Radon Legislation by State: A Handy Home Inspector’s Guide

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Although it occurs naturally in the earth, radon can be a dangerous chemical.

Radon, known to high-school chemistry students as Rn, or 86 on the periodic table of elements, is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can cause cancer in humans.

You can’t see, smell, or taste it, but it is responsible for the most lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers, according to the American Cancer Society. The gas is formed when uranium breaks down in the soil. If a house is built on top of uranium deposits, the gas could slowly leach out of the soil and build up in the dwelling. It is more likely to be found in higher concentrations in basements or crawl spaces.

Many home inspectors opt to get extra credentials and become certified to check homes and businesses for dangerous levels of radon. The ICA home inspector certification course includes a full radon certification training course.

However, radon testing is not necessarily standard in every home inspection, and in fact, many home inspectors charge extra for this service.

Home Inspection Radon Regulations

Every state has different rules for regarding radon in homes, so it’s best to familiarize yourself with your state’s regulations, and the regulations in neighboring states if you perform inspections there as well. Some states require home inspectors to take an approved class or obtain a certificate before they are allowed to perform radon tests. If you work in such a state, you can likely easily justify higher charges for executing a radon test.

Some states require testing for the presence of radon before a home is sold, and the state may impose penalties on homeowners who fail to disclose or intentionally cover up their knowledge of radon levels in the home.

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Homes can be retrofit to vent out harmful radon.

Other states have no such requirement, and most states do not have any laws requiring action be taken to reduce high radon levels even when they are found. This EPA map shows in red where the highest levels of radon are typically found; however, these states are not necessarily the ones with the most stringent regulations — or indeed any regulations.

Thus, it is caveat emptor for home buyers. That means it’s a good business practice — and a public service — to offer to add on radon testing when performing a home inspection.

How Much Radon Is Too Much?

The Environmental Protection Agency offers guidelines on what is a safe level of radon in a home, but there are no federal laws regarding radon levels. The EPA standard says if the test result is higher than 4 pCi/L (picocuries), the home should undergo remediation. However, some radon tests are done using different measurements, such as working levels (WL) and becquerels (Bq).

Consumer Reports says that although a test result showing a high radon level should be taken seriously, it’s no reason to forego buying a home. The remedy for elevated radon levels is usually installation of a PVC pipe to vent the gases to the outdoors where they are no longer harmful.

Radon Tests for Home Inspections

The organization also warns that test results can be unreliable, no matter how skilled the tester. This is because radon levels are measured over time, and they can fluctuate. Most home inspectors use a test kit that takes measurements for a week, but to get a more accurate result, Consumer Reports says to use a six-month test.

While this may be true, it is not practical when dealing with real estate transactions. Radon remediation costs less than $2,000 in most areas. If the test results show elevated levels, most homeowners would probably be more comfortable making the fix right away rather than opting for a six-month test to see if it might not be a problem after all.

It makes sense for anyone performing home inspections to offer radon testing services as well.  For more information for and about home inspections, check out our website today!

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