Concerned about buying or selling a home with Radon? You’ll find no need to worry if you educate yourself with the facts. Radon is found all over the United States, and one home can show a reading while the house next door shows nothing. From a real estate perspective, buyers can consider it a plus if a mitigation system is already in place, because that means the house has been tested, and fixed, and there’s no mystery. On the flip side, sellers can confidently let potential buyers see the radon results of a house, along with any mitigation, in a positive light, because information is more honorable than ignorance. I figure the good karma alone would pay off…
Radon is a radioactive gas found in soil and rock, formed by the decay of uranium, which is a natural process. Radon poisoning is invisible, with no odor or taste. Statistics say that radon hasn’t been shown to negatively affect home sales, but after my own experience of having the option to buy a house with radon, I wondered if that statistic was really true. I didn’t want to buy a “cancer-causing radon house” but that was a very uneducated and closed end thought. Ironically, I was ready and willing to buy a house that didn’t even mention radon at all. Of course, it had to finally occur to me, “What if this other house has radon too, and it’s just never been tested?”
In retrospect, our situation made me think that the psychology of not mentioning it at all could be pretty slick, and affective, but only initially. The truth is, there are still many people who – innocently – don’t consider it an important part of buying or selling a home; it simply doesn’t occur to them. There are many who even consider radon a scam entirely. However, out of respect and consideration for the market, it would probably be wise to have test results on hand.
Would you rather know, or choose ignorance? I’d rather know, particularly if a house had a high level that needed to be addressed with mitigation. An extremely high level, like 20 pCi/L (pico Curies per Liter) might spook me a little, but my chances of getting lung cancer even then (without mitigation) would only be 36 out of 1000, and that’s IF I were exposed over a lifetime. Statistics say that a level of 20 pCi/L would cause lung cancer to 260 out of 1000 people if they were exposed to that level for a lifetime AND they also smoked cigarettes. So obviously the level is hugely reduced for non-smokers, but we all know that smoking is its own risk anyway.
Human nature doesn’t typically want to think about risks and our emotional interpretation of them with numbers, charts and comparisons. Any one of us could still get hit by a bus tomorrow, right? Still, information offers wisdom, and to make a decision as a home buyer, you should take a look at the numbers with a mitigation system in place so you can at least see that there’s no need for extensive fear.
Mitigation systems can reduce whatever level of radon that is present down to 2 to 4 pCi/L. Because of the very definition of radon, the EPA can’t say that they consider any level safe, but they do say that 2 to 4 pCi/L is acceptable, with minimal risks. If mitigation lowers radon to an acceptable level, the EPA says your chances of getting lung cancer are only about 5 in 1000. With lower numbers like that, one realizes that walking or living in pollution over a lifetime could just as easily have ramifications too, like a dozen or more other factors. Okay, so, “Warning: being alive will kill you one day.” No big surprise there.
It’s nothing to make fun of, but very low levels of radon need not be perceived as alarms that make home buyers run for the hills. Humans have been living with varying amounts of radon in the earth and air for a long time, completely oblivious to it for the most part. It fluctuates with warm and cold, damp and dry conditions, and furthermore, there are worse things in the world that can be just as hazardous to our health, if not more so. Don’t become phobic, but stop and think about the chemistry, biology and toxins all over our environments; some of our cleaning products, molds, pesticides, pets, and even food choices… Heaven help us if we over-analyze “indoor pollution” and “what’s in that dust?”
Here are some things to consider, just to make sure you’re informed and have no unnecessary fears or misconceptions.
How long might you live in the house? Some people buy a house to live in for a lifetime while others know that they will want to take it up a notch in 5 or so years. Radon’s health risks are charted to show how a person’s health would be affected over a lifetime of exposure; this is probably equivalent to 20 years or more. The risk for only 5 to 10 years of exposure would likely show lower risks than the EPA’s “over a lifetime” chart.
According to the EPA, the average indoor radon level is estimated to be about 1.3 pCi/L. If you buy a home that hasn’t been tested at all, consider that this average exists.
Yes, radon is a hazard, but it can be fixed. Have confidence in mitigation systems, and if you have any doubt, contact the National Radon Hotline at 1-800-SOS RADON to ask if there are mitigation professionals in your area that can check the system. If they can’t tell you, they can at least give you the number to your state’s radon office so you can find out about trained mitigation contractors in your area.
Study the Environmental Protection Agency’s website (www.epa.gov) to find many consumer resources, including information about radon and health, and how various mitigation systems work.
If you’re in love with a house that you want to buy, don’t hesitate to ask the seller to test for radon, even though it may take some extra time. If the score shows radon above the “acceptable” level, know that mitigation can either be requested as a contingency in your offer, or you can try to get a fair reduction on the price of the house to accommodate your cost of adding mitigation.