John Kelly
(651) 238-5649

Protecting Your Family From Radon



Did you know that in Minnesota, almost one in three homes have radon levels that are above 4.0 picocuries per liter?  You don't need to know what a picocurie is, but you should know how radon affects you and your family.  The EPA estimates that radon causes over 21,000 cancer deaths per year, which is more deaths than will be caused by drunk driving, drowning, and home fires combined.  If your home has a radon level above 4.0 picocuries per liter, the EPA recommends that you have a licensed professional install a vent pipe system to pull radon from beneath your home and vent it to the outside.

How Does Radon Enter a Home?

Radon is a naturally occurring gas, but people incorrectly confuse natural with safe.  Radioactive uranium is present to some degree in almost all soils, particularly soils with a high granite content.  Radon gas, which is also radioactive,  is produced as the uranium decays.  It typically moves up from the ground and into the air.  Of course all houses are built on top of soil, and most houses have at least some uranium in the soil underneath them.  As the radon gas is produced, it can rise up into the house through cracks in the floor and walls, construction joints, and gaps around service pipes.

What are the Risks Associated with Radon?

Radon gas decays into other radioactive particles that get trapped in your lungs as you breath.  These particles can damage your lungs as they continue the process of radioactive decay.  This damage is even more profound for smokers, so the EPA publishes two different charts showing the risks of radon exposure.  At 4.0 picocuries per liter,  7 of 1000 non smokers would be expected to develop lung cancer in their lifetime, and 62 of 1000 smokers would be expected to develop lung cancer.  The EPA was rather arbitrary in setting 4.0 as the magic number at which you should have your radon levels professionally lowered.  Even at 2.0 picocuries per liter, the risks are significant, and it might be a good idea to lower the radon level in your home.

How Can My Realtor Protect Me From Radon?

I try hard to convince all of my buyers to write their purchase agreements contingent on a complete home inspection.  I feel so strongly about this that I pay for the inspections myself.  Radon gas is just one of the issues that should be addressed in the home inspection process.  If the inspector finds structural, mechanical, or safety issues with the home, you have several options.  One option is to cancel the purchase agreement--if you are unsatisfied with the results of the inspection, you are entitled to cancel the purchase agreement and owe nothing.  This rarely happens, but it is important to know that you have the option available.  When an inspection turns up unforeseen problems, the buyer and seller usually negotiate an agreement that has the seller fixing or providing payment to fix the most important defects.

A normal home inspection can be expected to cost about $350.  A radon inspection costs around $150.  If both inspections are ordered together, many inspectors provide a package deal for around $425.  I think you would be foolish to write a purchase agreement without making it contingent on a home inspection that includes a radon assessment.  It is money well spent.  Or, if you are working with me, I will pay it for you!!

Assuming the radon assessment shows an unacceptable level of radon, you would have the same options that you would have upon finding any other defects in the home:  You can cancel the purchase agreement, or continue with the purchase and deal with the problem yourself, or negotiate with the seller and get them to pay for all or part of the remedy.

While finding high radon levels in a home can be frightening, it is actually one of the most easily corrected problems that might turn up.  For around $1200, a contractor can install a vent pipe system with a fan.  This system will pull radon from beneath your home and vent it to the outside.  Because the fan will run constantly, your electric bill will go up by approximately $10 per month.  Of course if you are already living in your home, it might be hard to pay for a radon assessment and then pay an additional $2000 to fix any problems that turn up.  That's why it is important to have your home inspected before you buy it.  It is a buyers market right now, and will continue to be one for some time.  Sellers understand how difficult it is to find a qualified buyer in this market.  If the home inspection shows unacceptable radon levels, most sellers will provide payment to fix the problem and keep the purchase agreement in effect.  Of course if the seller is unwilling to fix the problem, you always have the option to cancel the purchase agreement.  Or, if you feel strongly that you are getting an excellent deal on the home, you can complete the purchase and deal with the issue yourself.  I am able to provide most of my buyers with generous cash rebates after closing, and that can take some of the sting out of having to make repairs to your home.

Where Can I Get More Info?

If you want more information on how to write a purchase agreement that is contingent on a radon inspection, please call me directly at 651-238-5649.  If you just want more information on radon, the EPA has an excellent site called  A Citizen's Guide to Radon.  
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