Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

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This Radon Test Is Useless

While doing a Truth-In-Sale of Housing re-inspection today, I noticed a radon monitor present in the crawl space.  This home didn't have a basement, just a trap door that led to a 5' x 5' crawl space with a water heater, water meter, and gas meter. 

 

Trap DoorRadon Monitor In Crawl Space 

My first thought:

Huh, someone is doing a radon test.  Great!  Must have sold the house.

My next thought:

What the heck is that test doing in a crawl space?

Radon will enter a home through the basement or crawl space floors and walls, so the lower areas in a house will always have the highest concentrations of radon.  This particular home had an uncovered crawl space, which is typically a good indicator that the radon test will come out high. 


In this particular case, the radon test was completely useless.


The EPA protocol for radon testing during a real estate transaction requires the test to be placed in the lowest level of the home that could be used regularly.  In other words, where someone might actually spend some time. 


A crawl space is the place in the home where someone would be least likely to use regularly, if at all.  If someone regularly spends time in their crawl space,  they have bigger problems than radon to worry about.   Even if the radon level for this particular test is very high, the numbers are meaningless.  The test needs to be done in the living area to be of any use. 


Another requirement for radon tests is that the seller maintain closed-house conditions for 12 hours prior to the test and throughout the duration of the test, which means keeping the windows and doors closed, except for normal traffic.  When I arrived at this house, most of the windows were wide open, and the owner didn't have any idea that his windows were supposed to be closed.  The owner should have been notified about the radon test a day ahead of time, and the inspector should have left a form at the house for the owner to fill out, stating that the EPA protocols for testing would be adhered to.


There is no licensing requirement for radon testing in Minnesota, but seeing a test performed like this makes me think there should be. 


Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections - Email - Detailed Home Inspection Reports 

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections

        

Comment balloon 14 commentsReuben Saltzman • September 08 2009 06:20AM

Comments

Could it be that the homeowners bought one of those Home Depot kits because they just wanted to know?  For some the instructions on those kits can be confusing.

Posted by Gloria Laughton Allston, GREEN, SFR (COLDWELL BANKER/PRINCETON) almost 9 years ago

Gloria - that's a nice thought, but it was actually a home inspector from Ameri a national home inspection chain.  He was doing the test for the new buyers.  

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 9 years ago

Reuben, This has to be one of my biggest complaints. As with your state Connecticut does not require any training or licensing for radon testing. The majority of testers are untrained and believe me it shows.

I have blogged a few times on this subject.

I re-did a test in a home where the testing device was incorrectly placed. I wasn't redoing the test for that particular reason, but learned when I arrived at the home the original test was put in an unacceptable location.

The home inspector who did the test used a continuous monitor. In CT using a continuous monitor requires, all though it's not enforced, either an NRSB or NEHA certification. Many companies that use these devices here are not certified, yet they market the fact they use monitors.

Data collected incorrectly is invalid. period. The guy who set the monitor in the crawlspace is obviously an untrained hack.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) almost 9 years ago

Great call Reuben,

We have very few cases here and in fact all of the cases of reported high radon levels that I have heard about have been conducted by other inspectors.  I really have to wonder how high radon levels could be noted in a home built over a well vented crawlspace, unless the vents were closed and the test was placed in the crawlspace.....

Posted by Jim Allhiser, Salem, Oregon Home Inspector (Perfection Inspection, Inc.) almost 9 years ago

James - wow, I had no idea radon tests got screwed up so much.  What's so tough?  

Jim - you must not have too many basements, huh?  I've never seen a high test where there wasn't a basement.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 9 years ago

You would think the person who put that monitor in the crawlspace would at least have some basic understanding of testing protocols. Unfortunately the buyer will more than likely be told need a mitigation system installed without knowing their actual habitable room levels.

Posted by Vince Santos, Southeast Michigan Home Inspector (StepByStep Home Services LC) almost 9 years ago

Hi Reuben.  Another Great Post with Great Comments. 

I have read through the EPA publications more times than I can remember and I interpret the testing protocol as Recommendations and not Requirements.

Recommendations give an added benefit of common reporting results, which is useful when comparing test data. 

I do not recall reading where not following the recommedations invalidates the test result or renders the test useless.

I feel your point is important with respect to the purchase & sale conditions based upon the Radon test.  A contingency based upon a Radon Test vs. an EPA Protocol Radon Test.

If the contingency is a Radon Test, then any testing protocol is agreed upon and the test above should be acceptable.

If the contingency is an EPA Protocol Radon Test, then the test above is not acceptable.

My personal preference is to avoid the unqualified term of Radon Test.  The qualified terms of EPA Protocal Radon Test and Custom Radon Test are my preferences.

Posted by Jim Mushinsky (Centsable Inspection) almost 9 years ago

I would like to respond to Jim's comments.

I have also read the EPA protocols and have taken the training necessary to obtain my NRSB certification.

The EPA has published guidelines on proper testing methods in order to get good accurate test results. I'm not sure I would classify the EPA test protocols as recommendations. I would agree to a point they are not all requirements with exceptions. For example closed house conditions is a requirement when performing a short term radon test during a real estate transaction.

As far as test types I have never heard anyone define a test as either an EPA or non EPA radon test. The established testing methods are based on the EPA protocols. There are no other methods or types of testing that I am aware of.

The test Reuben has shared with us has been done incorrectly according to EPA defined testing methods. A test done not following established, published procedures is invalid. It may not be written, but I am pretty certain you can make the leap that if the procedure to obtain the data was flawed, the result is therefore invalid. This would apply in a lab or in any situation where data is obtained and an established method must be followed.

Lastly your use of very specific terminology is good in an effort to avoid confusion. However with radon testing since there is only one established method the terms;

EPA Protocal Radon Test and Custom Radon Test would likely create more confusion that they would clear up.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) almost 9 years ago

Vince - you would think so, wouldn't you?  I actually called the inspector's office and told the person answering the phone that he needs to review the EPA guidelines for radon testing.  I also told the seller and the seller's agent that the test was worthless.  

Jim - I agree with James' response.  

The EPA guidelines need to be followed, and if you say you're doing a radon test, it should just be implied that you'll be following the standard set of guidelines that is used throughout the country for radon testing.

Any data gained from the test that I blogged about really has no value or usefulness... IOW, it's useless.

I think you're overthinking the definitions... but you'll never get accused of being vague!

James - well put.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 9 years ago

Good post and information Reuben. I see this far to often, at least in my area. There are many "would -be" radon testers jumping on the band wagon to try and gain a buck and giving false readings to home owners, and potential buyers concerned with levels. Always giving great truthful information Reuben keep it up!

Posted by Randy King (Prokore Inspections) almost 9 years ago

Reuben, this is another great post. Radon testing is not too common here.  One of my buyers did it it last year.  We were told to keep the doors and windows shut, but since it was during the due diligence period and the owner was still living there, that was hard to control. It's good to know the information on how it should be done though.

Posted by Jen Bowman, Realtor - Anna Maria Island & Bradenton FL (Keller Williams on the Water) almost 9 years ago

Randy - do you do radon testing?

Jen - I'm guessng you don't have a lot of basements in Georgia, do you?  I typically don't ever find high radon levels above grade.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 9 years ago

Hi Vince.  Since its your blog, I'll direct my additional comments to your response.  No dis-respect or offense intended toward James.

My comment implied that the home inspector rarely, if ever, gets to see the contingency language used by our client in the purchase and sale agreement.   The first assumption with Radon is that it is a Radon in air test and not a Radon in water test.  Often a water quality test is assumed for Radon in water.

Its arguable that a Radon test might imply that the test includes both a Radon in air and a Radon in water test.  There are EPA guidelines for both tests.

Point taken that I may be overthinking this issue.  However, I prefer a call from a prospective client that is clear on the inspection services they need to satisfy the contingencies in their purchase and sale agreement.

A buyer may ask for any type of contingency, and the seller may agree with whatever the find agreeable.  If my services are solicited to resolve that contingency then I prefer the overthinking/non-vague position.

On a technical perspective, I agree that the EPA guidelines should be the baseline for a home inspector offering Radon testing services.  Any home inspector offering a different testing protocol should clearly identify that to their client.

On a personal note, I test my own home for Radon in the bathrooms and around heating registers when the furnace is operational.   I want to know the Radon values during these conditions.

Once again.  Great topic and comments!   I encourage the students in my home inspector class to read your blog.

 

Posted by Jim Mushinsky (Centsable Inspection) over 8 years ago

Jim - I've never thought about testing radon in water.  I've heard of it, but never heard of anyone actually doing it.  I guess it must come down to a regional thing.

Thanks for the endorsement!

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 8 years ago

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