Ask any real estate agent how they feel about Radon testing and mitigation and they will tell you it depends on who they are representing. If they are the listing agent, it is not something to be worried about and just another way for the buyer to take away from the net proceeds from the seller. A buyer’s agent will tell you that Radon is the 2nd leading cause of Lung Cancer and the house isn’t safe if the Radon levels are too high. So who is right? Actually…they both are somewhat correct. Let’s take a closer look.
Is Radon really something a home buyer needs to worry about when it comes to buying a home? If you visit the Environmental Protection Agency website, you will find plenty of information about how Radon is bad (cliff notes version) and everything on that website makes you feel like your home is nothing more than a Radon containment unit. Based on the tone of every story on the website, you come away feeling like every breath you take is bringing in Radon to do its thing and kill you.
But, should you really be worried?
As the EPA says, Radon is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer. Scary, huh? If you lump both smoking and second hand smoke exposure and not separate them out, that statement is a fact, it is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer after smoke inhalation. After Radon, the next cause of lung cancer is exposure to asbestos, last is a family history of lung cancer.
- Smoking/Second hand smoke
- Family History
No dispute on this, Radon can lead to lung cancer, and then death. However, before you run out of your house gasping for fresh air and vowing never to return indoors until the best Radon mitigation system in existence has been installed, let’s take a closer look at the numbers and see just how “at risk” you are.
Below are the actual numbers of deaths by each of the biggest lung cancer risks in a given year according to the Centers of Disease Control. In this case, 2015:
158,040 total deaths due to lung cancer in the U.S.
140,000 of those lung cancer causes were due to smoking
21,000 of those were as a result of Radon exposure
15,000 of those were a result of asbestos exposure
*Note- I don’t suck at math, I know these numbers don’t add up right. The numbers of each type of cause of lung cancer are skewed due to having combined attributable risks. For example, a smoker who also is exposed to radon. They would count in both categories. (And as far as I could tell, family history alone didn’t lead to enough deaths to be counted on its own, it was just lumped in with whatever the other exposure was for that person.)
To put the numbers into perspective, 2,626,993 people died in the U.S in 2015. So 6% of all deaths were caused by lung cancer. Radon exposure caused 21,000 deaths in 2015, for .007% of deaths, and asbestos had 15,000 for .005% of all deaths. So, out of all the ways one could have died in 2015, lung cancer caused by radon was not a very likely to be it.
In fact, in 2015 you were much more likely to die in the following ways rather than radon caused lung cancer:
Unintentional poisoning- 38,851 deaths
Car crash- 30,800 deaths
Unintentional falls- 30,208 deaths
Suicide- 26,869 deaths
So you were more likely to fall to your death trying to get that awesome cliff-side selfie than you were to Radon exposure lung cancer.
AND…all of that is assuming you are a smoker, which the Centers for Disease Control estimate to be about 16% of the U.S. population.
So for the other 84% of Americans out there that do not smoke, the risk of you dying from radon induced lung cancer is staggeringly low. Like .0001% of all deaths low. That equates to about 420 people per year. For comparison, just about as many people (400) died of Carbon Monoxide poisoning, another risk associated with your house, as did non-smokers exposed to Radon. However, with Carbon Monoxide, it can kill you over night. Which one would think would cause more people to be concerned with it. But I have never had a buyer ask a seller to install a Carbon Monoxide detector. Why would that be?
Now, part of that reason I offer up is that the Carbon Monoxide detector is much like a smoke detector in that they are very inexpensive and simple to install. In fact, most of the time all you have to do is plug it in. So there is ease of availability and use to consider. And that could account for why buyers never ask a seller for it. However, that doesn’t explain how one never hears home inspection company mention the need for a Carbon Monoxide detector in houses without them, nor do the buyers ask if the house has one before purchasing. Yet, nearly all inspection companies will offer Radon testing (and conveniently enough, mitigation services) and most all buyers ask about Radon and what they should do. The awareness level for Radon and Carbon Monoxide do not coincide with their similar risk levels.
So why is Radon testing and mitigation a big deal in real estate?
I am going to steer away from opening this up to becoming a hot button issue like I could very easily do by offering up a cynical or “conspiracy theory-ish” opinion. No thanks, I am good not having to go down that road.
I will say this though. Based on all the numbers I have supplied above, my simple opinion is that Radon testing and mitigation is not as necessary as people make it out to be. The risk level just doesn’t seem to be there. It doesn’t make it wrong for companies to offer it, or ridiculous for someone to want to take the precaution and have one installed. It is their house and money, and their choice. However, I don’t believe it is something a buyer should be asking a seller to provide for them. Simple as that.
There are tons of safety features with varying degrees of worth and necessity for a home owner. We have everything from security systems, water filters, air purifiers, fences and so on. One can find all kinds of products that will solve any possible health or safety issue in regards to a house. And each person will have a different view as to what is most important. Rarely, if ever, do those end up on the list of things a buyer asks a seller to install prior to the purchase. I am not sure where along the line the real estate industry drifted into this pattern with Radon systems. I do think it needs to stop though.
I think those of us in the real estate industry need to be better about presenting the facts and giving our clients enough information to make an informed decision about it. And this applies to both sellers and buyers. Both need to know this information. Not just one side of the story. In this case, they need to know that yes, Radon is the #2 cause of lung cancer. And also while that is true, the numbers say that the risks level is actually very low. Then let them determine how they want to proceed.
What do you think? Is this information enough as a buyer to not worry about Radon, or would you still test for it and potentially ask a seller to install a mitigation system?