Radon. It’s a word that most homeowners have heard before but may not fully understand. This invisible gas has been called the “silent killer” for good reason – it’s odorless, colorless, and tasteless, yet prolonged exposure can greatly increase one’s risk of lung cancer. In this post, we’ll explore what exactly radon is, where it comes from, how it enters our homes, and most importantly, why testing for it needs to be on every homeowner’s radar.
What is Radon?
Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally when uranium breaks down in soil, rock, and water. It’s found across the United States, with some areas having higher average indoor radon levels than others. Radon itself is colorless, odorless and tasteless, so the only way to detect dangerous levels is through specialized testing devices. When inhaled into the lungs, radon decays into radioactive particles that can damage lung tissue DNA, eventually leading to lung cancer. The Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Prolonged exposure to unsafe radon levels is estimated to cause over 20,000 lung cancer deaths per year.
Where Does Radon Come From?
Radon is a natural byproduct of the radioactive decay of uranium and radium. Trace amounts of uranium can be found in nearly all soil and rock, with higher concentrations often occurring around granite, shale, phosphate, and pitchblende. As the uranium embedded in soil and bedrock breaks down, it produces radon gas which can seep up through the ground. The amount of radon produced depends on the uranium concentration of the soil and bedrock underneath a home. Areas with higher natural uranium deposits, like the Reading Prong region cutting through Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, tend to have higher radon levels.
However, dangerous radon levels have been found across the country in homes built on every type of geology. The only way to know if your home has elevated radon levels is to test for it.
How Does Radon Enter Our Homes?
Radon typically moves up through the ground and finds its way into homes and other buildings through cracks and openings in the foundation flooring and walls. It can enter through dirt floors, hollow-block walls, floor drains, sumps, joints, and tiny cracks or pores in concrete. Radon then becomes trapped inside when the home is sealed up. Without proper ventilation, radon concentrations can rapidly rise to dangerous levels. Any home, school, or workplace can have a radon problem regardless of when it was built. Radon can also dissolve into well water and be released into the air through showering and washing. While radon originating from water is a small risk compared to radon entering through the foundation, it’s still a potential exposure route that should be tested.
At What Levels is Radon Dangerous?
There is no known safe level of radon exposure. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set an action level of 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) for indoor air. At this level of radon or higher, it’s recommended that homeowners take action to reduce radon levels through mitigation techniques. The higher a home’s radon level, the greater the health risk to occupants.
People exposed to very high levels of radon are at much greater risk of developing lung cancer over their lifetime. For example, at 20 pCi/L, the risk of lung cancer increases to four in 1,000, up from two in 1,000 at 4 pCi/L. However, any exposure carries some degree of risk, so don’t assume your home is safe just because levels are below 4 pCi/L. The lower the radon level, the better.
Why Test For Radon?
Given how prevalent radon is across the U.S. and how silent of a killer it is, testing your home’s levels is absolutely essential. Here are the top reasons every home should be tested for radon:
It’s odorless, colorless and tasteless. Radon has no detectable characteristics, so the only way to find out if you’re being exposed is through testing. Don’t rely on your senses to alert you to its presence.
It’s taken seriously at the national level. The EPA, Surgeon General, and other major health organizations all strongly recommend testing, especially for homes with basements, built on bare ground, or with cracked foundations.
It varies greatly from home to home. The geology, construction quality, and layout of your home all impact indoor radon levels. Your neighbor’s test results won’t tell you if your home is safe.
Levels can change over time. Radon levels can spike due to shifts in construction, or variations in weather and groundwater. It’s smart to re-test your home every few years.
It’s affordable and easy. Getting your home tested takes minimal effort and is relatively inexpensive. For such an important health screening, radon testing is a no-brainer.
Solutions exist if needed. If elevated levels are detected, a variety of effective radon mitigation systems can be installed to reduce concentrations in your home’s air.
It’s painless to test. The most common testing method simply involves placing small detectors in the lowest livable areas of your house and leaving them undisturbed for several days.
All homes should be tested, old and new. Any home can have unsafe radon levels, regardless of age, foundation type, or location. Existing homes should be tested regularly.
It’s linked to lung cancer. Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. Avoid needless risk and test your home today. Your family’s health is worth it!
Radon Testing should be one of your top home maintenance priorities. Don’t underestimate the importance of checking your home for this silent invader.
How To Test For Radon
Testing your home’s indoor air for radon is straightforward and inexpensive. Here are some key steps to take:
- Buy a test kit. Reliable radon test kits are available from hardware stores, home improvement centers, and online starting around $15-$30. Look for kits that meet ANSI/AARST standards to ensure accuracy.
- Follow the instructions. Kits come with instructions on ideal placement and testing duration, often 2-7 days. Testing is quicker during heating months when windows stay closed.
- Place kits correctly. Put a detector on the lowest level that people occupy, like the basement. Open ground-floor rooms should also have a kit.
- Mail the kit to the lab. Once finished, reseal and mail the test kit to the lab specified for analysis. Online kits allow electronic reporting.
- Get your results. The lab will issue you a report on the radon levels measured in your home. High results should be confirmed with a follow-up long-term test.
- Mitigate if needed. If levels are at or above 4 pCi/L, you should install a radon mitigation system. Get quotes from certified radon contractors.
- Retest periodically. Radon levels can change over time, so plan to retest your home every few years for continued safety.
Testing for this dangerous radioactive gas is the only way to know if it’s accumulating inside your home’s air. Make radon testing a priority to protect your family’s respiratory health.
Radon Mitigation: Lowering High Radon Levels
If radon testing reveals elevated levels in your home at or above 4 pCi/L, it’s crucial to install a radon mitigation system. Here’s an overview of how radon reduction works:
Sub-slab depressurization: A PVC or ABS pipe is inserted through your concrete floor slab and fitted with a fan, which pulls radon from underneath the home and vents it to the outdoors before it can enter the living space.
Soil suction: For homes with crawl spaces, a membrane is placed over the dirt floor and a suction pipe and fan installed to draw radon from the ground before it seeps indoors.
Blocked entry routes: Cracks and openings in foundation floors and walls are sealed to prevent radon from entering through these routes.
Improved ventilation: HVAC systems can be optimized to dilute and exhaust indoor air. Building codes often require radon-resistant construction features.
A certified radon mitigation contractor should design a tailored system for your home based on specifics like foundation type, radon levels, and soil composition. Prices typically range from $1,200-$2,500, though major foundation repairs could drive the cost higher. Consider it a worthwhile investment for your family’s health.
Take Action Against This Silent Threat
Don’t leave your home’s radon risk up in the air. This deadly gas is prevalent across the U.S. and can enter any building undetected. Defend your family by testing indoor radon levels and having a mitigation system installed if high levels are found. Radon is completely preventable – it just takes awareness and proactive testing. Consult local home inspectors if you have any concerns or questions about keeping your household safe from this silent killer. With simple action, you can breathe easy knowing your home’s air is free of this invisible radioactive threat.