28 Apr Radon Awareness
When most people go to buy a house for the first time this is usually when they hear anything about radon and/or that radon is a potential threat. We have come to know that carbon monoxide is this odorless, tasteless gas that can have devastating effects, but radon seems to take a back seat. Radon should be front and center just like any other potential threat within a home. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today.
So what is radon? Radon is a radioactive gas that is naturally occurring in the ground underneath us. You cannot see it, taste it or smell it. Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water and is then absorbed into the air we breathe. Radon can be found in homes all over the United States. It can be an issue in new or old homes. Radon is going to naturally happen, however it becomes a problem when radon gas levels build up in a home. It is estimated that one out of every 15 homes in the US has elevated radon levels.
So how do you know if you have elevated radon levels? Testing! Testing for radon is the only way to know if high levels of radon are present in your home. If you are buying a home, this is the perfect time to test for radon. You can opt to have a radon test while doing home inspections during the buying process. Most radon tests need a minimum of 48 hours for testing. If you are doing home inspections, your home inspector will conduct the radon test for you. If your results are high or elevated, this can be easily resolved by installing a radon mitigation system.
It’s worth noting that even if you did a radon test when you buy a house that you should still re-checking radon levels every few years. It is very possible for radon tests to come out low during an initial testing. Weather conditions, seasons and any home alterations can all have an effect on radon levels within a home. Radon testing isn’t and shouldn’t be a test it and forget it! If you bought a house in the spring or summer, then doing a radon test during the winter is well worth the investment. Test kits can be easily purchased at any home improvement store or online.
Where do you test in a home? Testing the lowest level that you will be using is ideal. For this reason radon testing is usually done in a basement, however, if no basement is present, testing the first level of the home is ideal.
I have never had a radon test done in my home, what now? If you are in the process of buying a home, having your home inspector conduct a radon test is your best and easiest option. However, after a purchase it is also very easy to do your own. Radon test kits are readily available at any home improvement store. They are also offered through your state environmental department, often at free or reduced rates. For example the state of Missouri often offers free radon tests (depending on their budget) through the Department of Health & Senior Services. When free tests are not available, tests are usually offered at a reduced rate. To see if tests are available, please visit: https://health.mo.gov/living/environment/radon/index.php
What is involved in testing? Testing is actually pretty easy. It usually involves hanging or setting out a canister or packet of some sort for a specific amount of time. Once the testing time has completed then that device is mailed to a lab for analysis. There are both short-term and long-term tests. Most short-term test are adequate for spot checking levels, especially in different seasons. They usually involve a time frame of 2-5 days. After you complete any test it is vital that you immediately send the test off to the lab for analysis. Delaying shipping can cause inaccurate test results. Once the lab receives the sample they will immediately process the results. Results are sometimes available online and the lab usually mails results to you for your records.
When testing it is vital to keep closed-house conditions. This means keeping all windows closed and keeping doors closed except for normal entry and exit. It is also important to not run fans or other machines which bring in air from the outside. Ideally you will want to have closed-house conditions 12 hours before testing for more accurate results.
The recommendations in the above paragraph are also why it may be worth testing a house after a purchase even if you have a radon test during the home inspection period. It’s not possible to ensure the closed-house conditions when others are still living in the house. They may not maliciously skew results, it may be that they are unaware or don’t understand the need for closed-house conditions. And it’s also possible that doors are often opened more frequently or left open as they are moving items from the house. Additionally, testing during the winter can possibly skew results since running a furnace brings outside air inside. It can be really difficult to have perfect conditions for the most accurate test results, which is why testing during the different seasons and throughout your home ownership is important.
What if test results come back elevated? The average indoor radon level is estimated to be about 1.3 pCi/L. Just for reference, radon levels found in the outside air average 0.4 pCi/L. The EPA recommends that radon mitigation should be done if levels in a home are over 4 pCi/L. However, they are suggesting that anything between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L should be addressed.
If test results come back close to 4 pCi/L or are slightly over, don’t panic. Since at home testing kits aren’t as reliable as continuous monitoring testing (the kind of testing usually done during a home inspection), additional testing may be needed. If you did a short-term at home test, then doing a repeat test or a long-term test is highly recommended. You can also call any home inspection company and have a radon test done for more accurate results.
If radon mitigation is necessary, then it a pretty simple process. Costs will range from about $600 – $800. You will call a radon mitigation company and have a system installed. A follow up test will be done to ensure the radon mitigation system is working properly.
Sources for this article:
EPA Home Buyer’s and Seller’s Guide to Radon