Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

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Vacant Houses Don't Have More Radon

As a Minnesota home inspector who does a lot of radon testing, I hear a lot of myths about radon being repeated over and over again.  I've actually heard other home inspectors perpetuate a few of these radon myths as well.

Myth: vacant houses have high levels of radon. The idea behind this myth is that radon will build up in a house while it's sitting vacant, so a radon test on a vacant house won't be accurate.  This simply isn't true.  Radon has a very short half-life; as radon particles die off, they're replaced with new ones.  A radon test conducted on a vacant house will be just as accurate as a test conducted at an occupied home, all things being equal.

Myth: radon is mostly found in older houses. In reality, the radon doesn't care how old the house is.  Both new and old houses can have radon problems; we have found zero correlation between radon levels and the age of the home.

The one bit of unintentional truth to this myth is that starting in June of 2009, Minnesota began requiring passive radon mitigation systems in all new construction homes.  We've performed many radon tests on these new homes, and have yet to find a single new construction house with a high radon level.

Myth: opening the second story windows shouldn't affect the radon test, because the test is located in the basement. The problem with this myth is that houses act like chimneys.  Opening the windows on the second floor might actually increase the radon levels in the home.  For a valid test, the windows in the house need to be kept closed.

Myth: radon tests should always be placed in the lowest level of the home. If the home has a crawl space or a basement that nobody will be spending any time in, why in the world would you want to know what the radon level is down there?  If you're testing your own home, put the test in the lowest level of the home that you use regularly.  For a real estate transaction, the radon test should be placed in the lowest level of the home that could be used regularly.

Myth: radon tests aren't needed for homes with walkout basements. While we've found that radon levels in homes with walkout basements tend to generally be lower, this is certainly no guarantee that the radon levels will be low.  The highest radon level we've found at a home with a walkout basement was nearly four times higher than the EPA action level.

Myth: granite countertops have an effect on radon levels in a home. This myth gained popularity in 2008 because of a media scare.  You don't need to worry about granite countertops.  They're fine.  You can read more about this myth here - radon in granite.

Myth: you need to hire a professional to test for radon. The do-it-yourself radon test kits that you buy online or at a home improvement store will work just fine.  It takes a little longer to get the results, but these kits are far less expensive than hiring a professional to test your home for radon.

Myth: holy water will keep radon from entering a home. Ok, I made that last one up.  That concludes my list of the most common myths about radon.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections

        

Comment balloon 32 commentsReuben Saltzman • July 12 2011 05:44AM

Comments

Good information thanks.

Posted by Tom Meyer (Exit Advantage Realty) over 7 years ago

Thank you for the information. I will share it with others. I thought if they open second story windows it will decrease the level of radon.

Posted by Gita Bantwal, REALTOR,ABR,CRS,SRES,GRI - Bucks County & Philadel (RE/MAX Centre Realtors) over 7 years ago

Reuben, Higher than 4.0 results are pretty common in our corner of Ohio.  And like you point out, there are quite a few misunderstandings regarding radon.

Posted by Liz and Bill Spear, RE/MAX Elite Warren County OH (Cincinnati/Dayton) (RE/MAX Elite 513.520.5305 www.LizTour.com) over 7 years ago

There are pockets of radon throughout our market area and if a mitigation system is not in place, our buyers most always test for it....not heard the one about veing vacant...interesting ! 

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Realtors - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) over 7 years ago

Hi Reuben,

Good information for those who face a "RADON" problem. In this area we are at a steady 2.5 to 4.0 This is a good constant. I don't get calls for any radon tests here. I've only done two on commercial properties since I have been inspecting. But this is an issue in the north.

Thanks for sharing.

Clint McKie 

Posted by Clint Mckie, Desert Sun Home, Comm. Inspection 1-575-706-5586 (Desert Sun Home, commercial Inspections) over 7 years ago

Thanks for sharing all this great information about radon.

Posted by Katie McBride, The McBride Team (RE/MAX Executive Realty) over 7 years ago

Reuben, thanks for clearing up many of the mysteries we hear about radon.  The granite counter top myth got a lot of play here. 

Posted by Kevin J. May, Serving the Treasure & Paradise Coasts of Florida (Florida Supreme Realty) over 7 years ago

You forgot one - even low levels of radon increase the amount of VOCs and lead in the air.   The radon gas makes everything else expel more than it normally would, including lead-based paint.

Yeah, I know, but I have heard it.

And you MUST call a radon guy for the best, and cutest, radon test results.   Just sayin'...     ;>)

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Hello Reuben, what a well laid out post about an issue that gets a lot of attention here in Western North Carolina.  While our area rarely sees a result above 4, our neighboring counties have gotten back scary numbers in the teens and twenties.

This was the most interesting myth buster to me:

"Myth: radon tests should always be placed in the lowest level of the home. If the home has a crawl space or a basement that nobody will be spending any time in, why in the world would you want to know what the radon level is down there?  If you're testing your own home, put the test in the lowest level of the home that you use regularly.  For a real estate transaction, the radon test should be placed in the lowest level of the home that could be used regularly."

I hope you don't mind, but I'd like to re-blog your post, it is so much more succinct than the brochure we supply to concerned buyers. Thanks for the education.

Posted by Mona Gersky, GRI,IMSD-Taking the mystery out of real estate. (MoonDancer Realty, Dillsboro,NC) over 7 years ago

Good information.

 

The granite issue was an interesting one.

Posted by Keith Lawrence, ABR, CDPE, SFR, 203K Specialist (RE/MAX Properties) over 7 years ago

Thanks Rueben,

I always thought that a vacant home should always have a radon test to be safe...also I thought that granite might have Radon depending on where the granit came from....good news that isn't always true!

Posted by Ginny Lee, CRS, Realtor, CDPE & ASP,Americas Best Agent,Naple (Americas Best Agents, Inc/Premiere Plus Realty, Inc) over 7 years ago

Reuben, had a listing a few years ago that tested positive for radon. The fix was pretty easy and the home went to closing as scheduled. Good post squelching those myths.

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA over 7 years ago

I attended an inspection meeting with all parties and the inspector announces that the 1 acre lot and the house on it is built on top of granite and that granite gives off radon and then paused...I cringed thinking this guy is killing my deal when he then said, but it is minor and granite is a rock solid foundation to have a house built on in case of earthquake...What a roller coaster ride that was.....thank you Reuben

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) over 7 years ago

interesting info about radon. in north carolina, the informational site is www.ncRadon.org. I like the idea of a passive radon control system - not much up front cost and a time and $$ saver if there is a future problem

Posted by Daniel H. Fisher, MCRP - Charlotte Real Estate, NC or SC (www.FisherHermanRealty.com (704) 617-3544) over 7 years ago

Hi Reuben,  Sure are a lot of myths I never heard of.  Who knows maybe I will!  Are you sure about the Holy Water?

Posted by Pat Zachow (HomeSmart) over 7 years ago

You have definitely demonstrated your expertise in regards to Radon.  I didn't know about many of these myths, but clearly you did and that's why a homeowner needs a home inspector like yourself as a part of their team.

Posted by Eileen Hsu, LICENSED REAL ESTATE SALESPERSON (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Thank you for the information!

Posted by Kerissa Payne, ABR, SRS, e-PRO, SRES (The Kerissa Payne Team at eXp Realty) over 7 years ago

Reuben - thanks for this information. It's always good to know more about this. Thanks

Posted by Robert and Lisa Hammerstein -201-315-8618, Bergen County NJ Real Estate (Keller Williams Valley Realty) over 7 years ago

Reuben,

This is very worthwhile and very informative. I've bookmarked this and will use it as a reference.

Thanks,

Brian

Posted by Brian Madigan, LL.B., Broker (RE/MAX West Realty Inc., Brokerage (Toronto)) over 7 years ago

Lots of information I had no idea existed, we don't encounter a lot of Radon testing in Manhattan, but it's always good to know.

Posted by Morgan Evans, LICENSED REAL ESTATE SALESPERSON (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Reuben -- I have come across many people who think new homes don't need to be tested.  Wrong. Also, have had people tell me their neighbors were tested and if their home was ok, then all the others  in the immediate area would be ok as well. Wrong again.  Great information!

Posted by Barbara Altieri, REALTOR-Fairfield County CT Homes/Condos For Sale (RealtyQuest/Kinard Realty Group, Fairfield and New Haven County CT Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Most be all the holy water in the Catholic churches here.:)

I've never been asked about it even, in 5 years of inspecting.

Geologically this area is a glacial era lake bed and the thick basal layer of clay would function as a impremiable boundary layer to stop gasses.

But it is not uniform, there are rock out crops, so there can always be exceptions to the general rule. The only way to know is to test.

Posted by Robert Butler, Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection (Aspect Inspection) over 7 years ago

Reuben, another post with great information.  Radon has not been publicized in Canada to same level as the U.S., but we will get there soon.

Posted by Chris Smith, South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta (Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage) over 7 years ago

Where do people come up with this stuff? Great post to clear up questions for those who don't know.

Posted by Barbara-Jo Roberts Berberi, MA, PSA, TRC - Greater Clearwater Florida Residential Real Estate Professional, Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater, Safety Harbor (Charles Rutenberg Realty) over 7 years ago

This is good to know, even though we in CA> really don't have an issue with Radon, because even though we don't have many homes with basements we do have out of state buyers that ask about this issue.

Posted by Victor Zuniga (Berkshire Hathaway Home Services California Properties) over 7 years ago

You forgot if there are no spiders there is radon in the house. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that one.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 7 years ago

Thanks for reading everyone!

Gita - I've heard that one too.

Salley & David - I hear that one about houses being vacant all the time.

Clint - when there's a service I never get requests for, I just turn it away :)

Kevin - I remember that.

Jay - that must be a regional myth.  I've never heard that one before.  You're certainly right about the best reasons to call a pro ;)

 

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Mona - please do, thanks!

Richie - I think that inspector enjoyed sending you guys on  ride :)

Daniel - the largest investment in the passive system is the 4" (or is it 6"?) of rock underneath the house slab.  This will be several hundred dollars, but still much less than retrofitting a mitigation system.

Pat - actually, I'm not sure that the holy water thing is a myth.  I've never tested it :)

Barbara - Yeah, I forgot to mention the one about the neighbors.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Robert - so what does that clay do for your foundations?

Chris - thanks for re-blogging :)

James - that's a new one for me.  Is that supposed to be a cause or effect thing?  As in, "there are no spiders, so the radon must have killed 'em all", or "The house has a high level of radon.  You better install a mitigation system, or get some spiders."

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Hi Reuben - Nice post on Radon.  In my opinion, the Radon test conditions should resemble the way you intend to use your home. 

Myth: opening the second story windows shouldn't affect the radon test, because the test is located in the basement. The problem with this myth is that houses act like chimneys.  Opening the windows on the second floor might actually increase the radon levels in the home.  For a valid test, the windows in the house need to be kept closed.

An open window versus closed window does not alter the test equipment.  The Radon reading will indicate the level of Radon at the test equipment.  Radon is heavier than air, without air circulation, the Radon is likely to accumulate at the lowest level of the home.  In my home, I like to have the windows open in the summer months.  I also have a big screen TV and comfortable couches in the lowest level where often times someone falls asleep.  I want to know the Radon level during these conditions.  There is nothing invalid about this test. 

Myth: radon tests should always be placed in the lowest level of the home. If the home has a crawl space or a basement that nobody will be spending any time in, why in the world would you want to know what the radon level is down there?  If you're testing your own home, put the test in the lowest level of the home that you use regularly.  For a real estate transaction, the radon test should be placed in the lowest level of the home that could be used regularly.

Knowing the Radon level around an air handler may be significant.  When there is an air handler for a furnace or central AC system, I'll talk to the client about the potential for elevated levels of Radon in the crawlspace with the air handler and the mixing of conditioned and unconditioned air via duct leaks.

In my opinion, the testing protocols appear to favor database comparison numbers over the normal or typical usage of the home by the occupants.  I also test in my bathrooms to get an idea of the Radon in the steam/water vapor and air mixed together.

Of course, I always ask my physician how many deaths in the town are linked to Radon.  I haven't found one yet.

 

 

Posted by Jim Mushinsky (Centsable Inspection) over 7 years ago

@ Jim, Unfortunately tour opinion with regard to radon testing, should be just that your opinion. The EPA has established national standards which define the testing procedures. If you some how feel the EPA is wrong, that's fine, but if you conduct your tests in the manner you are describing then that isn't okay. The problem I see in the radon testing industry, at least in CT, is a complete lack of training and understanding of the mechanics of radon gas by many of those who test. The state has no over site in place or requirements for training. Anyone can test a home for radon without ever sitting down in a classroom. They also can not be held accountable for their work.

If you weren't aware the reason for closed house conditions for real estate transactions is to closely approximate the conditions when the house would be closed up, say in the winter. Also you may not be aware is that 90% of short term test  agree with a long term test perfomed later. This blog and everything Reuben has talked about is spot on according to the EPA testing protocols.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 7 years ago

Jim - ditta what James said.  

You say there is nothing invalid about testing your house with the windows open in the summer... but according to EPA protocol for radon testing, this would be an invalid test.

Also, I gotta disagree with testing the air around an air handler.  You're supposed to test the livable areas to learn how much radon the inhabitants are exposed to, not the unhabitable areas to make conjectures on how much radon they could potentially be exposed to.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

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