Radon Testing When Buying a Home

In the last several years, radon testing has become a bit more common when buying or selling a home. I am far from a radon expert, but I often get drilled with questions about radon from buyers or sellers. Here’s what I know…

  • Radon is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that forms from the decay of elements like uranium that are found in soil and rock.
  • Radon is considered a carcinogen and high levels of radon are linked to about 20,000 lung cancer deaths every year (according to the EPA).
  • Radon is more than 8 times heavier than air. So, testing would be done in the lowest level of a home.
  • Radon levels can sometimes be high in one home, and not the home next door. I’ve seen plenty of houses in Madison, Verona, Middleton, and Mt Horeb test good and bad. It is extremely hit or miss.
  • Radon levels are measured in picoCuries per lieter (pCi/L) and it is recommended to mitigate radon if levels are higher than 4.0 pCi/L. (or 2.0 pCi/L depending on who’s literature you read).
  • Radon has been found all over the world and the United States.
  • Dane county falls into the EPA’s zone 1 which means there is a high likely hood of radon gas.

When determining if you want to test your new home for radon here’s some things to ask:

  • Has the home recently been tested for radon?
  • Is the basement sealed to help reduce the risk of radon entering the home?
  • Is there a radon mitigation system currently installed, and is it functioning?
  • How much time do you plan to spend in the lower level?

If you choose to test for radon in the process of a real estate transaction, make sure your agent writes it into your offer as a contingency. Radon tests normally range from $100 – $150, and many home inspectors can do them. If you choose not to test for radon at the time of your real estate transaction, you can test later with a $15 test kit from any home improvement store. The reason this doesn’t work as part of a real estate transaction is you have to mail in the test in to a lab and wait for the results. This is not timely enough to satisfy most real estate contract requirements. A home inspectors test will provide you results in a shorter time frame.

What do you do if you have high radon levels?

Radon levels can be reduced in your home by, sealing cracks in the basement and exhausting air from below the basement slab. A typical radon system runs from $700 – $1300 to install, and can be installed by a quality contractor in a day. Who pays for it is entirely up to how you negotiate your real estate contract.


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