Author Topic: Radon in air and water: close deal with concession for mitigation, or walk away?  (Read 1279 times)

TallMike

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Situation: We are under contract and in the inspection phase of a house in south central Vermont. Radon testing in the unfinished basement came back at 12 pCi/L (EPA action level is 4 pCi/L) and in the water it's at 3876 pCi/L (EPA action level there is 4000 pCi/L). We have to make a decision between:

1) Asking for a price concession and installing air and water mitigation systems. The sellers have indicated pretty clearly that they'd help on this - they really want this deal to go through.
2) Walking away from the deal. This would be emotionally difficult, but not much else. We have time to look for another house. This house is great, but no house is perfect... We'd get over it.

In some ways, #2 seems smart. We have four young kids (ages 2 to 9) and taking health risks with them seems foolish if it's unnecessary (i.e. we can just look for a different house). Also, mitigation systems impact resale values according to our realtor (though others online say a track record of a successfully operating mitigation system is neutral or even positive on resale...) and finally it's one more (two more actually) systems to maintain as the years go by...

On the other hand, I hate making fear-based decisions when I'm not really clear on the risks, and this house is REALLY great for us. It offers some specific great points while not making us overpay for stuff we don't want. On the fear point, for context: We have a two-wheel drive car in Vermont, because we think four-wheel drive is expensive and rarely necessary. We drink raw milk, mostly because we can get it for free by trading chores with a farmer, and the extra fat is appealing to our kids, who are total string beans... We vaccinate our kids and are frustrated by the misinformation about vaccines. I share all of those as examples of trying to sort through choices that are influenced by perspectives on risk and fear...

I recognize this does not have much to do with FIRE per se, but it does tie into the larger MMM theme not worrying about or fearing the wrong things (social expectations, ), while paying attention to the right things (e.g. debt). I also have a disproportionate respect for this online community in terms of a willingness to admit ignorance, share information dispassionately, and generally be thoughtful. So, thanks for any help you can provide.

Do you have any recommendations around going forward with a radon system versus pulling the plug? Or are there questions about context that I should answer here? Details I left out?

Thanks again!

Papa bear

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I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again.  These radon issues are such bologna. It’s like a conspiracy for mitigation companies to come in and install something that really doesn’t matter.

Radon is basically never the primary cause of cancer.  It elevates your risk, especially if you’re a smoker. Mitigating your risk?  Don’t sleep on your basement or crawl space floor.  Open or crack a window.   Go outside. Don’t smoke.

So, let them fear monger you if you want, and if you want peace of mind, get the mitigation system.  But to think about backing out of the deal?  That’s too far.  Literally the entire world is offgassing radon all the time.


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MayDay

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I would definitely ask them to mitigate and not worry about it.

ApacheStache

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My wife and I ran into this situation when we bought our first house and when we sold our first house. We were initially hellbent on getting a radon mitigation system installed before agreeing to buy the house. The seller compromised and took ~$1,500 off the asking price instead of installing the system. Which if you think about it from a seller's perspective, for the sake of time and money, it's just easier to take money off the price of the house and move on with life. The last thing a seller would want to happen is to begin installing a mitigation system only to uncover other more costly issues that need to be addressed and disclosed during the installation.

2 years after living in the house, we never installed the radon mitigation system because there were far more impactful things that we wanted to address with the house. Then once we sold the house, the buyers asked us to install a radon mitigation system. We understood their concern (they were first time home buyers looking to raise a family) so we promptly lowered the asking price and were under contract a day later.

Telecaster

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In some ways, #2 seems smart. We have four young kids (ages 2 to 9) and taking health risks with them seems foolish if it's unnecessary (i.e. we can just look for a different house). Also, mitigation systems impact resale values according to our realtor (though others online say a track record of a successfully operating mitigation system is neutral or even positive on resale...) and finally it's one more (two more actually) systems to maintain as the years go by...

Clearly in this case a house without a mitigation system is a liability, so a mitigation system would improve re-sale, right?  I mean, if the deal goes through it will come out of the sellers end which means the house is already devalued by the cost of the radon system.  So in this specific case, it adds value.  Radon is kind of a regional thing.  So if this has elevated radon, it is likely the next house will too.   If you like the house, I would install the mitigation system and not worry about it.   Radon is more or less ubiquitous so any place you live will have at least a little bit.   If the mitigation system lowers the radon concentration to some low level, then that's the same risk as living in a area with low radon concentrations. 

Another thing is that a large fraction of air enters a typical house through the basement or crawlspace, which translates to bad indoor air quality.  You need a certain amount of fresh air for the health of the occupants and house itself, so it is desirable for that air to enter through say, trickle vents in the windows or through mechanical ventilation.   Properly designed, the mitigation system should improve air quality in the house overall, not just with the radon issue.



ApacheStache

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Another thing is that a large fraction of air enters a typical house through the basement or crawlspace, which translates to bad indoor air quality... Properly designed, the mitigation system should improve air quality in the house overall, not just with the radon issue.

For sure! For me, if said basement had a damp musty smell or tons of centipedes I would get the mitigation system regardless of the radon levels simply to improve overall air quality.

It's also worth noting that we did radon testing in the winter and our inspector noted that you will see elevated levels of radon in the winter because people keep their windows and doors shut which makes it more difficult for the radon to dissipate.

Telecaster

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For sure! For me, if said basement had a damp musty smell or tons of centipedes I would get the mitigation system regardless of the radon levels simply to improve overall air quality.

It's also worth noting that we did radon testing in the winter and our inspector noted that you will see elevated levels of radon in the winter because people keep their windows and doors shut which makes it more difficult for the radon to dissipate.

I've done a lot of radon testing in multi-family buildings, and radon concentrations can vary a lot from unit to unit.  Boils down to different tenants have different lifestyles. 

former player

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My house tested above negligible but below action levels for radon.  As I've had work done I've had passive measures put in: that's a radon-proof membrane under the floor with a pipe underneath the membrane to allow radon to disperse outside the house.  I'm definitely with you on not wanting complicated systems requiring ongoing maintenance.

The other thing is of course making sure that the living spaces are sufficiently ventilated, which is probably just a matter of opening a small window in each room for 5 minutes every day if there aren't other ventilation systems.  That's good not just for radon but for getting rid of all the chemicals that household cleaning products and upholstered furniture give off.   Ventilating a house by opening windows was commonplace for our grandparent's generation: it's since houses began to be sealed up tight and people live their lives much more indoors in all that sealed-in air that there can be problems.

tralfamadorian

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I live in a part of the country with high radon so my opinion is colored by that. More RE contracts than not in my area will specify that the sellers are responsible for the test and installing the mitigation system before closing, if necessary.

A reading of 12 is no big deal- since the sellers have already indicated that they would take care of it, let them. A simple mitigation system will take that number down to close to zero.

aasdfadsf

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Radon is basically never the primary cause of cancer.

There is no such thing as a "primary" cause of cancer. Your cancer doesn't come with a tag on it that tells you exactly what caused it. It's all about risk factors.

That said, I agree that radon is usually not that big of a deal. If you're not a smoker, the effects are modest at best (and if you are a smoker, that's your biggest risk). If you're only slightly above the action level, you shouldn't lose sleep over it.

Just take the concession or the offer to install mitigation if you want. You should not blow up what otherwise appears to be a good deal over a reading at that level.

Fishindude

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Iíve said it here before and Iíll say it again.  These radon issues are such bologna. Itís like a conspiracy for mitigation companies to come in and install something that really doesnít matter.

Radon is basically never the primary cause of cancer.  It elevates your risk, especially if youíre a smoker. Mitigating your risk?  Donít sleep on your basement or crawl space floor.  Open or crack a window.   Go outside. Donít smoke.

So, let them fear monger you if you want, and if you want peace of mind, get the mitigation system.  But to think about backing out of the deal?  Thatís too far.  Literally the entire world is offgassing radon all the time.

My thoughts as well.

Indio

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I have a remediation system in place for 6 years and it has required no maintenance. Having kids and working from home, made the system mandatory for me. I also have a small radon detector that is always on similar to smoke or carbon monoxide detector, if the system stops working this detector alerts to me it. One of the kids turned system off and the detector notified me.

Yes, radon levels are high when ground is hard or snow packed, which is about 7 months of the year here.

Iíve known too many non smokers develop lung cancer so itís a small price compared to health costs.

albireo13

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Don't worry about it.
We are selling our house and radon tested at 14.   Buyers wanted a mitigation system for the basement and we just installed it for $1K.
Not worth risking the sale to fuss about.


TallMike

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Thanks for all the responses. We lined up a mitigation system, asked for a price concession, got the seller to meet us more than halfway (they gave us 75% of what we asked) and closed last week. I appreciate all the information!

Car Jack

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Isn't your area pretty much dirt over solid granite?  If so, granite gives off radon naturally, so good luck finding anyplace without remediation that has "normal" levels of radon.

I'm in the same boat with a house along 495 in Mass, which is all granite base.  We let the house stay loose (air gets in the basement and goes out the wood furnace) and this keeps the level to about 4.  Running the dryer significantly reduces the level.  We do nothing else to deal with this.

malacca

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First, Radon is a real threat to your health. A friend of a friend's relative died from lung cancer at a young age. They had a fancy house in Minnesota. She was a healthy, non-smoker. Turns out there was a big crack in the foundation and radon levels were high in the house. She was a house maker and spent most of her time at home.

BUT - putting in a mitigation device will take care of any risk. In fact, it will lower your risk overall. Even if a Radon test comes back negative, it doesn't mean there isn't a risk. A test in summer is completely different from a winter test. A good mitigation system will take care of any risk.

And of course negotiate very hard!

theoverlook

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Anybody have suggestions for a good DIY radon test? Or should someone concerned with it just buy an electronic detector? Looks like they're about $120-150.

tralfamadorian

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Anybody have suggestions for a good DIY radon test? Or should someone concerned with it just buy an electronic detector? Looks like they're about $120-150.

One time use tests sell on amazon for around $15.

Jon Bon

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This reads like a madlib

First, {insert mildy scary thing} is a real threat to your health. A friend of a friend's relative died from lung cancer at a young age. They had a fancy house in {area near reader} . She was a healthy, non-smoker. Turns out there was a {some scary thing exposure} and {the scary things} were high in the house. She was a house maker and spent most of her time at home.

BUT - putting in a {expensive doodad} will take care of any risk. In fact, it will lower your risk overall. Even if {scary thing} test comes back negative, it doesn't mean there isn't a risk. A test in summer is completely different from a winter test. A good mitigation system will take care of any risk. {so be sure to buy super useful dodad for 12 easy payments of $xx.xx}

And of course negotiate very hard!

Papa bear

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Hahahahahaha


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Prairie Stash

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Iíve said it here before and Iíll say it again.  These radon issues are such bologna. Itís like a conspiracy for mitigation companies to come in and install something that really doesnít matter.

Radon is basically never the primary cause of cancer.  It elevates your risk, especially if youíre a smoker. Mitigating your risk?  Donít sleep on your basement or crawl space floor.  Open or crack a window.   Go outside. Donít smoke.

So, let them fear monger you if you want, and if you want peace of mind, get the mitigation system.  But to think about backing out of the deal?  Thatís too far.  Literally the entire world is offgassing radon all the time.


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In Canada Radon is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer. It causes more deaths than Asbestos.

The basic priniple of dealing with Radon is to follow the ALARA principle - As Low As Reasonably Achievable. Reaching zero is impossible, minimizing risk is easily achievable. Most lay people struggle with the concept of risk minimization, they see the fact that the entire world is offgassing as a reason to not mitigatge risk; its true, Uranium is common throughout the world and is the precursor for Radon, I've worked in the upstream uranium industry for a very long time and we're constantly dealing with radiation exposures (I've done a lot of health checks over the years).

So apply the ALARA principle to the deal, is it reasonable to minimize risk? A more common example of risk minimization is wearing a seat belt. You don't need it most of the time, but if you have an accident you could be in trouble. Radon is similiar, you can be lucky and breath in a billion particles without worry, but it only takes one rogue alpha particle to set off cancer (When Radon decays to Lead it off gases aplpha particles along the way). Its not the total lifetime exposure that matters, its about being unlucky and having a car accident or having the wrong alpha particle hitting the wrong part of your lung.

Most of us know that smoking is the #1 cause of lung cancer. Many of us also know people who smoke their whole lives without getting cancer and then some people who die at 40. its not the total amount you smoke, theres a luck factor. THe best way to increase your luck though is to avoid smoking (or radon).

ALARA - every nuclear energy worker knows the phrase. No one ever suggests you won't get exposed, we all work towards not being exposed for reasons that are easily fixed.