canisters are retrieved, they must generally be sent to a laboratory for analysis; results may take several days to become available. If the results of your radon test will not be ready in time, include details in your purchase and sale agreement to deal with any radon problems that might come up.
Radon test results are subject to interpretation and can vary with weather, season, time of day, occupant activities and mechanical system usage, among others. Generally, if the test results are above the EPA guideline retesting is suggested. You may wish to call in an EPA-licensed contractor, called a radon mitigator, to provide you with an estimate for eliminating the problem.
Generally speaking, the presence of radon in a house above the EPA guideline, becomes a negotiable issue in real estate transactions. Radon mitigators have complained that few of the estimates that they do actually result in installation of mitigation systems, probably because home buyers are only using the elevated results to lower their purchase price.
So, what is this stuff that people are testing for but ignoring as a problem? Radon is a gaseous, inert element produced by the natural, radioactive break-up of uranium in soil and rock. For many years, health physicists knew that even if highly diluted in air, radon -itself radioactive- was a threat to the health of miners. In studies all over the world, it was found that long-term exposure to high concentrations of radon in mines, particularly among smokers, caused increased incidence of lung cancer. This is one reason why mines are ventilated and monitored for radon concentrations.
It was not until 1984, when very high concentrations of radon were found in a home, did anyone realize that radon could be a problem in buildings. Since that time, many buildings have been tested and many populations observed for the occurrence of elevated lung cancer. Not all studies have been conclusive, but the EPA believes that 5000 to 15,000 cases of lung cancer annually may be attributed to radon exposure in buildings.
Since radon is tasteless, odorless and undetectable by our senses, people have not taken the threat very seriously. Unfortunately about one in every hundred homes has a severe radon problem and it is the purpose of the EPA home testing program to locate these homes.
Although not the most appropriate time, buyers should choose to do radon testing prior to purchase. If you buy a home with a radon problem, when you become the seller, you may be forced to fix the problem by your buyer. I also suggest that you retest for radon after you own, since you will be able to control house conditions while living there. In parts of New Jersey, where levels of radon are high, some people feel that up to 1/3 of the tests have been defeated by sellers who undertook various strategies to dilute the radon in the house during buyer testing.
A typical radon mitigation system consists of 4-inch plastic piping that is sealed into the basement concrete floor and passes through the house, into the attic and through the roof. A fan is installed in the pipe to pull air containing radon from under the concrete floor and blow it out above the roof. The systems are very effective, so a radon problem at a house need not be considered unsolvable or a reason for not buying a house.