In the course of buying a home, there are certain deal-breakers you might encounter. For example, if your home inspection reveals a sinking foundation, damaged roof, or electrical wiring that isn't up to code, you may have a very good reason to back out of that purchase.
But here's another red flag to put on your radar: radon gas. If the home you're looking to buy has it, you may want to think twice about moving forward. Similarly, if you're selling a home that's found to have radon, be prepared to fix the problem or risk losing a buyer.
What is radon?
Radon is radioactive gas that you can't see or smell. But when you breathe in too much of it, your chances of lung cancer and other ailments increase. And while some amount of radon is acceptable in homes, elevated levels are problematic.
How does radon get into homes?
Radon results from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, and it typically moves from the ground into a home through cracks or holes in a home's foundation. It can also enter a home through its well water. Once inside, radon can become trapped, thereby building up and causing health issues.
Keep in mind that radon isn't an issue that's specific to older homes; newer homes can have radon as well. The only way to determine whether a given home has an acceptable level of radon or not is to perform a radon test.
How to test a home for radon
Testing a home for radon is, thankfully, pretty easy. While hiring a testing company is an option, it can be an expensive one. A more affordable alternative is to buy a radon testing kit, which can come in at well under $150, and do a test yourself. With one of these kits, you typically leave a detection device in your home for several days, all the while leaving doors and windows near that device closed for maximum accuracy. Of course, you can't be expected to not open your door at all for several days -- so keep your kit as far away from your main door as possible.
In fact, you're supposed to place your testing kit in the lowest level of your home -- usually a basement, if you have one. If you then keep the interior door to your basement closed, and keep all basement windows closed, your test should be accurate.
Once the testing period is over, you'll follow the instructions that come with your kit on how to send it in. Your results will then be delivered to you once processed. Generally speaking, a radon level above 4 picocuries per liter of air, or 4 pCi/L, is considered unsafe for an indoor environment.
Getting rid of radon
If your home has high levels of radon, don't panic -- it's possible to fix the problem, though it could get a bit expensive. There's no single solution to mitigating radon. In some cases, a less invasive and costly intervention like sealing foundation cracks could do the trick. In other cases, you may need to pay for a more in-depth means of having your foundation depressurized.
HomeAdvisor (NASDAQ: ANGI) says that radon mitigation typically costs between $776 and $1,161, which is a relatively small price to pay to make your home safer and ensure that any pending sale it's subject to can go through.
How to ensure that you don't end up buying a home with radon
If you're worried that the home you're seeking to buy has a radon problem, insist on a complete radon test before going through with your purchase. In many cases, that test will have already been performed, so it's just a matter of seeing the results.
If you're not comfortable with a home test performed by the owner you're buying from, you may need to offer to foot the bill for professional testing, which, according to HomeAdvisor, can cost between $150 and $800 on average. In that situation, you may also ask your seller to split the cost.
It's hard to predict when radon will or won't be a problem in a home. If you're planning to sell in the near future, it pays to conduct a radon test before listing your property. And if you're buying a home, insist on confirmation that there's no radon problem before moving forward with your purchase. The EPA estimates that nearly one out of every 15 homes in the U.S. has an elevated radon level, and the last thing you want to do is wind up with one yourself.