Radon Gas

Radon gas is created as part of the process when uranium in the soil decays. The gas then seeps through any access point into a home. Common entry points are cracks in the foundation, poorly sealed pipes, drainage or any other loose point. Once in the home, the gas can collect in certain areas especially basements and other low lying, closed areas. The Environmental Protection Agency of the US Government has a recommended action level of 4.0 pico curies per liter (pCi/L) as a safe level based on a life time of exposure at 18 hours a day. Since Radon gas is considered radioactive, long term exposure increases your risk of lung cancer.

How widespread is the problem? Radon has been found in homes in all 50 states, no location is immune. Concentrations of radon causing materials in the soil can vary in the same neighborhood. The only way to tell for sure is to have a home tested. Tests can be taken incorrectly, so you should have a certified measurement technician take your test.

Testing for radon comes in two forms: active and passive. Active devises constantly measure the levels of radon in a portion of the home and display those results. Passive devices collect samples over a period of time and then are taken away and analyzed. Either method can help you determine your level of risk. Over a period of days (minimum of 2), the device is left in the lowest level of the home which could be occupied if you live in the home. The test should be conducted in the lowest level that would be suitable for use when you are buying a home. Most every time this would be the basement. This eliminates crawl spaces under the house, but includes finished or unfinished basements. Then the results are analyzed and sent to you with comments.

If high concentrations of radon are found in your home, you have several options. Since radon is only a problem when it is concentrated in high volume, it may be necessary to limit the amount of radon getting into the home by sealing or otherwise obstructing the access points. Once again, a professional should be engaged to ensure that the radon is effectively blocked. Typical radon mitigation systems can cost between $800 and $1500. The cost will depend on access to install components, additional work to seal the basement and how aggressive a system you need to correctly reduce your level.

If you're buying or selling a home, radon can be a significant issue. Buyers should be aware of the radon risk and determine whether a radon test is desirable. When in doubt, the EPA always recommends testing. If test results already exist, make sure they are recent or that the home has not been significantly renovated since the test was performed. If in doubt, get a new test done. If you're selling a home, having a recent radon test is a great idea. By being proactive, you can assure potential buyers that there is no risk and avoid the issue from the start.

A few common misconceptions

It is NOT alright to leave windows open in the house when testing. Even if the test is taken in the basement with the door closed. EPA requires that ALL windows in the house must be closed to stabilize the home for a proper test. Opening a window on the second floor can change the pressure of the house and invalidate the test.

Living on sandy soil does NOT mean you are less likely to have a Radon problem. The very opposite can be true. Radon is a gas. If it is locked in a hugh chunk of rock, it is likely not going anywhere and will decay in that rock. However if Radon gas was in sand or soil, it has an easier path to work it's way up into a home.

There IS a difference in testing protocols when you live in a home or if you are buying a home. EPA went through the trouble of putting out two different booklets just for that reason. The two main differences that are common are where to place the test and what to do after you get the results. When you live in the home, placement depends on how you presently use the home. When buying a home, you test in the lowest area since you may use that area later. When you live in the home you have more time to take a second long term reading if the results are between 4.0 to 8.0 pCi/L or higher. When you are buying a home you don't have much time to take a second reading and you have to make a choice about what is acceptable to you. 


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