What does it mean to buy a house with a radon mitigation system? Find out if you need one and if it matters.

Besides the visible things you should be on the lookout for when buying a home—cracks in the foundation, mold, peeling paint—some of the most important things like radon are actually invisible.

Understanding if a home you’re interested in has levels of radon present is one of those invisible things. If you’re asking yourself, “Should I buy a house with a radon mitigation system?”, here’s what you need to know.

What is radon in a house?

Radon is a colorless, odorless and tasteless radioactive gas that’s the by-product of uranium, thorium and radium breakdown in rocks, soil and groundwater. It can move through cracks or other holes in your foundation —or through well water—and into the air in your home, where it gets trapped and can build up.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends homeowners test their homes for radon and mitigate any levels confirmed to be four picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher. (Though the EPA also warns that radon levels detected at lower than four pCi/L may still pose a threat, so mitigation with any level of radon present is a good idea.)

Your state’s radon office should have information on locating qualified test kits and/or qualified radon testers.

Warning signs of radon in a house

If you’re worried there is radon in your home, you can look out for a few things. Symptoms of exposure to radon, according to the American Cancer Society , include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • New or worsening cough
  • Pain or tightness in the chest
  • Hoarseness
  • Trouble swallowing

Since radon occurs naturally in rocks, soil and groundwater, if you have visible cracks in your home it’s best to assume you have some level of radon present, said Chris Fagan, a real estate agent with Equity Northwest Real Estate.

Luckily, obtaining a radon test kit—and/or seeking out professional help—is fairly easy to do these days.

What is a radon mitigation system?

A radon mitigation system is a system that helps lessen or eliminate radon in your home. “Since radon can get [into] your home through cracks in your walls, floors or ceilings, it’s not easy to mitigate,” Fagan said. “Choosing the proper mitigation system is crucial, and that would be based on how your home is built.”

Whether you go with a professional who can help ensure the job is done properly or try to mitigate the issue yourself, your state’s radon office is a good resource for getting started.

For example, there are a few main types of radon-mitigation options on the market these days. Some of the more popular options, according to the EPA include:

  1. Subslab suction (or subslab depressurization): This method works best if air can move easily in the material under the slab of your home.
    How it works: One or more suction pipes are inserted through the floor slab or below the concrete slab from outside the home into the crushed rock or soil underneath.
    Effectiveness: Usually reduces radon levels by 50% to 99%.
  2. Block-wall suction: This option only works in homes with hollow-block walls, and it requires the sealing of any major openings.
    How it works: This depressurization technique uses a fan and ductwork to draw suction on the hollow interior areas of a concrete block wall.
    Effectiveness: Usually reduces radon levels by 50% to 99%.
  3. House (or room) pressurization: This option might work if your home has a tight basement that’s isolated from the outdoors and upper floors.
    How it works: Uses a fan to blow air into the basement or living area, attempting to create enough pressure at the lowest level available indoors (like a basement) to prevent radon from reentering a home.
    Effectiveness: Usually reduces radon levels by 50% to 99%.
  4. Private well-water systems (aeration): This requires annual cleaning to maintain effectiveness and prevent contamination, and it requires venting the radon to the outdoors. How it works: Radon attaches to carbon, so spraying water—or mixing it with air and then venting the air from the water before use —before it enters your home leaves it radon free.
    Effectiveness: Usually reduces radon levels by 95% to 99%.

Do radon mitigation systems really work?

The short answer is yes, radon mitigation systems really work. The more complicated answer is that the level of success will depend on how your home is built, and the type of system you invest in.

In fact, some radon reduction systems can reduce radon levels in your home by up to 99%, according to the EPA, and “they are tested by professionals and proven to work in excreting the radon-containing air in your homes,” Fagan said.

Is it okay to live in a house with radon?

According to the EPA, radon rapidly disperses when found outside and is generally not a health issue.

Inside, however, the gas becomes trapped and can, over time, increase a person’s risk of lung cancer. In fact, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.

If you’re a smoker, your risk of developing lung cancer from radon exposure is even higher.

Is it worth buying a house with a radon mitigation system?

Newer homes are often built with radon-resistant features, like special sealing and caulking in the concrete foundation floor and in the walls, so it’s worth asking about the home you’re interested in. In the absence of those—or even in addition to—requesting a radon mitigation system as part of your stipulations for buying a home is well within your rights.

If that isn’t an option, all is not lost. If you truly love a home that doesn’t come with a radon mitigation system, and the current owners don’t agree to set one up ahead of time, just be prepared to spend a little extra money yourself to have one installed.

When it comes to spending money on home items, it’s never a waste to invest in the things that will keep you and your family safe. You can order radon test kits at 1-800-SOS-RADON or visit the EPA’s radon website for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is radon mitigation always successful?

When done properly with an approved system and monitored by a professional, radon mitigation can be up to 99% successful. How much radon you remove from your home depends on the construction of your home and the type of mitigation system. Proper maintenance of your mitigation system is also essential to keep it working efficiently over time.

How long does it take to mitigate a house with radon?

Radon reduction systems can usually be installed within a few hours, and they traditionally take about 24 hours to become effective at lowering radon levels.

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