What buyers and sellers should know about radon

This deadly gas can threaten a home sale as well as your health

Published: January 13, 2014 01:30 PM
Building techniques that can make a home more resistant to radon.

About one in 15 U.S. homes contain radon—a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that's linked to 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year. And because radon lurks in nearly all soil, it can creep into holes or cracks in the walls or foundation of any home, risking your health if you're a buyer and quashing the deal if you're looking to sell.

Radon risks increase in winter, when tightly closed windows and today's better-sealed homes help trap radon indoors and let levels rise high enough to be harmful. In recognition of National Radon Action Month, here are some ways to protect your health—and keep radon from coming between you and your new home.

If you're buying a home
Know the radon risk level.
While high radon levels have been found in all 50 states, it's more prevalent in some regions than others. Check the maps on the website of the Environmental Protection Agency to see the regions where radon concentration is higher. If you live in one of those areas, every home you're considering should be radon tested.

Be sure your home inspection includes a radon test. Radon tests should be conducted in the lowest level of the home that's likely to be used regularly. "Many home inspectors offer radon testing services, but radon inspections are not part of a standard home inspection,"  Claude McGavic, executive director of the National Association of Home Inspectors, said. To find a radon inspector, check the EPA's website or the websites of the National Radon Proficiency Program or National Radon Safety Board.

A radon level of 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L) means you'll need a qualified radon mitigation contractor, according to the EPA, though even levels between 2 and 4 pCi/L are a concern.

Consider a radon-resistant home. Vent pipes and radon-retardant sheeting are but two of the features more new home builders are using. Those same techniques can also help reduce radon levels in older homes and, as a bonus, may help make any home more energy-efficient.

If you're selling a home
Test for radon before putting your home on the market. You're better off finding—and alleviating—a radon problem now than having it derail the sale later. The best way to test for radon is to hire a pro. But you can get an initial estimate on your own with a radon test kit. Consumer Reports' tests yielded one recommended short-term kit, the RTCA 4 Pass Charcoal Canister (about $42 for a two-pack), and one for longer-term testing, the Accustar Alpha Track Test Kit AT 100, about $21. The long-term tests proved more accurate and are also useful for ongoing radon monitoring.

Tell buyers what you've done to lower radon levels. If you've already tested your home for radon or installed a radon-reduction system, share the results and information about your system's operation and maintenance with your buyer. Not only is it the right thing to do, it could provide the peace of mind needed to finalize the sale.

Check radon regulations for your area. If your state or local government requires disclosure of radon information to buyers, they may ask for a new test, especially if the last test was done more than two years ago, or if you've remodeled since the last test (which can affect radon levels).

Whether you're planning to move or staying put, be sure to check out 10 myths about radon and how to detect a radon threat as well as the EPA's Citizen's Guide to Radon.

—Artemis DiBenedetto

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