Should I buy a home with a mitigation system? I found myself house shopping in the middle of a world-wide pandemic in what seemed to be the hottest housing market in a century. It was February of 2021. I was doing a walkthrough of a home for sale with my wife and our realtor. This was the fourth home that we had visited that day in our quest to find the perfect place to raise our young family. We were excited to find that this house checked all of the right boxes: great neighborhood, open floor plan, modern finishes, perfect size, and the right price. We made a hail-Mary offer, knowing that we were competing against several others. The next day we received the good news that our offer was accepted - yay!
A few days and a few inspections later, we found out that the home has a radon mitigation system. It caught us off guard. This was about to be the biggest purchase of our lifetime, where we would raise our kids for years to come. Should we be concerned about going through with the purchase due to the home having a radon mitigation system?
In order to answer this question, you first need to know some basic information about radon and mitigation systems.
What is Radon and How Common is it?
Radon is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas that you can’t see or smell. It is continuously produced in the soil from steadily decaying uranium, and it will escape into homes. With radon gas steadily streaming into a home, the concentration will build up to an unsafe level. Being exposed to high levels of radon over time will increase the risk of Lung Cancer. Radon is the leading cause of Lung Cancer in non-smokers in the U.S.
Every home has radon in it, the question is, “How high is the concentration?” Outdoor air has a radon concentration of around 0.4 pCi/L. The average concentration of radon in American homes is 1.3 pCi/L. The EPA recommends that mitigation (installing a system to reduce radon in a home) be considered if a home has a radon level of 2.0 pCi/L or higher. It is estimated that 1 in every 15 homes in the U.S. has an unsafe radon level.
Utah is a state where radon is more prevalent. Depending on the season and location, it is estimated that between 30 and 60 percent of Utah homes have unsafe concentrations of radon. This seems to explain why Lung Cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Utah, despite Utah having the lowest smoking rate in the U.S.
What is a Mitigation System and How Does it Work?
A radon mitigation system consists of a 3 to 4 inch PVC pipe that runs from the soil beneath the home’s foundation up to the roof. There is a continuously running suction motor called a radon fan on the pipe. The fan should be mounted on the pipe in the attic or on the outside of a home, depending on what route the pipe takes to the roof.
The system is designed to continuously draw radon from the soil beneath a home, and safely vent it above the roofline per building code. It is designed to stop most of the radon in the soil from entering the home in the first place; it is not trying to “suck the radon out of the house”. The average lifespan of the radon fan is 10-15 years, so replacing the radon fan when it is needed is the only maintenance needed on a radon system.
A Few Things to Do if You are Buying a Home with a Mitigation System:
1) Check 3 Things on the System: (Checklist below)
1. Look for an airflow gauge on the pipe, and make sure the airflow gauge (manometer) indicates that the fan is on. If the manometer shows no airflow, the fan likely needs to be replaced.
2. Make sure the exhaust pipe vents the radon above the roofline. It is not permitted to vent radon to the outside at ground level or into a garage or attic.
3. Make sure the fan is on the outside of the house, or in the attic. The fan is not permitted to be in a basement or crawl space.
If you see anything fishy or have questions about a system, a quick phone call to Utah Radon Services can probably give you some guidance.
2) Test the Radon Level.
With the mitigation system on, test the radon in the home to ensure low levels. Don’t just assume the radon will be low without testing it. Some homes may need more than one mitigation system. Some mitigation systems need larger fans. Some mitigation systems may not have been installed properly. Doing a radon test will help you confirm that the system is doing what it is supposed to do. If the radon level is high, call Utah Radon Services to learn about what can be done to fix it.
So, Should I buy a Home with a Radon Mitigation System?
In short, buy a home with a mitigation system! We bought our home with a mitigation system, so you can buy yours. Don’t let radon or a radon system stop you from buying a home that you love. A home with a mitigation system, when installed properly and retested, will generally have a lower radon level than a “low radon” home without a mitigation system. Having a functioning radon system provides safety and peace of mind for me and my family, and it will for you too.