Radon Testing in Real Estate

    Radon is an odorless, invisible, radioactive gas that can enter your home from the ground through cracks in the foundation. A known human carcinogen, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer.
    Pennsylvania has one of the most serious radon problems in the United States. Approximately 40% of Pennsylvania homes have radon levels above Environmental Protection Agency’s action guideline of 4 picocuries per liter.
    You can search for radon test data by zip code, but hands down, the smartest thing to do is to test your home for radon, no matter where you live. Protect yourself and your loved ones: Do a home radon test.
    • What information is available regarding radon and real estate transactions?
    • I’m buying a house. Should I have it tested for radon?
    • I’m selling a house. Should I have it tested for radon?
    • Can vacant houses be tested for radon?
    • The seller of the house I want to buy disclosed a radon level of 2. Should this be a deterrent to buying?
    • Information on Radon in Pennsylvania specifically
    • Order a test kit
    • EPA’s Radon Guide for Buyers and Sellers
    • Pennsylvania DEP website on Radon

    What information is available regarding radon and real estate transactions?

    The EPA publication Home Buyer’s and Seller’s Guide to Radon details several aspects related to radon testing during real estate transactions. You can find information on radon, the protocols for radon testing during real estate transactions, and guidance as to how to interpret your radon test results.

    I’m buying a house. Should I have it tested for radon?

    The EPA recommends that all houses, regardless of what radon zone the house is located in, be tested for radon during point of sale. The most common procedure for radon testing during real estate transactions is for the potential buyer to request the radon test as part of the overall home inspection. The radon test is generally a separate service and must be requested. If the radon test is 4 pCi/L or greater, the EPA recommends the potential buyer negotiate with the seller to have a radon mitigation system installed with the stated goal of bringing the radon level in the home below 4 pCi/L.

    I’m selling a house. Should I have it tested for radon?

    The homeowner of a house can test their home prior to listing the home for sale. If the homeowner does perform a radon test, most if not all states will require that the test result be disclosed on the whole house disclosure form you will fill out with your realtor. If the initial test by the homeowner comes back less than 4 pCi/L, potential buyers may still request an additional radon test as part of their home inspection. If an initial radon test by the homeowner is 4 pCi/L or greater, the issue will need to be addressed in the real estate transaction. A buyer may want to have a confirmatory test conducted. With an average radon level of 4 pCi/L or greater, it is recommended that a radon mitigation system be installed prior to placing the house on the market, to bring the radon level to less than 4 pCi/L.

    Can vacant houses be tested for radon?

    Yes. Radon levels in a home, under typical operating conditions, will commonly reach a steady state with mild fluctuations about 12 hours after the house is closed up. Vacant houses will experience factors that may drive radon levels to lower or higher than normal averages, but the effect cannot be predicted. If the house is opened up for ventilation purposes prior to the test, it should then be closed up and a test started no sooner than 12 hours later. If short-term radon testing is being used, then the house has to be kept closed except for normal entry and exit, as if it were the winter heating season. It is recommended that the home’s heating and cooling system be operated normally for the season. If the average indoor level is 4 pCi/L, then it is expected that the radon level will be near to that average after 12 hours of a house being closed.

    The seller of the house I want to buy disclosed a radon level of 2. Should this be a deterrent to buying?

    This level should not be a deterrent to buying a home. In fact, any level should not be a deterrent to buying a home because radon can almost always be reduced in a home, and to levels below the EPA guideline of 4. Many times post mitigation tests are in the range of 1-3. The level of 2 would be a very good result for a home that had a mitigation system installed to reduce the level from a much higher number. As long as the issue is resolved in the real estate transaction, the radon level should not be a deterrent to buying any home. Achieving lower radon levels when the starting concentration is between 2 to 4 is not likely to be something a radon contractor would guarantee under typical conditions for a set price.

    Radon in Pennsylvania

    The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) urges all Pennsylvanians to test their homes for radon, a deadly radioactive gas that’s the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers in the United States. DEP also urged residents to take action to reduce radon levels in their homes if they are high.

    “Due to our geology, radon is found everywhere in Pennsylvania. For that reason, we urge residents to test their homes to protect themselves and their family’s health,” said DEP Secretary John Quigley. “Winter is the best time to test your home for radon because doors and windows are typically closed and tightly sealed, producing the most accurate results.”

    January is Radon Action Month, and a great time to test. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets the “action level” for radon at 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air. Residents with levels at or above that figure should take steps to lower them.

    Testing for radon is the only way to know if a home, school, workplace or other structure has elevated concentrations of radon. Test kits can be purchased at most hardware or home improvement stores at an average cost of $15 to $25 per test. If you are uncomfortable doing the testing yourself you can hire a state-certified radon tester, or if you are selling your home and want a radon test, it is best to hire a certified tester. The cost of a mitigation system typically ranges around $1,000.

    Pennsylvania law requires all radon service providers, such as radon testers, radon mitigators and radon laboratories to be certified by DEP. The list of Pennsylvania-certified radon service providers is updated monthly and available on DEP’s website. You can also obtain a hard copy of the directory or verify a company’s certification by calling 800-23RADON.

    In 2014, the highest radon level ever recorded in the U.S. was found in a home in Lehigh County. The concentration measured was 3,715 pCi/L, more than 900 times EPA’s action level of 4 pCi/L. DEP recommended the owners vacate their home until it could be remediated to safe levels.

    “Approximately 20,000 lung cancer deaths per year are attributable to radon exposure so the threat is very real,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Karen Murphy. “Radon exposure combined with smoking is a particularly lethal combination so we encourage everyone to take steps to reduce their risk.”

    If you are building a new home, DEP recommends installing a passive radon system during construction. If high radon levels are found when the home is completed, a fan can be readily installed. There are good reasons to install a radon system during construction:

    • There is no reliable way to test the ground in advance for radon.
    • The average residential radon level in Pennsylvania is 7-8 picocuries per liter.
    • The cost of installing the radon system during construction should be less than installing one after the fact.
    • Building the radon system internally should keep aesthetics of the home intact. If radon is not addressed during construction, an outside radon system may be required if the radon test comes back greater than 4 picocuries per liter.

    For people buying or selling a home, Pennsylvania’s Real Estate Seller Disclosure Act requires sellers to disclose the results of any known radon testing. DEP’s website lists radon testing options for real estate transactions

    DEP, in cooperation with Commonwealth Media Services, has produced a public service announcement about the importance of radon testing. The PSA is currently airing on Pennsylvania, television and radio stations during January. The PSA is available on DEP’s YouTube Channel.

    For more information about radon testing and radon resistant construction, visit DEP’s website at www.dep.pa.gov/radon.

    Order a radon test kit here.

    EPA’s Radon Guide for Buyers and Sellers