Radon

Radon in Your Home.
You cannot see, smell or taste radon. But it still may be a problem in your home. When you breathe air containing radon, you increase your risk of getting lung cancer. In fact, the Surgeon General of the United States has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. If you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high.

U.S. Surgeon General’s
Health Advisory
“Indoor radon gas is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, and breathing it over prolonged periods can present a significant health risk to families all over the country. It’s important to know that this threat is completely preventable. Radon can be detected with a simple test, and fixed through well-established venting techniques.”
January 2005

If You are Buying a Home.
The EPA recommends that you know what the indoor radon level is in any home you are considering buying. Ask the seller for their radon test results. If the home has a radon-reduction system, ask the seller for information they have about the system. If the home has not yet been tested, you should have the house tested.

You should test for radon.
Testing is the only way to find out your home’s radon levels. The EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon.

Nearly one out of every 15 homes in the United States is estimated to have an elevated radon level (4 pCi/L or more). Elevated levels of radon gas have been found in homes in central Ohio.

Radon is a radioactive gas that has been found in homes all over the United States. It comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water, and gets into the air you breathe. Radon typically moves up through the ground to the air above, and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Radon can also enter your home through well water.

You cannot predict radon levels based on state, local, or neighborhood radon measurements. Do not rely on radon test results taken in other homes in the neighborhood to estimate the radon level in your home. Homes which are next to each other can have different radon levels. Testing is the only way to find out what your home’s radon level is.

Hire a qualified radon tester.
In many cases, home buyers and sellers may decide to have the radon test done by a qualified radon tester who knows the proper conditions, test devices, and guidelines for obtaining a reliable radon test result. They can also:

  • evaluate the home and recommend a testing approach designed to make sure you get reliable results;
  • explain how proper conditions can be maintained during the radon test;
  • emphasize to occupants of a home that a reliable test result depends on their cooperation.
  • Interference with, or disturbance of, the test or closed-house conditions will invalidate the test result;
  • analyze the data and report measurement results; and
  • provide an independent test.

These radon testing guidelines have been developed specifically to deal with the time-sensitive nature of home purchases and sales, and the potential for radon device interference. These guidelines are slightly different from the guidelines in other EPA publications which provide radon testing and reduction information for non-real estate situations.

Do a Short-Term Test.
If you are testing in a real estate transaction and you need results quickly short-term tests are acceptable in determining whether the home should be mitigated. Any real estate test for radon should include steps to prevent or detect interference with the testing device.

When you are taking a short-term test, close windows and doors and keep them closed, except for normal entry and exit. If you are taking a short-term test lasting less than four days, be sure to:

  • Close your windows and outside doors at least 12 hours before beginning the test.
  • Do not conduct short-term tests lasting less than four days during severe storms or periods of high winds.
  • Follow the testing instructions and record the start time and date.
  • Place the test device at least 20 inches above the floor in a location where it will not be disturbed and where it will be away from drafts, high heat, high humidity, and exterior walls.
  • Leave the test kit in place for as long as the test instructions say.

Radon Test Device Placement.
The EPA recommends that testing device(s) be placed in the lowest level of the home suitable for occupancy. This means testing in the lowest level (such as a basement) which a buyer could use for living space without renovations. The test should be conducted in a room to be used regularly (such as a family room, living room, play room, den or bedroom); do not test in a kitchen, bathroom, laundry room or hallway. Usually, the buyer decides where to locate the radon test, based on their expected use of the home.

Length of Time to Test.
The quickest way to test is with short-term tests. Short-term tests remain in your home from two days to 90 days, depending on the device. There are two groups of devices which are more commonly used for short-term testing. The passive-device group includes alpha-track detectors, charcoal canisters, charcoal liquid scintillation detectors, and electret ion chambers. The active device group consists of different types of continuous monitors.

Whether you test for radon yourself, or hire a state-certified tester, all radon tests should be taken for a minimum of 48 hours. A longer period of testing is required for some devices.

Interpreting Radon Test Results.
The average indoor radon level is estimated to be about 1.3 pCi/L; roughly 0.4 pCi/L of radon is normally found in the outside air. The U.S. Congress has set a long-term goal that indoor radon levels be no more than outdoor levels. While this goal is not yet technologically achievable for all homes, radon levels in many homes can be reduced to 2 pCi/L or below.

However, the EPA believes that any radon exposure carries some risk; no level of radon is safe. Even radon levels below 4 pCi/L pose some risk. You can reduce your risk of lung cancer by lowering your radon level.

Your radon measurement will give you an idea of your risk of getting lung cancer from radon. Your chances of getting lung cancer from radon depend mostly on:

  • your home’s radon level;
  • the amount of time you spend in your home; and
  • whether you are a smoker or have ever smoked.

Smoking combined with radon is an especially serious health risk. If you smoke or are a former smoker, the presence of radon greatly increases your risk of lung cancer. If you stop smoking now and lower the radon level in your house, you will reduce your lung cancer risk.

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.

What should I do if the radon level is high?
The EPA recommends that you take action to reduce your home’s indoor radon levels if your radon test result is 4 pCi/L or higher. If elevated levels are found during the real estate transaction, the buyer and seller should discuss the timing and costs of the radon mitigation. The cost of making repairs to reduce radon levels depends on how your home was built and other factors. Most homes can be fixed for about the same cost as other common home repairs, such as painting or having a new hot water heater installed. The average cost for a contractor to lower radon levels in a home can range from $800 to about $2,500.

How To Lower The Radon Level In Your Home.
A variety of methods can be used to reduce radon in homes. Sealing cracks and other openings in the foundation is a basic part of most approaches to radon reduction. The EPA does not recommend the use of sealing alone to limit radon entry. Sealing alone has not been shown to lower radon levels significantly or consistently.

In most cases, a system with a vent pipe and fan is used to reduce radon. These “sub-slab depressurization” systems do not require major changes to your home. Similar systems can also be installed in homes with crawlspaces. These systems prevent radon gas from entering the home from below the concrete floor and from outside the foundation. Radon mitigation contractors may use other methods that may also work in your home. The right system depends on the design of your home and other factors.

Radon and Home Renovations.
If you are planning any major renovations, such as converting an unfinished basement area into living space, it is especially important to test the area for radon before you begin.

If your test results indicate an elevated radon level, radon-resistant techniques can be inexpensively included as part of the renovation. Major renovations can change the level of radon in any home. Test again after the work is completed.

You should also test your home again after it is fixed to be sure that radon levels have been reduced. If your living patterns change and you begin occupying a lower level of your home (such as a basement) you should re-test your home on that level. In addition, it is a good idea to re-test your home sometime in the future to be sure radon levels remain low.

 

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