What is radon?
Radon is a radioactive gas that results from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil. Radon moves from the ground to the air, where it can be inhaled and cause serious health problems. According to the Surgeon General, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and the second leading cause of lung cancer overall.
Why should you worry about radon in the winter?
Radon levels constantly fluctuate, but they are the highest in the winter, which could be why the Environmental Protection Agency has designated January as National Radon Action Month.
Since radon is a gas, it’s always moving from a high-pressure area to a low-pressure area—for example, from the soil to the air. Weather events like cold fronts and storms affect air pressure, impacting how much radon is moving into the air. Snow is also a contributing factor. When snow blankets the ground outside, the ground under your home becomes a hiding place for radon to escape into the air.
During the winter, we keep our homes closed tight to keep the heat in. Unfortunately, this also traps radon. Heat that’s escaping from drafty vents and windows could make the problem worse, creating a vacuum inside the home and pulling in radon gas from the soil below the foundation. Sump pumps and cracks in the home’s foundation are the most common entry points for radon.
How do you test for radon?
Radon is measured in picoCuries per liter of air, abbreviated as pCi/L. While the Environmental Protection Agency currently claims no amount of radon is ‘safe,’ they recommend a level at or below 4 pCi/L in your home. Compared to the rest of the nation, Iowa has a high rate of naturally occurring radon in our soil, with an average level of 6.1 pCi/L.
You can’t see, smell, or taste radon, meaning it can easily go undetected in your home. The only way to know if your home has safe levels of radon is to have your home tested. Radon levels can vary depending on a home’s structure. Even if your neighbor’s home has ‘safe’ levels of radon, your home could be at risk and should still be tested.
Activated Charcoal Test
This is the most commonly used radon test and is relatively inexpensive and easy to conduct yourself. You can buy a kit online or at the hardware store. The activated charcoal in these devices contains carbon, which absorbs radon gas. After sitting in your home for two to seven days, these devices are sealed and sent back to the manufacturer. The manufacturer then analyzes the charcoal and provides you with results.
Alpha Track Detectors
These tests are also commonly used and relatively inexpensive. When radon particles come in contact with the special strip of plastic on an alpha track detector, they leave a tiny mark. The device is then sent back to the manufacturer, who counts these marks to determine the radon level.
Alpha track detectors can function as a short-term or long-term test and can be left out anywhere between 91-365 days. In general, longer tests provide more accurate results.
Hire an Inspector
You can also hire a professional to conduct the test for you. Inspectors typically use a continuous radon monitor device, which stays in the home for a minimum of two days to measure radon levels. Employing a certified radon inspector who uses such continuous radon monitoring devices is the only accepted method of measuring radon for a real estate transaction. Ultimately, the cost will depend on the companies in your area, but in the Corridor, you can expect to pay about $125 for a radon test.
How Do You Lower Radon Levels in Your Home?
What if your radon test comes back higher than 4 pCi/L? The good news is there are several ways to lower your home’s radon levels.
Sealing or caulking any cracks in your foundation is a basic step in any radon reduction plan. However, according to the EPA, this alone is not enough to lower radon levels in your home to a safe amount. Sealing should be used in conjunction with another method, such as a radon removal system.
The most common method of radon reduction is a soil suction system, also referred to as active soil depressurization (ASD). This system gets rid of the radon before it even enters your home. A small fan pulls the radon gas from the soil or crushed rock beneath your foundation, venting it through a pipe to the air above your home, where it is naturally diluted. There are many variations of this system to fit your home’s foundation.
Even if you have a radon reduction system in your home, it’s still a good idea to test your home for radon every few years to ensure the system is functioning properly. If you’re testing for radon in a real estate transaction, keep in mind that sellers are not required to mitigate for radon, though many will. Professional mitigation must be done by a certified installer, and a re-test is typically performed to show the system is functioning properly.
While you can’t control the amount of radon in the soil under your home, you can protect yourself and your family from radon exposure this winter. Get your home tested and take action to reduce your risk.
Not sure where to find a licensed inspector? Have more questions about how to keep your home safe this winter? Reach out and get advice from one of our agents!