Imagine this: A young couple makes an offer on a house, with a radon test as a contingency. They choose a home inspector who offers radon testing using charcoal canisters. These are known as passive devices because they work by simply absorbing radon in the air. Their accuracy is generally good and the cost is low—about $10 to $15 apiece. Far less than the $1,500 to $4,000 that the more sophisticated electronic testing devices run.
The owner of the home and his real estate agent both agree to the test and agree that they will not tamper with the charcoal canisters in any way while they’re placed in the home. But after the canisters are placed in the basement for the test, the homeowner has second thoughts: “If the house has high radon levels, I’ll have to spend a lot of money to get a radon mitigation system installed. No way!” He then puts a plastic shopping bag over the monitors until the afternoon they’re scheduled to be picked up and sent to a lab for analysis.
Fraud? You bet it is. Unfortunately, it’s more common than you might think. And the sad thing is that families who move into a new home thinking there’s no problem may actually be living in a house with dangerously high radon levels.
RADON TESTING WITH CHARCOAL CANISTERS VS CONTINUOUS RADON MONITORING DEVICES
Charcoal canisters are fine if you want to get an idea what sort of radon levels are in your own home. Unfortunately, when used to test in homes where there’s an offer to buy on the table, the potential for fraud is just too high.
If you are making an offer on a house and radon is a concern, make sure any radon test testing is done with a continuous monitoring device. These devices measure and document the amount of radon in the air, as well as air temperature and barometric changes (which occur if windows or doors are opened during the test period.)
CONTINUOUS MONITORING RADON TESTING IS VIRTUALLY FRAUD-PROOF
In real estate transactions, the real benefit of continuous monitoring devices is that they provide hour by hour documentation. If someone opens all the windows in the basement in an attempt to skew the radon readings, the documented change in temperature and barometric pressure will raise a red flag. These units also have internal motion sensors which can detect and record movement of the unit to a different location, in case anyone gets the bright idea to set it out on the back porch. They can even sense and document the presence of someone coming into the test area and how long the person stayed in the area!
If you’re looking to buy a home and are concerned enough about radon to request a test, here are the three top reasons to make sure the inspector hired to do the test is using a continuous monitoring device:
1. Charcoal canisters don’t produce instantaneous readings. They have to be sent off to a lab, and getting the results can take several days. With the short time frames on many real estate transactions, there often isn’t time for this. Typically, testing done for the purposes of a real estate purchase contingency is done over a 48-hour period.
2. Rain during the test period can skew test results—sometimes quite dramatically. This is because rain drives radon out of the ground, which results in a high radon level reading. With a charcoal canister, you have no idea what occurred at different times during the test. With a continuous monitoring device, however, you can actually see when radon levels rose in the house and correlate this to any rain that may have fallen on that day. If the levels spike around the time a rainstorm was going on, you know the test was skewed by the rain. You can then either re-do the test or discard the elevated levels during the time of the rainstorm and recalculate an average for the property.
If you’re wondering just how much rain can affect a radon test, it’s not uncommon for storms to push radon levels to twice the levels recorded before the storm. Storms can even push radon levels past 100 pCi/L!
3. Continuous monitoring devices cannot be tampered with. If charcoal canisters are left in a house, an unscrupulous homeowner or real estate agent can easily move the monitor outside for a day or cover it up until the home inspector comes back to get it and send it to the lab for analysis. Unlike the charcoal canister, a continuous monitoring device is tamper proof. Not only does it document radon levels on an hourly basis, but it can also detect and report any movement of the device during a test and any changes in temperature or barometric pressure which could indicate someone opened the windows in an attempt to throw off the test. It also documents the time at which these changes took place.
THE BEST RADON TESTING TECHNOLOGY—PROPERLY CALIBRATED AND PROPERLY USED
Dakota Property Inspection uses only sophisticated electronic radon testing devices manufactured by Sun Nuclear, a leading provider of technologies for diagnostic imaging, quality assurance and dosimetry (radiation exposure monitoring). Their equipment is so highly regarded it is used in over 90% of the cancer treatment centers in the United States and in over 4,000 facilities worldwide.
The Sun Nuclear continuous monitoring devices we use are extremely sensitive pieces of equipment. As a certified radon testing company, we are required to send our testing units in to a certified laboratory for recalibration every year. On the back of every unit we have is a sticker from the lab indicating when it was last calibrated.
Trouble is, there are no radon testing device police checking up to see that every radon testing company is using properly calibrated monitors. And, unfortunately, an improperly calibrated continuous monitoring device defeats the whole purpose of paying for a test which uses these devices.
So, if you hire another radon testing company besides us, be sure to ask them to show you the sticker on their monitors indicating when they were last calibrated. The State of North Dakota has no oversight which means the EPA has jurisdiction. The EPA and HUD require anyone doing radon analysis be a member in good standing with one of two proficiency programs, either the National Radon Proficiency Program or National Radon Safety Board. These programs take strict measures, require continuing education, require proof of equipment calibration, require quality assurance programs, and require equipment analysis and monitoring to ensure the readings are accurate. As the only NRPP certified analytical tester in the region, I can tell you there are many others performing these analysis outside of the national standards put forth by the EPA. I can assure you that the analysis performed by Dakota Property Inspection is of the highest standards set forth by our training.