Services: Radon Testing

 Why would anyone need a radon testing?

We do radon testing actually, rather than an inspection. There is an inspection to make sure the home is properly prepared, but it’s a radon test technically. 

Why you need it is that the Louisville, Kentucky, and southern Indiana area has moderate to high levels of radon. And it can cause severe health risks to live with high levels of radon in your home.

Where does radon come from?

It has to do with uranium and how it decays in the ground. You can see a map of our area from the EPA site below.

louisville radon inspection areas and zonesEach state is color-coded by each county and how hot it may be for exposure to radon. In our area, there’s nothing in the low zone. We’re all moderate to hot. So it’s a life-saving test.

What are the risks of high levels of radon?

Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer for non-smokers, second only to tobacco. There’s around 25,000 deaths in the US alone due to radon.

The concentrations build up within our homes where we spend most of our time. So our exposure is much greater in our homes than it is pretty much anywhere else. And those high concentrations actually cause damage to the lung tissue and can result in lung cancer.

In our area, it’s almost a must that you get a radon test. It’s still an option though, there are no laws that say that you have to do a radon test, with the exception of loans that are backed by FHA.

If you’re using an FHA-backed loan program, you are required by law to test for radon. That’s a step in the right direction because it’s one of those unspoken dangers that are out there. A lot of people just are not aware.

It’s interesting when you compare it to drunk driving. We’ve got a lot of laws in place regarding drunk driving because of the public outcry after unnecessary deaths due to it. So now we have some severe penalties for drunk driving.

Same thing with house fires. There are codes in place that you have to have smoke detectors in certain places of your home and most families have escape routes because of house fires.

But fire and drunk-driving deaths combined don’t meet the death toll from radon each year. Surprisingly the public is unaware. So to answer the question, why? Because it’s a life-saving service and every home should be tested for it.

Should I get a radon test with my home inspection?

In most cases the radon test takes place when the home is being inspected. It’s a choice that you have to make. Maybe the home’s got a septic system that you want tested or a well that you want tested, and you want to do a termite inspection as well, so while everything else is going on, you should definitely do include it during the process as well. 

Sad to say there are a lot of people who have owned their home for years and are not aware of radon. They’re living in these homes with high levels and when they go to sell their home, all of the sudden a buyer comes in who’s been made aware of radon and the home owner finds out for the first time about it that they’ve been living in a home that’s basically been toxic for multiple years.

I would like to see it become a mandatory thing and something that maybe that the seller would take care of, because there’s nobody living in a home right now that has high levels of radon that wouldn’t want it corrected. So yes, you should always do it during the home inspection.

I’ve seen it happen where a buyer decides that they’re not going to do the radon test for whatever reason and after a few years they decide to sell. Now when a buyer comes in and does a radon test, if it comes back with a high level, not only have they lived there for this long period of time breathing radon, but now, it’s their expense to fix it.

And they have to fix it because they have to disclose it to any buyer that might come along. So you definitely want to do it when you’re purchasing a home because the chances are, when you sell it in the future, you could get stuck paying for it.

When you buy a home, radon becomes your problem. If there’s someone living in it, it’s their problem until you purchase the home. It’s very important for the health of your family, number one, and second, financially down the road if you don’t incur that cost, how are you going to sell the home?

How much does a radon inspection cost?

The cost of radon inspections, or testing, is pretty varied in our area. There are some national franchises who charge quite a bit, but the typical radon test in our area can cost, on average, around $150 if you order it with a home inspection. We can also perform radon testing only as a standalone service and that radon test in our area can cost, on average, around $170. 

There are some companies charging as much as $200, $225, $250 for radon testing. We own our own machines, so we don’t have to sub out or rent the machines like a lot of other companies do. That’s how we’re able to keep the cost affordable.

Generally, we’re coming to the home anyway to do the home inspection, so we set the machine out 2 days in advance (because it’s a 48 hour test) so we can deliver all of the reports at the same time. 

What exactly is a radon inspection and how does it work?

It’s important that the seller or the occupant of the home understand what the radon test consists of. Once it’s ordered, we send confirmation emails to explain closed-house conditions.

Closed-house conditions must take place at least 12 hours prior to a test. That basically means that we want normal living conditions without the windows standing open, doors standing open, any kind of outside exchange air coming in to the home other than the normal front door in-and-out traffic.

It’s important that those conditions takes place. Our machines are sophisticated enough that if we arrive at the home and those conditions aren’t met, we’ll see an error message from them.

How can I prepare for a radon testing? 

There are some things to do prior to setting out the monitoring device. We’ll walk through the home and make sure that the dryer vent’s not open, the damper on the fireplace is closed, etc, to make sure that we are getting the standards for closed-house conditions.

Once it has been determined that it’s good to go, we set the machine to test the lowest livable area of the home because that’s where the concentration of radon is typically the greatest.

As radon rises it will plate out on objects that it comes in contact with. It won’t stick to anything, it’ll come right out through the pores in your concrete, but it does plate out over time. So you always want to test in that lowest lived-in level.

Can anything go wrong during a radon inspection? 

The device has anti-tampering built into it. So basically if we set the machine and someone comes by and leaves a towel over it or something, the machine flags that there’s been some sort of motion or tampering with it. Its flagged on that hour of the test because the test result shows you hour-by-hour readings.

Once the test has been completed and there are no flags and everything’s checks out fine, we retrieve the machine 48 hours later and deliver the results.

Results are the radon levels in the home. To keep it simple, 4.0 is what the EPA says is the action level. So a 3.9 in a real estate transaction would be acceptable. If you have a 4.0 radon level in your home, they recommend that you install a mitigation system to correct the problem.

Is there anything else I need to know about the radon-testing process?

It’s very important that you use someone who is licensed up to state requirements. Indiana is a license state and Kentucky is headed that way. When you do that, it insures that you get the highest quality service and results. 

The machines themselves have to be calibrated once a year and then sent into a laboratory to be tested. Then as the machines come out of the laboratory, they get cross checked with other machines that have been out for six months. And every 10 times we set out a machine we have to set it with a specialized kit.

Radon testing is very serious stuff. It has to be tracked, it has to be turned into the state, so please make sure that you are having it done by a qualified professional.

Can I test for radon myself? 

You can test your own home yourself. For someone that just wants to know, you can go to Home Depot or Lowes, any retailer hardware store, and pick up a do-it-yourself charcoal canister kit to test radon. They will not typically stand up to a real-estate transaction however, but they do give you a good sense of if you have a high level.

With a home kit, you’ll only get one number to go off of, as opposed to our machines that give you the actual hour-by-hour highs and lows of the counts.

So, the home you’re living in now, if it’s never been tested, whether your doing a home inspection or not, it would be a smart move for you to test it.

Can the radon levels in my home change?

It can change. We do a 48-hour test so it’s a short snapshot in time. The only true way to know you’re complete overall average is to do what they call a long-term test.

A long-term test is 90 days or more. And the longer the better. They give you a better feel for the overall results.

Why and how can the radon level change?

Radon is a very “lazy” gas. The way I like to explain it is, say you pop the top on a Coke or a Pepsi and you get the fizz. That’s kind of what’s going on with radon all the time, it’s just microscopic, and you can’t see it, smell it, or taste it.

It’s susceptible to high wind, rain, and snow, and the weather conditions and barometric pressure will drive it back in the ground. So you’re apt to get high levels during those times.

Depending on the weather during the time that you tested, it could have an impact on your results. Especially when it’s right at the mark, 3.9, 4.1, either over or under. A big storm during the test could cause it to be raised.

It’s very common for the seller of the home to say, “Hey, we had a storm and that’s what caused the high level.” That’s true, but in the buyer’s defense, they’re going to be living there when it’s storming. 

Everybody needs to understand the limitations of the testing and that you’re going to be occupying the home during all sorts of conditions. 

So it’s really good for the buyer that the home be tested under those conditions.

Can a high radon level in a home be fixed?

Yes, because radon is fortunately such a lazy gas, as I explained earlier, it makes it an easy fix.

Say you’re on a basement or a slab home. What they do to fix it is go through the concrete, drill several holes, and put a pipe through the holes that has an exhaust fan built into it and they actually suck the radon gas out of the home before it can get in. 

Even in the Louisville and southern Indiana area, which is notorious for extremely high levels of radon, and I’m talking in the 400 plus levels, it’s the same fix. Whether the level is 401 or 4.1 it’s the same thing to get it fixed.

In most new construction homes they put in a passive system. That’s the plumbing I was just talking about, the piping, but they leave the fan out. That way, when a buyer comes in and they choose to do a radon test, it’s just a matter of putting the fan in. This way they don’t have to bust through the ceiling, walls, or floors to get the system installed.

Fortunately it is an easy fix. The exception to that is older homes. A lot of times they would pour their concrete, footer, and flooring all at once, right on top of the ground. That can be tricky to fix. I’ve only heard  of two homes in my career (and we’ve done thousands and thousands of home inspections) that could not be corrected due to that problem because there was no way to actually get that suction from the slab at all.

Will I have to worry about radon gas in the future if I get a mitigation system?

You should test for radon every two years because the mitigation system uses a mechanical fan to create suction and parts wear. Generally they only come with a year or two warranty. That’s why they draw the mark there. 

The mitigation device that corrects the problem is installed with a gauge, a liquid filled, u-shaped gauge, and there’s a set of numbers in the center. So that should always be offset, you should be able to walk down there at any time and monitor the gauge. The gauge will let you know you’ve lost the suction to draw it out, so it does come with a monitoring device.

So you should test every couple of years, or more often. And the do-it-yourself kits that you can get at the hardware store are 25 or 30 bucks. That’s a cheap price to pay for peace of mind to know the machine is working.