What is radon? And why do I need to test for it?

I’m surprised when I mention radon to potential customers who call for a Home Inspection quote to find out they know nothing about it. After all, it’s the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today according to the US Surgeon General. In fact, some 21,000 people die each year from exposure to elevated levels of radon gas and the scary part is that you cannot smell, taste, or see radon. The only way to know if you and your family are safe is to test for it.

Radon TestingWhere does it come from?

Radon comes from the radioactive decay of uranium found in soil, rock, and water and gets into the air we breathe. In other words, it comes from the planet that we live on so obviously it is everywhere. Radon has been found all over the US, sure concentrations tend to be higher in certain areas but make no mistake about it there is no safe region of the country. Every state has reported elevated levels of radon.

How does it get into my home?

Radon gas gets into your home through cracks in your foundation, openings around sump pumps and drains, construction joints, cracks in walls and floors, gaps around service pipes, and underground water supplies. In fact your home is usually at a negative pressure relative to the outside so essentially your home is literally drawing in radon. The greatest concentrations can be found in the lowest level of your home. Radon can also enter the home through your well water supply; in this case it can then be released into the air when water is used for showering, washing dishes, or cleaning the sink. The good news is the radon risk from your well water supply is relatively low.

How can I protect my family?

Testing for radon is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk for elevated levels of radon. Look for certified radon measurement specialists, like myself. We are trained to provide a high level of service in accordance with EPA’s quality guidelines to ensure an accurate reproducible radon test. There are currently two programs in place that a professional should be certified through in addition to any state licensing requirements. The National Radon Proficiency Program (NRPP) The National Radon Safety Board (NRSB).

How much radon is too much?

The EPA has set an action level of 4.0pCi/L (picocuries per Liter of air) in which mitigation is required to reduce the radon concentration to acceptable levels. The average indoor radon level in the United States is about 1.3pCi/L and approximately 0.4pCi/L is found in the outside air. There is really no “totally safe” level. According to the EPA, any level of radon exposure carries some risk. Even though the EPA threshold is 4pCi/L, action to reduce indoor radon levels is recommended when readings are 2pCi/L and above.

How do I fix my home if it has been tested for elevated levels of radon?

It is important to remember that radon is a “curable illness” for a house. Just because an area has overall high levels of radon does not mean that the houses must be abandoned or that levels cannot be reduced to a reasonable level. High radon levels in homes can be brought down to an acceptable level for a cost of $800 – $2500. The cost of reducing the level of radon in a home is comparable to other home maintenance efforts. I will discuss in detail in future posts about mitigation techniques, stay tuned.

For more information about radon, visit www.epa.gov/radon