The Radon Test Ruse

Barry was an experienced home inspector recommended by my real estate agent.

“He’s the best in the business. Extremely thorough!”

Never a good idea, I know, but once the purchase agreement was signed, the home inspections needed to be done quickly. For me, finding references for an inspector in the allotted time frame seemed like a burden. So, I took a chance and listened to the advice of my realtor. Barry was the owner of his company and had been in business for over 35 years!

The inspector was a nice guy with a few gadgets my kids found entertaining. One device could locate hidden sources of moisture and then there was the drone that flew like a giant insect, over the house to visually inspect the roof. I was on board with his demonstration until we went into the basement.

As we walked down the narrow staircase, I noticed an open elongated, rectangular window at the bottom of the stairs. We turned the corner where two other windows were open. The inspector casually closed these two windows and proceeded to the furnace, continuing his inspection. From the furnace, he moved to the sewer line and then to the fuse box. Nob and tube wiring, the old fashioned kind that didn’t have a ground. Great, I thought… more to be updated. I looked beneath the stairs and asked, “Do you think that’s mold?”

“No. That’s paint.”

Then, he changed the subject and asked, “Do you know anything about radon?”

“Actually, yes!” I said.

“So what do you know about radon?” He asked, looking at the wiring with his flashlight.

“I know it’s the most common cause of lung cancer in people who don’t smoke.”

He seemed satisfied. I turned to the realtor and mentioned that we needed to get someone to do the radon inspection.

“It’s taken care of!” He said proudly.

“Who’s doing it?” I asked.

“Barry here is!”

The inspector smiled smugly.

“Yep, got the canisters over there” He pointed over to a workbench where I indeed saw two canisters.

The real estate agent chimed in, “We should have the results of the radon inspection by tomorrow!”

The inspector then went back to the fusebox.

“Wait a second!” I said, “Why were the windows open down here? How can you do a radon test with open windows?”

The inspector seemed a little irritated and said that the windows were now closed.

“There is a window at the bottom of the stairs that is still open!” Now angry, I asked, “Who opened the windows?”

He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Maybe the seller. He must have forgotten that we were doing the radon test. I’ll run the test for 4 days, instead of the usual 48 hours to compensate for the windows being opened.”

I wasn’t satisfied. Neither the realtor nor the inspector seemed concerned, but radon isn’t something to play around with. I fired Barry and found a new home inspection company, one that I properly vetted.

The new team reinspected the entire home and ironically, discovered that my future home is filled with toxins. Not only is there lead paint, asbestos, and mold, but the radon levels were measured at 4.9 picoCuries per liter (pCi/l).

Radon levels over 4 pCi/l need to be remediated.


Radon is found in many areas of the country. It is a byproduct from the natural decay of uranium, thorium and radium, radio-active elements found in the earth’s crust. Studies have suggested that hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, “fracking”, has caused an increase in radon concentration within homes in some parts of the country. 

Low concentrations of radon gas are ubiquitous outdoors and are of no concern. But, when radon infiltrates through cracks and seams in a building’s foundation and walls, it can accumulate in stagnant indoor air, particularly in the basement. Remediation is not typically a difficult process and is not costly.

If you haven’t had a radon test done in your home, schedule one. There are several different tests to choose from, ranging from a basic 48 hour test, commonly used for real estate transactions, to more comprehensive long term studies that measure fluctuations in radon over months and during different seasons of the year.

As basic as it sounds, ensure that all of the windows in the home are closed at least 12 hours before the radon test begins and that they remain closed during the entire testing period so the test results are accurate and usable.

Yes, our future 108 year old home contains a myriad of environmental toxins. But, I will be able to remediate them, as needed, now that I am aware to ensure my safety and the well-being of my family.