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Buying a Home: Inspection Reveals High Radon Levels

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    LESLIE: Greg in Iowa is on the line and he’s dealing with a radon situation. Tell us what’s going on.

    GREG: Well, my wife and I are in the process of buying a home and we’re in the process of closing on this home. And when we – gone through the whole process of buying it and everything, we had to have an initial – we decided to have an inspection done. And then at the end of this inspection, where they go over everything mechanical and about the house and everything, they then offered a radon test to be done. And I had heard about the test and read about the test and figured it was a good idea to have it done; it was $100, which was pretty cheap compared to what we found out.

    And I guess what I’m trying to find out from you all is – in Iowa, they say that there’s 70 to 71 percent of the homes in Iowa have a radon problem.

    TOM: OK. Now, you had a radon test done. What did the level come back at?

    GREG: It came back at 18.

    TOM: OK. So 18 picocuries?

    GREG: Yes.

    TOM: So 4.0 picocuries is the action guideline. Remember, I spent 20 years as a professional home inspector; I got this, OK?

    GREG: Yes, sir.

    TOM: So 4.0 is the action guideline. So you have a radon problem. It’s not unusual. It depends on the area. And certainly not the worst that I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen homes that had levels of upwards of 100 picocuries.

    GREG: OK.

    TOM: That said, you do need to put in – or more accurately, the seller – is a sub-slab mitigation system where you have pipes that go into the slab and they pull the radon gas out. Now, has that process been started?

    GREG: Yes, sir.

    TOM: Alright. So then you’re on your way. But when you’re done, it’s very important that they test out of this and get a successful number. I will caution you, though, because this is a real estate transaction, remember that you are not in control of that house.

    And one of the biggest concerns that I had as a home inspector doing radon tests was I couldn’t necessarily trust the sellers to leave my test alone. And if they opened the windows or doors during the test, they’re going to vent that house and get that number to be down. So, it’s really important that when you’re doing a mitigation system, you would probably step away from doing charcoal absorption canisters and you would do other types of radon testing.

    There’s one called a “working level monitor” where it basically takes samples on an hour-by-hour basis. And you can look at the results that come off of this and what you look for, as a tester, is a normal pattern. And you’re going to see a pattern that sort of climbs throughout the day and is really high at night when the house is completely still, starts to drop during the day. A good tester can tell if the test has been compromised.

    So just proceed cautiously. Not an unusual situation. Sub-slab ventilation is the way to go and when they’re done, this test should be down to near zero.

    GREG: Thank you very much.

    TOM: You’re very welcome. And I think you’re doing all the right things. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

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