Is Radon testing a scam?

The hopeful buyers of my residential Ohio home hired a home inspector, and the guy installed a Radon detection unit in the basement as part of his job.

My house is 100 years old and not exactly airtight, even when closed up. Yet the directions to me as this test runs are as follows “Please leave all doors and windows closed during the run of the test, with the exception of normal egress from the house during normal daily activities.”

  1. Isn’t Radon testing a scam to begin with?
    I mean, I’m not denying the existence of chemical element 86 (Rn), but is it really that big of a problem that homes are tested for it? Everything I’ve read on Radon says that unless you live in certain portions of Iowa or the Appalachian region of PA, your chances of being affected are statistically insignificant. I have a feeling that Home Inspectors like adding this little test on because they can scare the potential home buyers into paying for an added (but unnecessary) fee.

  2. If Radon can seep through concrete foundations and clay soil and various building structures anyway, what difference does it make if I have my doors and windows open during the Radon test?

Because if its all open the stuff can’t build up to dangerous levels. Its when buildings are all closed up that problems arise. If you never closed up your house, then closing it up for the test is somewhat misleading. Most folks usually have their house closed up tight for a decent fraction of the year.

I wouldnt say its a SCAM, but IMO the risk is generally pretty low. Then again, once in a great while they find a house that is the equivalent of smoking a gazillion cigarettes a day.

Realtor here, not a home or radon inspector. Did your purchase offer permit radon testing? It cannot be done without your permission.

At least that’s the case in my state. It’s possible your state may be different, but I suggest you read the contract.

I don’t think it is a scam, although there may be disreputable testers. If your state has a licensing procedure, it would be good to see if your tester is qualified.

In my neck of the woods, radon testing isn’t usually requested by a buyer. The few times it was, the house passed. I have heard others didn’t, and was told this is a function of geology, foundation construction and condition.

When I bought the house I currently own, radon testing was a part of the purchase agreement. The house failed. The seller then had radon remediation (a fan in the basement, basically) and retesting performed, which passed.

ETA: this was in western Pennsylvania

Sure its relatively rare, but do you want to be the guy who buys the radon house?

Its a liability thing. Not to mention, sellers typically do them, so there’s no lawsuit after sale. The house buying process is full of stuff like this, to make sure that both parties are willing to close.

Not to mention, radon is scary stuff:

Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, according to EPA estimates. Overall, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year. About 2,900 of these deaths occur among people who have never smoked.

Same here (but not in Pennsylvania). The new house, which is well sealed, showed radon levels 9 times beyond what is considered acceptable. After the installation of the mitigation unit the levels dropped to less than 1/4 of the acceptable level.

No it’s not a scam. It’s a matter of identifying a potential, invisible health hazard. Most houses will pass the test. Some won’t but it is an easily correctable problem so why not check it out? A radon problem can be very localized. Just because one house in the area passed the test it doesn’t mean another one will also pass.

Also, houses stay closed in the winter. That’s primarily the time when the radon levels can build up.

I’ve bought and sold a couple of houses over the years, all in southeast Wisconsin.

Every inspector myself and potential buyers used ALL said they would gladly test for radon, but that it was not really necessary and not a one pushed the test.

None of them said it was a scam, though.

Considering these things are like 10 or 15 bucks at home depot, how much of a scam can they be?

Radon side note-

The last company I worked for made radioactive medication and regularly tested their workers. Sometimes they come up contaminated from errors in the restricted area. We’d usually go figure out where the problem was and clean it up. One guy kept coming up contaminated and we couldn’t figure out why. Somehow we tested him just after he came into work and he was contaminated. We isolated it to one of his shirts and had it analyzed only to find Radon on it. Ended up his whole family was being exposed to crazy levels of Radon in their suburban Chicago house.

Now we’re getting into contract law, and states many vary.

But in Wisconsin, what a seller knows, or might reasonably know, must be disclosed to a buyer, and the buyer signs the Real Estate Condition Report supplied by the seller, saying that any conditions disclosed on this report cannot be used as grounds for a later suit.

In areas where radon contamination is rare, it is usually up to the buyer to request and pay for tests, although who pays is negotiable.

A professional radon test costs about $150. I’m not sure a $15 home test kit would be equivalent.

Mitigation may be cheap or expensive depending on the problem, source and solution. I wouldn’t assume it is “easily correctable” in all cases.

No, definatly not a scam.

One reason that one house might have a problem when the rest of the neighborhood is fine is due to the fill work done when grading the site. Depending on the souce of the fill, it might produce high levels of radon.

I know this was a huge problem around Grand Junction, CO. In the 1940s and 50s there was uranium mining in the area, and the tailings got used for fill when some of the houses were built.

Countless hours of training, 3 licenses, machine cost and fuel use driving back and forth to do the test it does not pay.

If someone was doing 20 tests a week possibly a profitible buisness. But 20 tests equals 40 round trips to a residence.

Most do it including myself as a addition to home inspections.

What do you think the guy said when he was wrapping pipes with asbestos and found out it was a hazerdous material? I am far from a scientist but assure you that the people who work for the epa are much smarter than the ones on this forum.

Whoa, whoa, whoa… thems fightin’ words.

Why join a board just to dis the natives? Plus, dude has no idea how wrong he is…

I’m doing as best as I can. :smiley:


At least we know to spell it EPA, if you mean Environmental Protection Agency. Never heard of an epa.

Give ri-inspections a break. You don’t get to find out how smart this board is without lurking a while and digesting a few posts from Chronos, Asymptotically Fat, Stranger and others.

My question is this. Radon seems to be a US thing. I have never heard of it being a problem anywhere else. Round here they test for termites (which can’t be gotten rid of with a fan btw.) Are there other locations that test for Rn in basements? What is peculiar about the US that causes Rn to be a problem?

Not a US only thing. Also detected on the moon.

Great. Remind me never to build on the moon.

Seriously though, If Radon arises as a result of radioactive decay of minerals in the rocks and because of its density it is capable of accumulating in buildings and this accumulation leads to emission of alpha particles (which it is oft quoted can be stopped by a sheet of paper)…

  1. How serious a problem is it really? It seems that it could be mitigated by a number of straightforward mechanisms.
  2. Why is it that I have only heard of Radon problems in the context of US houses? Is there some peculiarity to US geology that means exposure to radioactive minerals in populated areas is greater than elsewhere in the world? Or is it that other countries do not recognise the problem and monitor it? Perhaps house design is a factor. Or am I experiencing reporting bias?

Alpha emitters aren’t very dangerous in general as the particles are stopped very easily (as you noted). The problem with radon is that it is a gas, and therefore gets inhaled into your lungs where the radiation gets absorbed by your lung tissues. Since these tissues don’t have a protective layer like the layer of dead skin cells on the outside of your body, the radiation causes them harm.

While this much isn’t really in dispute, the actual danger level of radon is a bit disputed. What everyone seems to agree on is that the risk is greater if you are a smoker (I’ve never really heard a good explanation for why this is).

FWIW, the EPA claims that it causes 21,000 deaths per year from lung cancer. The EPA website has more details and other statistics:

I can’t speak about other countries. I know that here in the U.S. it’s generally only a problem with newer homes. Energy efficient homes don’t “breathe” as much as older homes. The greater insulation helps to keep the heat in or out, depending on the season, which reduces your cooling and heating costs. The lack of air transfer means that radon seeping up out of the ground gets trapped in the basement and builds up to higher levels.

As you said, it can be easily mitigated. Houses are tested for radon, and if it is found in high enough concentrations some ventilation is added to allow the radon to disperse instead of accumulating.

Radon is naturally occurring all over the world. It is higher in concentration in some areas than others, but the U.S. isn’t particularly saturated with the stuff in any exceptional way.

How many non-(mainly)US boards do you frequent? How many non-US news sources do you read? For it to be reporting bias you need to be reading a lot of local news in a lot of places.

Radon is a big problem in areas of Norway too. The school building I’m working in right now had two classrooms and the auditorium closed down for weeks last year after testing showed average levels above mandated limits. Sealing foundation cracks and changing the timing on the ventilation fans and retesting to show that the levels had only been too high during the night when the ventilation was off allowed us to start using the rooms again.