Buying a home has historically been a complex decision, involving the considerations of location, mortgage lenders, and a myriad of other factors. However, the latest radon measurements taken on homes are now being added to the mix.
In this article, we’ll look at whether it’s safe to buy a home with high levels of radon, and if so, how you balance the balance sheet against the potential risks.
Why is radon gas a problem
Radon gas is a radioactive gas that is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and the second leading cause of lung cancer among those who smoke. It is present in many homes, posing a risk to its residents. That is why radon gas is considered a problem.
The EPA recommends that homeowners should not have more than 4 pCi/l of radon in their homes. If the levels are high, homeowners should take steps to mitigate them. If the levels are between 2 to 4, it is recommended to lower them further.
Should you buy a home with high radon levels
Unfortunately, the perfect home you found has high levels of radon. Should you go ahead with the purchase?
There is nothing wrong with buying a house with high radon levels. Radon levels can be easily reduced to safe levels by the proper use of radon mitigation systems. These systems can reduce radon by as much as 99%.
Statistically speaking, one out of 15 houses in the USA has high radon levels. So finding your dream home with low radon levels is almost impossible.
Once you find your dream home but with high radon levels, what’s the next step?
Ask for a radon test
The first step is to get the house tested. Many states in the USA make it mandatory to do a radon test for real estate transactions, but not all states do. Also, it is not mandatory in every state for the seller to disclose the radon levels before selling. So, for your safety, talk to the seller for a radon test.
Testing for radon
The test has to be done by an independent contractor. The seller may suggest doing the testing himself. However, there are many ways the test results can be tampered with, so always do it using an independent contractor. Some states require a radon test to be done by a certified or licensed professional. In New York, for example, only certified professionals can do testing.
It is important that you should know how the test is conducted. A wrongly done test can give you a false level of radon level. And there are many factors that can affect the result of a test, including the type of equipment used in taking the test and the length of time the test is done.
Here are a few things you (the buyer) need to know about radon testing;
- Short-term tests are conducted for real estate transactions.
- These tests last for a few days and are done with the help of expensive radon monitors.
- The test devices are placed in the lowest livable spaces of the house, mostly the basement, for the entire time.
- The test device shouldn’t be moved. During the testing, all the windows and doors should be closed to prevent any air circulation.
- If the house passes the radon test, check what the levels were. It is considered a pass if the levels are below 4.0 pCi/L ie, even if it is 3.9 pCi/L. But practically, these levels can increase at any time. So keep this in mind.
- Radon levels fluctuate with seasons. Levels are usually higher during winter and lower in summer. If the test is done during the summer months, you should expect higher levels in the winter.
- Once the test is done, ask the tester to provide evidence that the testing conditions were not tampered with. Even opening a window can alter test results, so it is important to make sure that the tests were not violated anyway.
What to do if the test results show high radon levels
If the test results show higher radon levels, the buyer should talk to the seller about installing a mitigation system. As active mitigation systems can reduce radon levels by 99%, it should be enough to keep the house away from the dangers of radon gas.
However, the seller can refuse to bear the cost of the installation. Even though radon testing is mandatory in many states, there is no law stipulating that the seller should bear the cost of the mitigation. In such cases, you can convince the seller to bear a part of the installation costs. As many people have second thoughts about buying a house with high radon levels, it is beneficial to the seller to have a mitigation system in place.
I recommend you use a licensed professional to install the radon mitigation system. DIYing the system can lead to many dangerous mistakes in the long term.
Selecting a mitigation contractor
If you choose to go with a mitigation company, which I highly recommend, make sure you choose the right one. Here are some things you should know;
- The contractor you hire should be local because he knows more about the weather conditions there, which affect radon levels.
- The contractor should be licensed. Ask to see the license and make sure that they are on the National Certified list (NEHA/NRSB)
- Ask to see their Liability and Workers Compensation insurance certificate. This makes sure that their workers are covered under insurance, so you are not liable if they get injured during the work.
- Get quotes from different local contractors. But don’t go for the cheap one because of the price. The seller may insist on hiring the cheaper one, but if the quality of their work or materials is bad, it will affect the buyer. For example, some companies use the cheap schedule 20 PVC pipes instead of the recommended schedule 40 pipes. These pipes will corrode and break in a few years, causing severe problems to the buyer.
Test after mitigation
Once the mitigation system is installed, it is important to test the house again. This is to make sure the mitigation system got the radon levels down to the safe level.
Should I buy the house if the levels are high even after mitigation?
If the radon levels are high even after implementing the radon mitigation system, I recommend you steer clear of the sale. A mitigation system should reduce the levels below 2 pCi/L. Even if the second test is a pass, but the levels are above 2, I recommend not to buy the house.
It is highly unlikely that an active mitigation system is unable to lower radon levels. The only possible reason is the improper installation of the system.
Should you buy a house that has a radon mitigation system in place
This is a common question I hear all the time. I agree that radon is a dangerous gas. But if the levels are low, there is nothing to be afraid of.
You can buy a house that has a radon mitigation system as long as the radon levels are lower than 2.0 pCi/L. If the levels are higher, the mitigation system is not very effective, and you should be discreet.
Even if the radon levels are safe, there are a few things you should check.
The buyer should make sure that the build quality of the system is good. This is because the seller might have installed the system solely to get the property sold, and so he may have hired the contractors who quoted the cheapest price. Hiring cheap can seriously affect the quality of the work. The system may work for now, but it can cause serious health risks to the buyer after a few years.
The buyer should also inquire if the installation is done by a licensed contractor. Most contractors will leave their contact details in the mitigation system. You should also know about the mitigation system’s warranty and what is covered under it.
When buying a house that has a radon mitigation system, I recommend hiring an independent contractor to verify that the system is installed correctly and its quality is good. This may cost you some money but this is important to make sure that the house will stay safe for many years.
The problem with hiring cheap
Like I mentioned above, the build quality of the radon mitigation system is very important. The system should be able to withstand corrosion and, most importantly, it shouldn’t leak. The radon gas concentration in the pipes of the mitigation system is hundreds of times more than than the levels in the house.
If the pipes leak, this highly concentrated air will leak into the house causing a very serious health risk. As radon gas is odorless and colorless, it is impossible for you to detect it, which makes this more dangerous. A faulty installation could be leaking this gas into the house for years before you know it.
Can you get a mortgage with high radon?
There is no problem getting a mortgage for a house even if it has high radon levels. Even though lenders require a home inspection to make sure the house is in good condition, the radon levels would not be a problem.
In fact, one in fifteen houses in the USA has high radon levels. So if the banks were to reject a buyer because of high radon levels, the banks will be rejecting a lot of buyers. They definitely don’t want to do that.
Does homeowners insurance cover radon mitigation
The cost of radon mitigation is not covered by home insurance. This is because insurances cover only unexpected damages, and radon is not one of them.
The shirt term radon tests conducted for the purchase of the house are only a snapshot of the actual radon levels in the house. These levels can vary with seasons. So even if the levels are low now, they can increase in the next season, especially during the winter months. Therefore, it is important to have a radon monitoring system in your house. You can purchase a device like Corentium Radon detector (link to amazon) to constantly monitor the radon levels. If the levels exceed the safe limits such devices can warn you.
It is also important to do a long-term radon test to determine the exact radon levels of the house. The radon monitor mentioned above eliminates the need for this. However, a charcoal-based test kit is not that expensive, so I recommend you test the home immediately after its purchase. You can read more about radon testing here.