What Is Radon? Guide to Radon and Radon Testing

What Is Radon_ Guide to Radon and Radon Testing WIN Home Inspection.png

If you are buying or selling a home, or have never had your home tested for Radon gas, having a professional Radon test can protect you and your family from health issues. Here is helpful information about Radon and what to expect from a Radon test. 

What Is Radon? 

Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that occurs naturally when uranium breaks down over time. When uranium decays, it releases radon gas as a byproduct. Radon gas is also radioactive, so it can be dangerous to humans. 

Radon can penetrate concrete and common building materials like wood and sheetrock. 

Because radon can move through solid materials, it can easily permeate the foundation of your home. Over time, radon gas can build up and cause air quality and health issues. 

Radon Risk Factors and Health Issues 

Radon Risk Factors and Health Issues Lung Cancer

In small quantities, the normal and tiny amounts of radon gas we breathe in every day do not pose a major health risk. When radon builds up in your home, however, it can be very dangerous. 

Radon is radioactive and prolonged exposure to concentrated levels of radon can be extremely dangerous. Radioactive substances are carcinogens that can cause cancer. In particular, scientists have found that radon causes between 15,000 and 22,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States. While smokers are more likely to have lung cancer, radon is the #1 cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. 

Because it can take years for radon symptoms to appear, it's important to test for radon in your home even if you are not experiencing health issues. Catching radon early can protect you and your family down the line. 

When to Conduct Radon Testing? 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), all homeowners should test their homes for radon. Radon has been found in all 50 states and in all types of houses, so it’s impossible to predict which homes are safe without a test. 

The EPA recommends that you test your home when you prepare to sell. If you’re buying a house, you should insist on radon testing as part of the home inspection before you commit to the sale. If the results show high levels of radon, negotiate the sales price to cover radon abatement before you buy. 

Radon Entry Into Home WIN Home Inspection

While every homeowner should test their home for radon, here are a few factors that may indicate higher risk: 

  • Location: Some regions are known to have higher radon rates than others. The Appalachian Mountains and Upper Midwest have higher rates, while the Southeast has lower rates. Check the EPA’s map to estimate your risk. This map does not guarantee that your house is risk-free from potentially elevated radon levels.
  • Foundation Type: Older homes with dirt floors in the basement have nothing to slow the rise of radon gas from the soil. Exposed crawl spaces also allow radon to rise into living areas unchecked. 
  • Foundation Damage: Radon can seep through concrete, but foundation slabs and walls with cracks are prime areas where extra gas can seep in. 
  • Other Construction Gaps: Any gap in the foundation can allow radon to enter the home. Common examples are gaps around pipes and wires, construction joints where walls and floors meet, and open sump pumps. 
  • Well Water: Groundwater can also contain radon. If you rely on a well, it’s a good idea to test your water regularly for contaminants, including radon. 

How to Test Your Home for Radon 

To get the most accurate results, it’s best to have your home tested for radon by a professional. A qualified inspector knows exactly where to place the radon device to get the best results, and is able to inspect the rest of your home for problem spots where radon can seep in. 

Short-Term DIY Radon Tests (Cheap But...) 

You can buy a Short-Term DIY Radon Test at hardware stores and home improvement centers.  While these DIY kits may seem like an easy option,  they are not as accurate as radon tests conducted by professionalsNot only is professional testing equipment better, but test placement in the home is very important. When placing equipment yourself, you lose out on the benefits of a professional’s experience and knowledge and the accuracy suffers as a result. 

Continuous Radon Tests 

The Continuous Radon Tests are conducted through devices that measure the concentration of radon over a period of time, typically 48 hours. Professional inspectors will place the device(s) in the home strategically, based on the home configuration. The device will then monitor the radon levels over 48 hours while reducing or eliminating any interference or false results or “measurement noise.” The inspector collects the device after 48 hours, and subsequently provides a report based on the measurements taken by an expensive and relatively sophisticated device. 

A One-Stop Shop Home Inspector can conduct the radon test for you along with a full home inspection, and other ancillary services. This will help provide you a complete and up-to-date picture of your home. Your inspector may also offer these services as a package, lowering costs. 

Long-Term Radon Tests 

Long-term tests tend to more accurate than short-term ones because they use alpha particle tracking to determine radon levels. These tests can collect radon gas for a period of three months to a year. 

Factors such as wind gusts, snow pack and soil moisture will even out over the test period. The drawback with this approach is that it requires the homeowner to have a device plugged in for a long period of time. If there's a risk factor in the house, you would want to find out about it sooner. 

The Verdict 

A Continuous Radon Test conducted by a professional inspector is optimal for reliability and accuracy, while providing a report in a relatively short period. The long-term tests are good in terms of accuracy but require a longer measurement period, during which time your exposure and heath rick increase. 

Understanding Your Radon Test Results 

Understanding Your Radon Test WIN Home Inspection

Radon is measured in picoCuries per liter (pCi/L). Though no level of radon is considered safe, the EPA has set guidelines for acceptable levels. If your test results show radon levels at pCi/L or higher, you should take radon abatement and mitigation measures to reduce the amount of gas in your home and lower your risk for radon-related lung cancer. If your radon levels are between 2 and 4 pCi/L, you can consider taking steps to lower the levels. 

The Bottom Line 

Radon is a serious issue in many homes that can lead to dangerous health issues. If you are unsure about the radon levels in your home, having a radon test by a trained professional can help protect you and your family. 

To learn more about radon and radon testing, click here to find your local WIN Home Inspector. Alternatively, call at (800) 309-6753 or email us at inquiry@wini.com and one of our experts will contact you promptly.