Could Radon be a Deal Breaker?

Addressing a life-threatening risk during Radon Action Month.

Maureen Vogel
January 21, 2021

Most people who are house hunting have a clear list of deal breakers. Fireplaces, backyards, fences, a room with a view, walkability, proximity to dining and shopping – any one of these could be the difference between closing the deal and continuing the search.

I believed that my biggest deal breaker would be radon – a colorless, odorless gas that can kill.

It is easy to eliminate potential homes for cosmetic reasons. It isn’t as easy to dig into a home’s proverbial dirt for life-threatening risks hiding within its foundation. Turns out, though, that the latter is vastly more important.

Radon lurks in the soil and is a naturally occurring radioactive gas, making it unavoidable to breathe in the open air at some point. However, radon presence in your home is particularly dangerous, with reduced air circulation and ventilation. Radon trails only cigarettes as the leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. The risks are higher for former smokers, but they still are alarmingly significant for nonsmokers.

Radon is more common in some areas than others, but it’s impossible to make assumptions based solely on geography. Two homes right next to one another may have dramatically different levels of radon, or one have may not have any at all. The only way to know for sure is to test for it.

Most home inspections only test for radon for an additional fee, and only if you ask. Many prospective home owners do not ask because they simply do not know they should.

I was only aware of radon’s potential deadly side effects because of my work at the National Safety Council. Each year, we observe January as Radon Action Month, a designation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. When I was having my home inspection, I requested the additional radon test, and I panicked when the results showed elevated levels of radon emanating from the crawl space.  

But the great news is, radon can be mitigated. As much as I thought radon would be my deal breaker, it was incredibly easy to address. A quick call to a radon mitigation system provider, followed by an even easier installation, was all it took.  

Now, a radon mitigation system continually runs from the crawl space in my home, buzzing like an AC unit on my back stoop. The reassuring hum of the motor means the air inside my home is safe for my husband and me, our dog and our visitors. And, with COVID-19 forcing us to stay inside more than ever, I’m even more grateful for the peace of mind.

If you are house hunting or doing home renovations, don’t forget to test for radon, and remember that elevated levels alone may not be cause for alarm. Understand your mitigation options and assess whether they’ll be comprehensive enough for comfort.

Home is supposed to be our safe, serene space. Don’t focus only on what you can see. Prioritize the hidden risks too, to stay both healthy and happy. 

Maureen Vogel

Maureen Vogel is the former director of communications at the National Safety Council.

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