What is Radon?
Radon Gas is a radioactive gas naturally caused from uranium decaying in the soil. It seeps into your house through cracks in the foundation and into the upper level of your house by stack effect.
Basically, our homes work just like chimneys, with pressure pulling the air from the basement to the upper levels of the house. You can’t see, smell or taste radon, but high levels of exposure can cause a range of respiratory problems up to and including lung cancer. Radon is actually the second leading cause of lung cancer and is responsible for 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year. That is 40 times as many deaths as carbon monoxide poisoning, which kills 500 each year. The EPA estimates that one in 15 homes has elevated levels of radon, and it has been detected in every state in all soil types. The only way to know if your house contains indoor radon is to test for it. The tests are simple and inexpensive. You can buy a home kit or have a professional do it for you. The amount of radon in the air is measured in “picocuries per liter of air,” or “pCi/L.”
There are many kinds of low cost, do-it-yourself radon test kits you can get through the mail, through the state radon office or in hardware stores and other retail outlets.
If you prefer, you can hire a qualified tester to do the testing for you.
The state radon office (e.g., www.radon.utah.gov) will have a list of qualified testers. If you are purchasing a home, your home inspector can take care of this, along with testing for lead paint and methadone. You can contact a private radon proficiency program for lists of privately certified radon professionals serving your area on websites such as www.radongas.org.
There are several proven methods to reduce radon in your home. The one primarily used is a vent pipe system and fan, which pulls radon from beneath the house and vents it to the outside. This system (known as a sub-slab depressurization system) does not require major changes to your home, but sealing foundation cracks and other openings makes this kind of system more effective and cost-efficient. Similar systems can also be installed in houses with crawl spaces. Radon contractors can use other methods that may also work in your home. The right system depends on the design of your home and other factors. It costs approximately $1,200 for a contractor to fix a radon problem, although this can range from about $800 to about $2,500. The cost is much lower if a passive system was installed during construction, though this is unlikely in most situations.
Going green really is more than just reducing our impact on the environment or saving money. It is also about living healthfully and breathing clean air in our personal environments. In our efforts to make our homes greener, we shouldn’t forget that they can’t truly be green without being safe places for people to live.
Radon Testing 101
Testing is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. The EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon. You should test your home every two years to ensure the radon levels are low. If you are planning any major structural renovation, such as converting an unfinished basement area into living space, it is especially important to test the area for radon before you begin the renovation. If your test results indicate a radon problem, radon-resistant techniques can be inexpensively included as part of the renovation. Because major renovations can change the level of radon in any home, always test again after work is completed.
How to Test Your Home
You can’t see or smell radon, but it’s not hard to find out if you have a radon problem in your home. All you need to do is test. Testing is easy and should only take a few minutes of your time.
The amount of radon in the air is measured in “picocuries per liter of air,” or “pCi/L.” There are many kinds of low-cost “do-it-yourself” radon test kits you can get through the mail and in hardware stores and other retail outlets. If you prefer, or if you are buying or selling a home, you can hire a qualified tester to do the testing for you. You should first contact your state radon office about obtaining a list of qualified testers. You can also contact a private radon proficiency program for lists of privately certified radon professionals serving your area. For links and infor-mation, visit www.epa.gov/radon/radontest.html.
There are Two General Ways to Test for Radon: Short-term and Long-term.
The quickest way to test is with short-term tests. Short-term tests remain in your home for two days to 90 days, depending on the device. “Charcoal canisters,” “alpha track,” “electret ion chamber,” “continuous monitors,” and “charcoal liquid scintillation” detectors are most commonly used for short-term testing. Because radon levels tend to vary from day to day and season to season, a short-term test is less likely than a long-term test to tell you your year-round average radon level. If you need results quickly, however, a short-term test followed by a second short-term test may be used to decide whether to fix your home.
How To Use a Test Kit:
Testing is easy and should only take a few minutes of your time. Follow the instructions that come with your test kit. If you are doing a short-term test, close your windows and outside doors and keep them closed as much as possible during the test. Heating and air-conditioning system fans that re-circulate air may be operated. Do not operate fans or other machines which bring in air from outside. Fans that are part of a radon-reduction system or small exhaust fans operating only for short periods of time may run during the test. If you are doing a short-term test lasting just 2 or 3 days, be sure to close your windows and outside doors at least 12 hours before beginning the test, too.
You should not conduct short-term tests lasting just two or three days, during unusually severe storms or periods of unusually high winds. The test kit should be placed in the lowest lived-in level of the home (for example, the basement if it is frequently used, otherwise the first floor). It should be put in a room that is used regularly (e.g., living room, playroom, den or bedroom) but not your kitchen or bathroom. Place the kit at least 20 inches above the floor in a location where it won’t be disturbed—away from drafts, high heat, high humidity and exterior walls. Leave the kit in place for as long as the package says. Once you’ve finished the test, reseal the package and send it to the lab specified on the package right away for analysis. You should receive your test results within a few weeks.
Long-term tests remain in your home for more than 90 days. “Alpha track” and “electret” detectors are commonly used for this type of testing. A long-term test will give you a reading that is more likely to tell you your home’s year-round average radon level than a short-term test.
EPA Recommends the Following Testing Steps:
- Step 1. Take a short-term test. If your result is 4 pCi/L or higher take a follow-up test to be sure.
- Step 2. Follow up with either a long-term test or a second short-term test: For a better understanding of your year-round average radon level, take a long-term test. If you need results quickly, take a second short-term test. The higher your initial short-term test result, the more certain you can be that you should take a short-term rather than a long-term follow up test. If your first short-term test result is more than twice EPA’s 4 pCi/L action level, you should take a second short-term test immediately.
- Step 3. If you followed up with a long-term test: Fix your home if your long-term test result is 4 pCi/L or more. If you followed up with a second short-term test: The higher your short-term results, the more certain you can be that you should fix your home. Consider fixing your home if the average of your first and second test is 4 pCi/L or higher.