Six Things To Consider Before Testing For Radon On The Home You're Buying

By
Home Inspector with Structure Tech Home Inspections

If you're buying a house in Minnesota and you want to have it tested for radon as part of your inspection contingency, here's a list of six items that the EPA says you should consider before you have the test conducted.

Where the radon test will be located

The radon test should be placed in the lowest level of the home that could be used regularly, whether it's finished or not.   I've said before that radon tests should never be placed in crawl spaces, but what if the basement ceiling height is 6' 11" ?  The Minnesota State Building Code defines a crawl space as "Areas or rooms with less than 7 feet ceiling height measured to the finished floor or grade below.” (MN Rules 1309.0202)    This is a grey area that should be discussed ahead of time.

Who should conduct the radon test

Smiley-winky-face Call Structure Tech, duh!  We've been testing radon in Minnesota for more than twenty years.

What type of radon test to do

A radon test performed with a continuous electronic monitor can be completed in as little as 48 hours.  The other type of test that is most commonly used for a real estate transaction is a charcoal canister test.  This type of test must remain in the home for minimum of 72 hours, and then the canisters must be sent to a lab for analysis.  Do you have time to get the testing completed?

When to do the radon test

The occupant of the home must maintain closed house conditions for 12 hours prior to, and throughout the duration of the radon test.  This means keeping windows and doors closed, except for normal traffic.  A few things that make this difficult would be if the seller is moving, if the home is under construction, if it's new construction, or it's a hot week in August and the home doesn't have air conditioning.  Stuff to think about...

How the seller and the buyer will share the radon test results and test costs

The issue over the test costs is a no-brainer; if the buyer wants a test, they should pay for it.  If the seller doesn't want to know about the test results, they should make that clear ahead of time.  Whywouldn't the seller want to know?  If the test is high, this must now be disclosed to any future buyers if the deal falls apart for any reason.

When radon mitigation measures will be taken, and who will pay for them.

This is the big one.  Ideally this would be decided ahead of time, but I've never heard of this actually happening.  If the radon test comes up high, most home buyers will ask the seller to install a mitigation system, but will the seller be willing to do this?

While I'm certainly an advocate of radon testing, one of the few times that I don't recommend testing for radon at the time of a home purchase is when the results aren't going to make any difference. In other words, if the buyer has decided to purchase a home regardless of the radon levels and the seller is unwilling to mitigate high levels of radon, there's no point in having a professional test performed ahead of time.  The buyers would be just as well off performing a long-term test on their own after they purchase the house.

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Rainer
39,955
Dale Ganfield

Hi Reuben, good post.  One thing you did not mention is the calibration requirements for a continuous monitor.  Would it be wise for the client to request the calibration information for the monitor and what is the mfg recommended frequency for calibration?

October 07, 2010 05:57 PM
Rainmaker
229,341
Reuben Saltzman
Minneapolis Home Inspections
Structure Tech Home Inspections

James - true, there's no need for that information, but it would be interesting to see the correlation.

Dale - the only time anyone has ever asked us for our calibration data was when they weren't happy with the test results.  When I get asked to show this, I always feel a little like someone is saying 'I don't believe you' or 'I don't trust you'.  It would be a little like someone asking you to show them proof of continuing education before hiring you for a home inspection; you'd probably feel a bit insulted.  

October 07, 2010 08:23 PM
Rainer
39,955
Dale Ganfield

Hi Reuben, I understand.  I don't do radon inspections yet, and was curious.  Thanks

October 08, 2010 08:57 AM
Rainmaker
196,734
Jim Mushinsky
Centsable Inspection

Hi Reuben - As I understand Active Charcoal Absorption Devices, the test period is recognized between 1-7 days.  The results are the average for the exposure period.  I believe the measurement process is liquid scintillation which has both chemical and electronic measurement components. It is my belief that the lab analysis requires the address of the location to calibrate the test for the humidity conditions of that location.

As I understand Continuous Radon Monitors, they are only electronic measurement devices. I believe several models are available, some with pumps and drying chambers to accommodate for humidity.  I believe that these devices require regular/frequent calibration for reliable results.  Electronic sensors exposed to air contaminants may be impaired by debris accumulation and thus require cleaning, calibration and sometimes replacement.

Radon measurement is a very interesting topic, many good points and comments.  Currently I am in favor of the Active Charcoal Absorption Devices.

 

October 14, 2010 10:00 PM
Rainmaker
229,341
Reuben Saltzman
Minneapolis Home Inspections
Structure Tech Home Inspections

Hi Jim - Active Charcoal Absorption Devices are most commonly known as 'radon canisters'.  We used to offer this type of testing, and we actually owned our own scintillation device which read the canisters.  We were the 'lab' for many other home inspectors in the area.  The minimum time allowed for this type of test was 72 hours, and there was no type of correction for humidity levels or anything else like that.  

We switched to continuous electronic monitors because they're much more reliable, and we get the results much faster.  As you mentioned, they do require a larger investment, and we pay almost $150 per machine for annual calibration.

October 15, 2010 06:01 AM
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Rainmaker
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Reuben Saltzman

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