Everything you Need to Know About Radon

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everything about testing your home for radon and fixing high levels

If you’ve recently bought or sold a home, you probably know the term Radon fairly well.  But while half of the country still doesn’t require any sort of testing for this toxic gas, it can be confusing to know if it’s a real concern or not.  In truth, Radon is everywhere. The gas is outdoors and in every building to at least some extent. The real problem occurs when the levels inside a home are elevated.  An elevated level of Radon inside a home can cause long term health problems.

Maybe you’re feeling skeptical about just how truly harmful Radon is.  I get it. As a home inspector I run into a lot of home buyers who just don’t seem to think Radon testing is necessary and it’s a bit of a hoax.  While I do think there are health risks involved, there are even financial reasons to get a Radon test when you purchase your home. About half of the states in the United States do not require any sort of testing be done to indicate the Radon levels in a home.  In Minnesota, we have no rules or regulations on performing this testing….right now. For example’s sake, let’s say a home buyer does not get a Radon test when they move into a home. Time goes by and in five years they decide to sell their home. As a seller, they have no idea there is an elevated level of Radon in the house.  If the law has changed to require a test, or the new buyers simply want their own test done, the seller is now responsible for installing a Radon Mitigation System, which can be costly depending on age of the home.

This is one of the many reasons I recommend my home buyers get a test done.  It not only protects their health, but their financial burden as well.

From a health perspective, Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.  The first step is knowing if your home has elevated levels of Radon and then to learn about how to remove it if it does.

What is Radon?

scientific research about radon and lung cancer

Radon is heavier than air and it ends up pooling in lower levels of homes and buildings.  This means there can be a highly concentrated amount in certain basement rooms, which can cause many health problems. Radon is the number one cause of cancer in non-smokers and has been studied at length by universities and professionals alike.

Health Studies

High Risk Individuals

Children, smokers and those with bedrooms in basements are at the highest risk for radon exposure.  Children are high risk due to the fact that they breathe at a faster rate than adults and their cells are quickly multiplying.

Smokers are also at a higher risk as their lungs already have damaged cells and damaged tissue.

Those who spend a lot of time in basements and lower levels of home have an increased risk as well as we know that Radon pools in the lowest spot of the house.  This is especially true if there is a bedroom in the basement. At night our face is generally nearer to the ground and we spend anywhere from 6-9 hours breathing in any Radon that may be in the air.
radon risks are higher in children and babies

High Risk Homes

Older homes that have more cracks in the foundation walls and the concrete floors generally are at a higher risk.  Radon travels up through any open area in the floor, including minor cracks.

There are also parts of the country that have higher amounts of Radon being produced in the soil.  Below is a map that shows the US and the higher risk areas. A home with a poorly sealed foundation and low air pressure inside can draw almost 20% of its air from the soil below.
map of radon in the united states

Last is a home that is incredibly sealed and air tight.  This would be a home that is extremely energy efficient with very little air leaking out of it.  This type of home has what’s called a stack effect where the warm air inside the house creates a vacuum, drawing air upwards.  This means that air is being pulled in from the basement, including the floor drain. Floor drains are another place that Radon can enter homes.

What are elevated levels of radon?

Radon is measured by its activity or rate of decay in units called in picocuries (pCi), which is one trillionth of a curie.  If you really want to geek out, I’ll let you know that one curie equals 3.7 x 10 radioactive disintegrations per second.

Radon levels that are considered normal or completely safe by the EPA are under 2 picocuries per litre of air.  Anything with a reading of between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L is okay, but not ideal. Any reading that is over 4 pCi/L is considered unsafe and the home should have a mitigation system installed.

How do I know if my house has elevated radon levels?

The only way to know if your home has elevated radon levels is to have it tested.  There are many different ways to do this.

First, many State Health Departments will offer a free or inexpensive home test you can do and mail back.  They are very simple, but must sit for 5-7 days undisturbed.

Second, you can purchase a kit online (such as Amazon) or at a hardware store and mail the home test back.  This is generally a charcoal test with an envelope that must be opened and left undisturbed. You’ll need to record start and end times and dates precisely and mail it back to the lab.  You’ll then have to wait for the lab to send the results back

Third, you can purchase a Radon Monitor to constantly monitor your home’s levels.  Radon fluctuates throughout seasons and climate changes over time. A Radon Monitor will continuously work to give you the average amount of Radon in your home.  These monitors are great for those who actually have a Radon Mitigation system and want to make sure it’s properly working.

Finally, you can contact a Home Inspector who offers Radon Testing to perform a 48 hour test.  These are usually used for those that need a quick answer on the Radon levels for their home, but you can have them done at any time.​

What do I do if my home has high radon levels?

If your test comes back with a reading over 4.0 pCi/L, then you’ll want to consult a professional to have a Radon Mitigation system installed in your home.  This system runs a series of pipes underneath your home’s slab or foundation. The pipes pull radon gas up through them by a fan and expel the gas safely outside where it will become diluted with the outdoor air.

These systems range in price depending on your home’s foundation and location.  They are definitely an investment in your family’s health and your home.

My Radon Workbooks & Guide

I am a Certified Radon Tester and Home Inspector and I’m extremely familiar with Radon and it’s patterns and health effects.  Many homeowners I work with are in the dark about what exactly Radon is and why it’s so important to test their homes for it. I love explaining the ins and outs of this deadly gas and giving them the reassuring news that it’s all fixable.  Whether the reading comes back extremely low (which we love to see!) or it comes back high, it can be improved by a mitigation system.

I’ve put together the information I share with my buyers in a easy to follow online format.  I’ve recorded videos with information about the key points you’ll want to know about Radon. You’ll also get my fill in worksheets and guides to use throughout your testing, hiriging and possible mitigation process.  

It’s a wealth of information right at your fingertips, and I’d love to share it with you at a discount during the end of this homebuying season: 
what to do if your home tests positive for radon

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Greta James

    About a week ago, I decided that with all of my family spending so much time indoors, I want to make sure everyone is safe. Thank you for informing me that radon levels over 4 are unsafe for humans. It sounds like this is pretty serious and can cause real harm. I will have to look into testing and then mitigation services if necessary!

  2. Thomas Clarence

    I’m glad you talked about how the only way to know if your home has elevated radon levels is by having it tested. As far as I know, radon is a gas that is odorless and can’t be seen so that would make detecting it rather difficult. It seems like it would be a good idea to have your home tested for this gas at least once a year.

  3. Yes, radon is very dangerous to health.
    Before staying in a new house, you need to check the level of radon gas.
    You can check by your own or by radon mitigation company.

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