Radon is a naturally occurring gas created during the decay process of uranium in the soil. Radon gas is radioactive and long term exposure increases one’s risk of lung cancer. The gas seeps up through the soil out to the atmosphere and is present, in varying amounts, throughout the U.S. Common entry points for radon in a home are cracks in the foundation, poorly sealed pipe penetrations or drainage pipes and sump pump pits. Once in a house the gas can collect in certain areas like a basement or closed areas. The EPA has a recommended action level for any home with inside air testing higher than 4.0 pico curies per liter (pCi/L).
How widespread is the problem? Radon has been found in homes in all 50 states. Concentrations of radon can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood and even home to home. The only way to determine the levels present in your home is to test. There are lots of different tests available, some are more accurate than others. Tests can also be administered incorrectly so it is worth having a certified measurement technician take your test.
How do you test for Radon?
Testing for radon comes in two forms: active and passive. An active device constantly measures the levels of radon in a portion of the home and displays those results, which are then averaged for a final level. Passive devices have constant exposure to an area and then are taken to a lab and analyzed. Either method can determine the homes radon level and your level of exposure for that point in time.
Testing takes a minimum of two days. This requires communication and approval from the homeowner to ensure the home maintains closed house conditions and testing devices are not tampered with. The test should be conducted in the lowest level of the home that is suitable for use, this is usually the basement but is sometimes the living or family room. After 48 hrs the testing devices can be collected and the data analyzed for a result.
What if Radon is found in my home?
If testing results in a high concentration of radon in your home you have several options. One option is sealing or otherwise closing off the access points in the home. Another option is to have a radon mitigating contractor install an active or passive vent system to the home. Your realtor will help you navigate through this process and will be able to direct you to the best possible solution.
When should I test for Radon?
If you are buying or selling a home, radon can be a significant issue. Buyers should be aware of the risk of exposure to radon gas and determine whether they feel a test is desirable. When in doubt the EPA recommends testing. If test results already exist make sure they are recent and that the home has not been significantly renovated since the test was performed.
If you are selling a home, having a radon test done is a great idea. You can assure potential buyers that there is no risk or determine if you need to address a significant issue before the home goes on the market.
A few things to know about Radon testing:
The EPA calls for “closed house conditions” for the ENTIRE time a radon test is being performed. Closed house conditions mean that all windows and doors must stay closed except for normal entering and exiting the home. Fireplaces and stoves should be closed off and no air exchange systems should operate. A simple opening of a second story window can change the air pressure in a home and will invalidate the test.
A common misconception is that living on sandy soil means the home is less likely to have a radon issue. The opposite can be true. Radon is a gas and it will move much more easily through sandy soil than solid rock.
The EPA has two differences in testing protocols for someone living in their own home versus a buyer looking to purchase a home.
The homeowner should test based on how they currently inhabit the home. The testing device should be placed in the lowest area or room that you use or live in regularly. If you have a basement, but never use the basement, don’t place the test in the basement. If the living room is where you spend most of your time then that is where you would test. Owning the home also allows for more time to test and collect more accurate results. If the initial short term test shows a high amount of radon the EPA recommends a long term follow up test to determine a more accurate level.
The home buyer should test in the lowest possible livable area, even if it is unfinished. This is most often the basement. This allows you to determine the exposure to you or your family if you put in a work shop or bedroom in the basement and a family member planned to spend a significant amount of time in those rooms. Unfortunately when buying you don’t have a lot of time so you will need to take the results of your short term test and determine what is acceptable to you.