One of the most popular services in the home inspection industry is to perform a radon test. So, what is radon, and should you test for it?
Radon is the byproduct of uranium breaking down in your soil. 1980s media might have taught you to expect that uranium is a glowing green rock buried in dripping caverns in Siberia. At least, that was the image that I had of it when I was younger. The truth is, uranium is actually pretty common all around the world. Here in the Midwest, it is very common to have substantial amounts of uranium in the local soil, which leads to plenty of radon gas as the stuff breaks down. This sneaky, invisible, and odorless gas is able to creep into your home even through tiny gaps and cracks in your floor and foundation. It has been linked to lung cancer, which is the biggest concern about radon.
That sounds pretty scary. So, should you test for it?
The answer might not be what you think: "Yes, but...." You should always test for it. The real question is whether or not you should test for it during your inspection period. Here are some factors to consider:
Short Term Tests are not as Precise This is the biggest one. According to a recent study (because 2019 is still recent, even if it doesn't feel like it), short-term radon test kits are imprecise 99% of the time when compared to long-term tests (Click here for a summary). Short term tests are the 48 hour tests that are performed during inspection periods. The only way to know for certain what the average radon levels in your new home really are is to do a test that runs for 3-12 months. Obviously, the difference between these time frames is enormous. I'm no research scientist, but even I can tell that the amount of data collected is going to be vastly different. So, if you want an accurate test, odds are that you don't want to do a 48 hour test.
Expense Short term tests are pretty expensive for what they provide, and for good reason. The test kits used by most inspectors are very expensive, and the inspectors have to make time to go to the property at least twice, instead of only once. Here in Central Ohio, most short term radon tests are going to cost you around $150. You might find cheaper tests, but it is really hard for companies to lower their price at all, given the very high expense of performing the tests. On the other hand, long term tests are fairly cheap, despite being overwhelmingly more accurate. This is one of the very, very rare circumstances where price is not reflective of quality. Long term test kits run anywhere from $20 to $90. Math isn't my strong suit, either, but them's some good looking numbers.
Are you Negotiating? This point is the biggest 'pro' for doing a short term test. Radon mitigation is not very expensive, but if you would rather have the seller pay for it or give you credit toward it, you'll want to do a test during the inspection period. In Central Ohio, having the luxury of negotiating after the inspection period is not particularly common, though. If you are lucky enough to be in a position to negotiate, that test might save you something like $1,200 in the long run, assuming the result comes back high enough to justify needing mitigation. This is going to come down to the particulars of your deal. Ask your agent's opinion on it.
There are other factors to consider that I won't go into here. For example, if the home already has a mitigation system, if other homes in the neighborhood have mitigation systems, if you have a history of lung cancer in your family, the question of whether or not the testing company is following appropriate testing procedures, etc. As with many of these things, the best thing to do is to ask your agent and your inspector. DISCLAIMER: Hane Home Inspections does not offer radon tests for a few reasons, although we do partner with a radon mitigation company that offers short term tests if our clients want them. We do not make ANY money from radon tests, so I don't have a vested interest in anyone purchasing a test. I'm a little biased against them. Take everything I've said and do your own research. You may come to a different conclusion than I have.