Have you tested your home for radon gas?

Have you tested your home for radon gas?
radon mitigation system

radon mitigation system

It's odorless, colorless and tasteless.

And it's deadly.

Radon, considered a silent killer because of those traits, is a gas you should be aware of.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says radon is responsible for up to 20,000 lung cancer deaths a year in the United States — second only to that of smoking-related lung cancer fatalities.

Radon mitigators recommend testing your home every two years to check that radon levels are safe.

“Test, test, test,” says Steve Tucker, owner of highly rated Cascade Radon in Portland, Ore. “Testing is the big mantra. If you have a system, make sure it’s doing its job.”

What is radon?

This underground gas can rise from the soil and enter a home though cracks and crevices of the foundation or water supply. Although all homes are susceptible to radon, ones with basements are more at risk, as are homes with wells.

Miners, for example, are more prone to exposure because of working underground.

“Factors that can affect radon include the soil under the house and when the house was built,” Tucker says.

Radon occurs naturally from uranium and other radioactive elements that decay underground.

The EPA estimates that one in 15 homes have elevated radon levels.

Radon can also enter structures through construction joints, gaps in suspended flooring and unsealed spaces around service pipes.

Health concerns from radon

Consistent exposure to radon can lead to lung cancer and respiratory issues such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and other illnesses, health officials say. Smokers increase their risks of getting cancer if they are also exposed to radon.

Some levels of radon are normal, but elevated levels are considered dangerous.

Tucker says radon levels are measured by picocuries per liter of air. A picocurie is one-trillionth of a curie, which has the radioactivity of one gram of radon. A typical home, according to the EPA, has a radon reading of 1.3 pCi/L; a dangerous level is considered 4 pCi/L or above.

Radon testing

There are both short- and long-term tests available at hardware stores or for free by local utility companies. Tests generally cost $5 to $25, with long-term tests typically costing a bit more that the short-term tests.

“A short-term test is one that lasts for several days and is more of a snapshot,” Tucker says. “A long-term test can be in the house for three to 12 months. It’s more accurate because radon levels tend to fluctuate. The best time to test is in the winter because radon levels are typically higher.”

Although several options to eliminate or reduce radon exist, a radon mitigation system is the most common. The permanent system contains a p-valve pipe that runs from the home’s foundation through the roof and uses a fan to blow the air out.

These systems come with gauges to show the reading. Testing homes is often standard practice by a home inspector.

“The house actually works as a large vacuum sucking it up from the ground,” Tucker said. “Having the mitigation system allows the radon to follow the path of least resistance.”

Radon systems typically cost $1,500 to $2,500.

Member James Burke of Batavia, Ill., had a radon mitigation system installed in his home when the picocurie level climbed to 6. Since then, the picocurie level has fallen to 0.3.

“The work was very nicely done,” Burke says. “The pipe went up the inside garage wall, into the attic and out the roof. The fan unit was installed in the attic and plugged into the utility light socket of the light in the attic.”

Radon awareness

Radon continues to make news thanks, in part, due to the federal government’s push for awareness. January is actually considered National Radon Action Month.

For serious radon issues, contact a professional mitigation specialist. Before hiring, check the company’s reviews and see if licensing is required in your state.

“It’s especially critical for those homeowners who upgrade their insulation and make their homes more air tight,” Burke says. “The result is energy savings, but also an increase in radon levels that will go unnoticed without a radon test.”

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