Radon Levels At Home - Testing and What You Can Do About It

Radon Levels At Home - Testing and What You Can Do About It

Appraisal and Home Inspection
By Contractors.com Team May 07, 2021

We all want our homes to be safe places for our family to live, thrive, and grow. And when it comes to keeping your home a healthy place to live, there are certain considerations that many homeowners have to take into consideration. If you live in a house built before 1978, you might have to worry about lead abatement. If your house is in the post-industrial Northeast, acid rain is something you’ve probably heard about.

But there’s one risk that nearly every homeowner should take precautions against and that’s radon. Radon may not be something that you can see, but it can have negative effects on your health, especially if it builds up to dangerous levels. For this reason, it’s important to understand what radon is, why it’s dangerous, and what you can do about it. Fortunately, protecting your family from this gas is relatively simple.     

What Is Radon? 

Radon is an invisible gas that is naturally occurring. As small amounts of radioactive elements hidden in the soil, such as uranium and thorium, break down, they produce radon. Because of this, you are always exposed to a small amount of radon. 42% of the radiation we absorb in our life comes from radon gas. In small concentrations, radon has no immediate health effects.  

What Are the Risks of Radon in the Home? 

The Risks of Radon In the Home

The Risks of Radon In the Home

Radon becomes more of a problem when it becomes concentrated in closed spaces such as rooms in buildings. Once you are exposed to radon and breathe it in, the radioactive gas passes into our bloodstream. There it can damage local cell DNA, and over time increase the likelihood of developing respiratory diseases such as lung cancer.

However, because of the relatively small doses of exposure, it can take years before radon causes any major health hazard. The likeliness of developing lung cancer from radon exposure depends on various things such as how long you spend indoors, whether or not you smoke, and how much radon there actually is. If you have a chimney that burns wood or coal, this can add other toxic particles to interior air, increasing the chance of respiratory diseases.  

Why Is Radon In Your Home?

Why Is There Radon In Your Home?

Why Is There Radon In Your Home?

While most radon just comes out of the soil and goes straight into the air, some radon can make its way into houses and buildings via cracks and gaps. If you have a cracked foundation, this can be a vector for radon gas to come into your home, where it can then accumulate in a basement. If your home is well-insulated, this can cause radon to build up to dangerous levels so that it poses a greater health risk. 

While radon is a naturally occurring gas, its heightened negative health risks are more of a man-made problem. Radon concentrations tend to be much higher indoors, resulting in radon levels that are higher than in the natural environment. If your home has multiple floors, you may find that radon levels are higher on upper floors than lower ones due to your HVAC configuration or updrafts.

What Are the Signs of Radon in the Home? 

Because radon cannot be seen with the naked eye, the only way to detect it is via the symptoms it can cause. If you find yourself suddenly developing shortness of breath, a worsening cough, pain or tightness in the chest, hoarseness, trouble swallowing, or other respiratory difficulties, this may be a sign of radon. There are, however, no medical kits for testing radon poisoning, so the only way to know for sure that you have been exposed to it is to ask a doctor. 

Likewise, the only way to know for sure that you have radon in your home is to test for it. While it is possible to get a radon specialist to do the test for you, a DIY radon test kit can also be bought online and at most big-box hardware stores. Testing for radon is a relatively simple procedure that can take anywhere from a few days to ninety days depending on how much data you want the test to collect. 

How to Test for Radon

Testing for radon yourself is a simple 3-step process:

  1. Buying the kit.  
  2. Set it up in the lowest part of your home. 
  3. Send the results to a lab for analysis.

However, before you set up the kit, there are some things you’ll need to do to make sure the results you get are useful. The test can be done at any time during the year so long as it is not done during inclement weather. Close all external doors, vents, and windows at least 12 hours before starting the test to avoid an inaccurate result. Avoid using any fans while the test is in progress and be sure that your air conditioning is switched off. 

Most tests have a minimum test period of two to five days, so make sure that you set up the kit in a place that’s out of the way. Ideally, you’ll want to hang the sampler in the middle of a room (from a light fixture for example) where it won’t be run into. In general, the kit should be kept away from drafts, openings, and vents. For the best results, avoid using the kit in an area with direct sunlight or high humidity. Once you complete the test, it's important to get the test to a lab as soon as possible, preferably in less than a week. However, it may take three weeks to get your results back. 

How to Protect Your House and Family From Radon

The level of radon in a given space is measured in a unit known as picocuries per liter (pCi/L). On average, outdoor spaces have around 0.4 pCi/L, while indoor spaces have 1.3 pCi/L on average. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), any radon level higher than 4.0 pCi/L is something that requires immediate action. So, if you receive your test results with this number or higher, it's time to start thinking about radon mitigation. If you do get high radon levels in your test result, remember that this is not a cause for panic. Reducing radon levels in your home is a relatively easy task, and you can restore your home to lower radon levels in no time.

How to Protect Your House and Family From Radon

How to Protect Your House and Family From Radon

The first step is to do another radon test since this will give you a better picture of what kind of radon levels your house has throughout the year. You should also consider doing tests for each room since this will allow you to get an idea of which rooms have high or low radon levels. The next step is to schedule a home inspection with a radon specialist so that they can put in some radon mitigation measures. 

A typical radon mitigation system is made up of a series of fans and pipes which draw the radon from the soil and pump it up to an exhaust where it is then discharged into the air. This setup allows the gas to flow through your home without actually flowing into it. Radon fan installation costs around $1,200 on average. 

If you are in a position where you cannot afford radon specialists, there are still some steps you can take to minimize radon exposure. Move any bedrooms or playrooms out of basements and any other rooms with high radon levels. You can also take steps to improve ventilation in your home which will help remove radon gas and other pollutants from your home and bring in fresh air from outside.    

About Radon Specialists

Radon Testing - How Does It Work and Do You Need It

Radon Testing - How Does It Work and Do You Need It

The best way to find radon specialists in your area is to check out the EPA’s website listing certified radon specialists throughout the country as well as radon levels by state. If you don’t want to go through the trouble of carrying out a DIY radon test, you can also find a radon specialist to carry out the test for you on Contractors.com. A professional radon test usually costs around $200 and can either be passive or active. This refers to the equipment used and the precision of the test. Active radon tests are more accurate than passive radon tests, though they are also more expensive.

Written by
Contractors.com Team

Written by Contractors.com Team

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