What is Radon?

When looking to purchase a home, there are a number of home inspection tests that should be conducted. These tests help to ensure the safety of you and your family. Among these tests is radon testing. This form of testing may be one of the most important available.

Radon is an odorless gas that occurs naturally as a byproduct of the breakdown of uranium. Trace amounts of uranium are found in most soils and rocks. When the uranium breaks down in an open-air environment, it remains harmless as it cannot concentrate. However, if a house is built on soil that has natural uranium deposits in the soil, the gas can build up. Radon can enter houses through cracks in the walls or floors, gaps in construction joints, or in the gaps surrounding wiring and plumbing. Most often, radon concentrations are found in the basements or crawl spaces of homes, but can be found in homes without either.

Radon is a cancer-causing radioactive gas. The release of this radioactive gas enters the air you breathe, causing a potential health risk to you and your family. When present in large amounts, radon gas can enter the lungs, exposing the cells there to radioactivity. This increases the risk of lung cancer in those exposed to concentrated amounts of radon.

Each year, radon exposure is responsible for up to 21,000 deaths related to lung cancer. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in patients who are non-smokers, making radon testing imperative in the process of purchasing a home.

Radon gas can be found in just about anywhere. It can get into any type of building — homes, offices, and schools, with and without basements — and build up to high levels.

When should you test for Radon?

Radon has been found in homes across the entire United States, regardless of region or the age of the property. According to the EPA, it’s estimated that one in fifteen homes tests positive for an elevated radon level (4 pCi/L plus). And, as previously mentioned, radon exposure in large amounts can be life-threatening.

Because of it’s danger, the EPA, as well as the Surgeon General, recommends radon testing for all homes.

Testing is the only way to find out about your home’s radon level. The EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing of all homes below the third floor for radon. Tests are recommended every 2 years and after any major renovations are done to the home.

If you are buying a home, the EPA recommends that you obtain the radon level in the home you are considering buying. The EPA offers several Publications and Resources on Radon. The EPA also recommends that you use a certified or state licensed radon tester to perform the test. If elevated levels are found it is recommended that these levels be reduced. In most cases, a professional can accomplish this at reasonable cost or homeowner installed mitigation system that adheres to the EPA’s approved methods for reduction of radon in a residential structure.

Outside of a proper and reliable radon test, there is no ironclad way to predict radon levels in a home. A home that is next to other homes that have tested positive for radon, can very well be completely radon-free and safe. In order to get an accurate radon reading, it’s best to have a licensed home inspector conduct an actual radon test.

How Does Radon Enter the Home?

Typically the air pressure inside your home is lower than the pressure in the soil around your home’s foundation.
Due to this difference, your house acts like a vacuum, drawing radon gas in through foundation cracks and other openings of your home.
Radon may also be present in well water and can be released into the air in your home when water is used for showering and other household uses.

For more information, click on PA Bureau of Radiation Protection

What Should You Expect from a Radon Test?

Radon cannot be seen or smelled, so the use of a device that detects the presence of radon is required. Radon kits can be ordered from laboratories and other services, however due to the importance of the testing, it’s recommended that a qualified radon tester be hired. These testers are often home inspectors. When testing your home for radon, they will use one of two common types of radon testing to detect the presence of radon in your home: passive and active.

Passive Radon Detection Devices

These devices are considered passive because they do not require the use of power to operate. Passive devices are exposed to the air in your home over a predetermined amount of time.

The key is the material that the testing element is made from. They’re normally sensitive to radon, and react to any trace amounts of it in the air. After the device has been in the home and exposed for the correct amount of time, it’s sent to a lab for analysis and results. Passive devices are quite affordable, but the data provided by them is an overall average of the total time the test was conducted.

Passive radon detectors can consist of any of the following, and all will have their own specifications for use:

  • charcoal canisters
  • charcoal liquid scintillation devices
  • electret ion chamber detectors

Active Radon Detection Devices

Active radon detection devices require a power source in order to operate. Like the passive detection devices, the active detection devices are placed in an area where radon may be present.

However, unlike collecting data at the end of the time period like a passive device, active devices are able to continuously monitor the amount of radon and related substances in the air. They record this data for analysis at any given time, and can alert you to any instances in which higher levels occur. A qualified radon tester or home inspector can interpret and explain these results to you.

The cost for these devices and the services associated with them is higher than passive detection devices, but the active radon results are more detailed and given on a minimum hourly basis.

The two most common types of active radon detectors are the continuous radon monitor and the continuous working level monitor.

General Methods for a Home radon test?

Radon detection and testing requires setting aside a specific period of time to collect data.

Generally speaking, there are two methods of testing:

  • short-term testing
  • long-term testing

Each type of testing carries its own advantages and disadvantages, and the method in which you choose truly depends on the amount of time that you have.

Short-Term Testing

Short-term radon testing is good when you’re in a time crunch, such as buying or selling a house. Short-term testing requires that the detection device be in your home for anywhere from 2 to 90 days to collect the necessary data for analysis. The bare minimum for radon testing is a 48-hour period, but different devices will have different minimum time requirements. For example, many charcoal canister devices require at least 7 days for proper results.

Long-Term Testing

Long-term testing consists of using any device that needs a minimum of 90 days to collect data, but can be used for up to a year to gather information. These are best used when you’re living in the house that needs testing. A long-term test will allow you to monitor your home’s yearly average for radon levels.

What happens if tests show high levels of Radon?

When it comes to radon testing results, if the level of radon is 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) or higher, then the EPA recommends fixing the home. Your qualified radon tester or home inspector will be able to discuss these results with you and recommend fixes.

You can fix a radon problem.

If you find that you have high radon levels, there are ways to fix a radon problem. Even very high levels can be reduced to acceptable levels. A certified radon remediator will let you know what the best system is for you home. Click to see a List of Radon Remediators and Contractors certified by the PA Department of Environmental Protection.

What are the Risk Factors?

The EPA, Surgeon General and The Center for Disease Control, have all agreed that continued exposure to Radon gas can cause lung cancer. Radon is a radioactive compound that can cause serious illnesses. Their position on the matter is that all homes should be tested for radon gas exposure, and all homes testing over 4 pCi/L should be remediated.

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