Buying a Home with High Radon

New York high risk radon map, by county

NY radon map, red counties are designated as high risk for radon followed by orange.

Buying a home with high radon is not really a problem. In many areas of the country like central New York the majority of homes have high radon. This is why most home purchase agreements are contingent upon a radon test. When those radon test results come back at or above the EPA action level of 4.0 picocuries, most sellers are willing to negotiate in order to save the deal. Usually they will have a radon mitigation system installed or issue a credit to the buyers for the cost of a system.

Be Sure You as a Buyer Negotiate Who Installs the Radon Mitigation System, or get a credit so you can have a quality system installed after you move in. Unfortunately most home buyers don’t do this and most sellers hire whoever can get it done for the cheapest price. Hiring the cheapest company or person to install a radon mitigation system will usually results in substandard system with little or no real warranty.

A substandard radon system is one not installed according to accepted standards. The standards for radon mitigation describe proper installation, and materials to be used to ensure proper and safe operation and longevity of the system. To see some examples substandard radon systems see my page on improper and poor radon mitigation jobs.

Require a Third Party Post Mitigation Radon Test if a radon mitigation system is installed prior to closing. This will help ensure the system is working properly. An ideal post mitigation radon test result would have an average below 2 picocuries, the lower the better. For real estate transactions usually anything below 4.0 pCi/L is considered acceptable, but most people would not comfortable with 3.9 pCi/L especially if a radon mitigation system is installed. As a buyer its not a bad idea to have your own post mitigation test conducted to confirm proper operation of the system and to ensure an accurate radon test was performed.

Home Buyers Need to be Wise as Serpents and understand that home sellers, realtors and radon contractors are aware of what’s riding on radon test results conducted during a home sale. This goes for the initial radon testing at time of home inspection as well as post mitigation radon tests that certify satisfactory system operation. They are well aware that high radon test results could jeopardize the sale and or cost them money in repairs or lost commissions. Realtors, radon contractors and most home owners are also aware that is is not too difficult to cheat or effect the radon test results in their favor by opening windows or doors or by other means after the inspector or tester leaves the home.

Examples of Cheating and Fraud – Cheating is fraud when it comes to radon testing. Some people end up buying a home with high radon unawares. Unfortunately more than a few times I have caught home sellers, realtors (usually the listing agent) and radon contractors cheating or fraudulently altering the radon test or test reports. Most home sellers, realtors and radon contractors are honest and would not do such a thing but when it comes to selling homes and radon testing or certifying radon mitigation systems fraud takes place more than most people realize. Following are a few examples of the many I’ve experienced first or second hand.

  • Listing Agent – In 1993 prior to being a radon professional, I was selling my home in Spencer, NY. My own realtor informed me the couple buying our house wanted to do a radon test in the basement but not to worry about it. She said roughly, I don’t remember the exact quote “after he sets the test just open up all the windows and air out the basement really well.”
  • Dual Agent – On a cold winter day I did a home inspection on a vacant house in Rome, NY. The buyer and agent (acting as a dual agent) were present during the inspection, the seller was out of town. I noted in the inspection report and showed them a 4 inch hole through a brick wall in the first floor laundry room. The dryer had been removed and a large rag stuffed into the hole to keep cold air out. The buyer expressed concerned about radon and wanted a radon test to be performed. I set up the test prior to leaving the home. We all left about the same time. 10 or 15 minutes later realizing I had forgot a tool I turned around to go get it. I have electronic lock box access so I could just let my self back into the house. To my surprise I found the large rag which had been stuffed quite tightly into the dryer vent hole, was pulled out laying on the floor. I had placed the radon monitor in the laundry room which was in the center of the house. The realtor had gone back right after we left and pulled the rag out, planning to replace before I returned 48 hours later. I caller he up and let her know I replaced the rag.
  • Radon Contractor – A home buyer called me for an estimate on a home he was buying. The radon tested above 50 pCi/L and he wanted to be sure it could be reduced below 4 pCi/L. I did the estimate, this was a large, expensive and difficult mitigation job. He requested that I be the one to do the work but the seller used another contractor. After moving in the new home owner noticed the manometer gauge was reading zero, indicating the
    Radon manometer if both columns are at zero call for service

    Reads “If both columns are at zero call installer for service.”

    system was not working properly even though he could hear the fan running. He was suspected the system was not working properly even though he had been give a post mitigation test showing radon was below 1 pCi/L (it was zero.something).  He called me and I confirmed there was a problem. The installation contractor would not return calls, when he finally caught him on the phone the installer was argumentative and insisted everything was fine, saying the post mitigation test proved it and refused to come and check it out. So the home owner did his own radon test and the results were close to the original high level of radon. After much difficulty from not returning calls, with a new test results and threats of legal action the radon contractor finally returned and finished the system. He still had quite a bit of work to do, sealing a leaky drainage system and replacing floor drains. He said the bad test results were not his fault, and blamed the bad test on the who sellers supposed conducted his test.

  • Fraudulent Home Seller – This case of fraud was relayed to me by very good home inspector I know. He set a radon test in the basement as part of a home inspection and the test result came back quite high almost 20 picocuries. The homeowner wrote on the sellers disclosure statement the radon in the home was unknown and had not been tested. However when he heard how high the inspectors radon test results were he was adamant the test could not be accurate. How could he be certain if as he stated, the home had never been tested? To make a long story short after some probing questions from the home inspector at least some truth was uncovered. The home owner had in fact conducted a prior radon test and the radon level was about 8 pCi/L, double the 4.0 pCi/L action level. Knowing this high level of radon could pose a problem in selling his home, he finally admitted to opening the windows and then the sliding glass door on the first and second floor. He had been instructed and was well aware the radon testing protocol required closed house conditions (keep all windows closed and quickly shut any open doors) 12 hours prior to and during the radon test. But he was so incredulous, convinced the inspectors test results could not be true he finally admitted to opening the windows as the evidence as to how he knew the inspectors test had to be wrong. His thought since his test with the windows closed with a result of 8 pCi/L that by opening all the upstairs windows and sliding glass door and the door at the top of the stairs, he was certain the new test results had to be lower than his. Actually what happened since no basement windows were opened he actually created a thermal draft in the home pulling extra air up through the basement floor increased by the open door at the top of basement steps up and out the upper windows increasing the radon flow into the home resulting in the higher test results.

AIRCHEKTo Be Safe Conduct Your Own Follow Radon Up Test after you are in the home. Certainly most people who commit radon testing fraud get away with it and in most cases it goes undetected for many years. Not until the home is re-tested are people surprised with higher radon test results. This usually occurs when the home is being sold again and a new buyer has a radon test performed. After moving into your new home its a good idea to do a confirmation radon test to confirm a safe radon level. Self test radon kits are cheap and sometimes free. For under $25 you can conduct your own radon test just, it worth it to breathe safely. You can get a radon test kit form NY State for $8.50 a great deal if you are not in a hurry. Fill out the form and mail them a check, it takes 6 to 8 week or more to get the test and up to 3 months or more to get the results. Go here for $8.50 NY radon test kit.

The Radon Level is Much Higher Than When We Bought the House – Very often I hear from people when selling their homes after buyers have a radon test done, “The radon results are many times higher than when they bought the house.” In some cases this could be attributed to fraud but more likely it’s usually due to energy efficient improvements that have been made since the last test. The more energy efficient a home is, the better it holds in heat and also the better it hold on to radon.  High efficiency comes at the the sacrifice of fresh air ventilation.

Even More So With Mitigation Systems – Higher radon levels when selling seems to be more the case in homes with radon mitigation systems. For the same reasons as listed above or due to failing or inadequate radon system installation. I’m always confounded at people who had radon mitigation systems installed and never had a post mitigation test to confirm the system was working properly. The just assumed the system was in and the radon was gone. Pretty trusting souls. A good radon contractor will conduct their own radon test to confirm satisfactory operation and also provide some type of third party post mitigation radon test. This is what I do, I conduct my own radon test to certify satisfactory operation of the mitigation system and provide a third party test kit that includes laboratory analysis fees for the home owner to confirm proper system operation.

The EPA Recommends Re-Testing Radon Every 2 Years in Homes With Active Radon Mitigation Systems – This is to help ensure the system is operating properly and maintaining safe radon levels. Along with this I want to restate the importance of a post mitigation radon test to ensure the system is working after it is installed. NY State provides a free post mitigation radon test kit to home owners up to one year after having a radon mitigation systems installed. They recommend the test be done within 30 days of system installation. Go here for free post mitigation radon test.

Leave Your Comments on buying a home with high radon or if you have any examples of radon testing fraud I would be glad to hear them, just leave a comment below. I believe its important for people to be aware of potential fraud  to help defend against it. Thanks for reading.