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Testing for Radon in Massachusetts

Thinking of buying or selling a home in Massachusetts? If so, you should probably have a radon test done in your home.  Although Massachusetts does not require radon testing, the Environmental Protection Agency does recommend it.  Many buyers will ask for a radon test to be done before they buy a house, so it is important to have your house tested before moving forward in the buying/selling process.

What is Radon?

Radon is a carcinogen; a naturally occurring radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water.  Radon can be found in soil and can sneak into the house through foundation cracks and other openings.  You can’t see or smell radon, so the only way to know if you have it is through testing.

Radon is found in new homes, old homes, homes on the coast, in the mountains.  It comes from the ground and can enter a home in various ways such as through floors, drains, utility lines, crawl spaces, block wall foundations, and crevices in floors and walls.  Generally, the highest concentrations of radon are found in the lowest levels of the home.

What is a Radon Test?

A radon test is conducted to ensure that the radon levels in your home aren’t past a level of 4 pCi/L. Anything higher than this level is deemed dangerous.

What is included in a radon test?

  • The first step in testing your home for radon is contacting your state radon office for information on locating qualified test kits or qualified radon testers. Your Realtor will be able to advise on this as well.  There are two different types of radon testing devices, passive and active.  Passive radon testing devices do not need power to operate and they are generally inexpensive.  Active radon testing devices do require power to operate and cost a little more, but they provide hourly readings and an average result for the whole test period.  Once you select a radon testing device, make sure to check that it’s coming from a qualified laboratory.
  • Next, you want to close all of your doors and windows.  To get an accurate sample of the air in your home, you’ll need to close all exterior doors and windows at least 12 hours prior to, and throughout the testing period.  All radon tests should be taken for a minimum of 48 hours, but make sure to read the directions for your kits exact time measurement.
  • Third, you’ll need to find a place to position the radon kit.  Choose the lowest location of the home, most commonly the basement, and place the kit at least 20 inches above the floor.  Make sure it’s away from heat, humidity, drafts, and exterior walls.
  • Lastly, collect the testing materials and send them to the lab.  Make sure to send them right away for the most accurate results.  You should receive your results from the lab within a few weeks.

Why is Testing for Radon Important?

If you are buying or selling a home, radon should be on the list of things to “look out for”.  Before a house is sold, it should be tested for radon, and elevated radon levels should be reduced. This includes newer homes that have been built with radon-resistant features.  Buyers may ask the seller for a test to be conducted by a qualified radon tester, even if the seller has had a test in the past.

  • Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, warned by the Surgeon General.  It is estimated to cause tens of thousands of lung cancer deaths every year.
  • 1 out of 15 homes in the United State has a level of radon that needs to be reduced.  You can’t predict radon levels based on state, local, and neighborhood radon measurements, and you can’t rely on radon test results taken in other homes in the neighborhood.  Homes next door to each other can have completely different indoor radon levels.

What Does it Mean if Don’t Pass a Radon Test?

If your radon test detects elevated levels of radon are found in the air, in most cases it can be fixed. The EPA recommends that you take immediate action to reduce the radon levels if your test result is 4 pCi/L or higher.

It is better to fix this issue before placing your home on the market as buyers are likely to ask for the testing during the inspection phase of the transaction.

How Radon Affects the Buying/Selling Process

As a home buyer, you have the option to accept a seller’s earlier radon test result or you can request a new test to be done by a qualified tester. If a test hasn’t been done yet, make sure the test is done as soon as possible.

The most common procedure is for a home buyer to request that a radon test be included in the overall home inspection.

If the home detects high levels during the radon inspection, the EPA recommends that the potential buyer negotiates with the seller to have a radon mitigation system installed. If the home buyer doesn’t negotiate this, they will end up being the ones that need to pay for mitigating it. It is very important that you handle this situation during the real estate process, so it doesn’t come back to affect you later down the road.

At the end of the day, it comes down to the negotiation. Sometimes the seller will pay for it, sometimes there is a split and sometimes the seller funds a credit.  Experienced Realtors will be able to manage this negotiation process on your behalf to ensure you and your family are protected.

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