January is National Radon Action Month! Radon awareness is something that our staff at Southwest Ohio Home Inspections is quite passionate about and we strongly encourage each of our clients to have a radon test performed during the course of their inspection period. We recommend clients have a radon test completed on the home they are purchasing as radon is a major health hazard that can easily, and relatively cheaply, be mitigated or corrected. Testing is the only way to know if elevated levels of radon are present – you cannot see, smell, or taste radon and it is found throughout the United States.
The best example that we have seen recently of why you should request a radon test was a radon test performed for a young family with an infant child in a home on a slab in a local Dayton, OH community. The radon test discovered extremely high levels of radon gas – nearly 11 times higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established as an “actionable” level. It was the highest we have ever seen. If we had not performed the radon test, the buyers would have been exposing their infant to a very high level of radon. As parents of two young daughters, the thought of our children’s miniature lungs being exposed to that kind of a hazard is hard to stomach! We were extremely relieved they had chosen to have a radon test be completed and that because of it, we were able to help reduce their entire family’s exposure.
What is radon?
“Radon is a cancer-causing radioactive gas. You cannot see, smell or taste radon, but it may be a problem in your home. The Surgeon General 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, you’re at high risk for developing lung cancer. Some scientific studies of radon exposure indicate that children may be more sensitive to radon. This may be due to their higher respiration rate and their rapidly dividing cells, which may be more vulnerable to radiation damage.”
Where does radon come from?
“Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas and comes from the natural breakdown (radioactive decay) of uranium. It is usually found in igneous rock and soil, but in some cases, well water may also be a source of radon.”
As stated before, radon is present across the country. Here in the Dayton, OH region, approximately 70% of the homes we tested last year for radon had elevated radon levels; that is, levels at or above the level which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Ohio Department of Health recommend radon mitigation.
How is radon measured and what does it mean to have elevated levels of radon?
A radon test reports the level of radon gas present in picocuries per liter of air o(“pCi/L”). Elevated or “actionable” levels of radon are those that are at or above 4.0 pCi/L. Radon is easily mitigated to a much lower level through the installation of a radon mitigation system. Per the EPA, no level of radon is safe and any radon exposure, regardless of how low, carries some risk.
What is radon mitigation?
There are multiple methods used to mitigate radon with the most common system utilizing a vent pipe system and a fan. The vent pipe and fan work together to pull radon from under the home and vent it to the outside of your home. Typically, this consists of sealing any visible cracks in a slab, drilling a hole in the slab, placing a vent pipe in the hole, installing wiring for a fan, installing the fan, and running the pipe above the eaves of your home.
How does radon enter a home?
Radon primarily enters a home through cracks or other holes in a home’s foundation but may also enter through the water source.
Is radon only an issue in a home with a basement?
Many individuals (including realtors) believe radon is only a problem in homes with basements. Unfortunately, every single home is at risk of having elevated radon levels. The above-referenced example with the highest level we have ever seen was a brick ranch on a slab foundation in Kettering, OH. It does not matter what kind of foundation the home has, all homes should be tested. Per the EPA, much of the Dayton, OH area is predicted to have average radon levels above 4 pCi/L. Again, the only way to know if your home has elevated radon levels is by testing it.
Is radon gas only an issue in an older home?
The quick answer to this question is a resounding ,”NO!” In fact, the risk may be even higher in newer homes, due to the fact that they are often built in a manner that is much more air tight. The tighter the home, the less chance of the gas escaping the structure. Radon may become trapped in a home, resulting in an elevated level. Again, the only way to know if your home has elevated radon levels is by testing it.
How do you have your home tested for radon?
There are many types of radon tests available. Short term tests range in duration from 2 – 90 days and long term tests greater than 90 days. Long term tests are preferred to short term due to normal variations in the home’s radon level based upon weather, seasons, etc. but, if you are in the process of purchasing a home, you will likely have a licensed professional complete a short term (48 hour) test. Short term tests by a licensed professional are used in real estate transactions due to time constraints and the need for a third party to complete the test. Strict licensing laws are in place for anyone within Ohio’s radon testing and mitigation industry.
If your currently own your home or just purchased your home without having a radon test completed, it is possible (and easy) to do on your own!
How do you obtain a radon testing kit?
Fortunately, if you want to do the radon test yourself, you can walk into any large home improvement store and buy a kit. The cost of this kit typically runs around $15. They can also easily be purchased from Amazon. Additionally, the state of Ohio offers FREE testing kits to any homeowner in the state. Ohio’s free testing kits can be obtained here. Keep in mind, most of these tests are a 48 hour test. If your short term test results come back as being below 4.0 pCi/L, that does not mean there is no risk! If the short term test results are above 4.0 pCi/L, it is strongly recommended that you follow up with a second tests and have a mitigation system installed, if needed.
Do weather or home conditions matter for a radon test?
Weather and home conditions matter when testing for radon! Radon testing should be performed when there are no strong winds, strong rains, or storm conditions as these weather conditions can lead to inaccurate test results due to strong winds forcing the radon to escape out of the house through gaps in your doors and windows. It is also important to keep windows and outside doors closed throughout the duration of the radon test and for at least 12 hours prior to the start of the test. Do not operate any appliances which draw air in from the outside of your home. Just as with strong winds, not maintaining closed home conditions may lead to inaccurate test results.
What if the results are less than 4.0 pCi/L?
Please remember, 4.0 pCi/L is the “actionable” level – no level of radon is safe. If your short term test results are below 4.0 pCi/L, a long term radon test is recommended as radon levels may fluctuate in a home during different seasons. The long term radon test ensures the short term results are representative of the home year round. A long term radon test can be purchased from Amazon. You should retest every 3 – 5 years if levels are not elevated.
I don’t believe in radon and think it’s a government conspiracy.
Thankfully, we live in America and we are free to have our own opinions. That being said, radon gas came to light due to coal miners regularly developing lung cancer and the desire to understand why. The health hazards of radon are based on scientific evidence. Multiple studies have been completed and published regarding the hazard of radon. Testing methods were scientifically designed. Radon is a very real health concern.
I don’t want to know if my home has elevated levels of radon – I would have to disclose it if I sell my home.
Radon is a known health hazard. If you were able to easily test for something that could hurt your loved ones, wouldn’t you want to do it? Thankfully, that is the case with radon. It is very easy to determine if your home has elevated levels of radon.
If your home does have elevated levels of radon, a mitigation system does not make buyers stop and want to avoid a home – they understand it had elevated levels of radon and they have been taken care of. A radon mitigation system can be used as a positive selling point!
Should I test my house (or the one I am purchasing) if it already has a radon mitigation system installed?
If your existing home has a mitigation system installed, you should retest every two years to ensure levels remain low. If the home you are purchasing has a mitigation system installed, you should test for radon during your inspection period. Even with a mitigation system installed, levels may be elevated. Sometimes, the mitigation system was not installed properly (we have seen this locally). Eventually, components of the mitigation system wear out (if the fan is not working, the gas is not moving out of the home). If cracks in the foundation were not sealed or new cracks have developed since the system was installed, radon may still be entering the home and not being discharged outside of the home. Additionally, the state of Ohio requires anyone who professionally mitigates radon be licensed by the state; there are no rules that say a homeowner can’t install their own system. As you may already know, DIY installation does not mean it was done properly!