After a long day at work, you flip on the television while you make dinner. A commercial for the nightly news announces dramatically, “This silent but deadly killer could be in your home right now, the story at 11!” Though it’s been a long day, you anxiously stay awake to find out about the deadly killer. The newscaster announces the killer is radon and instead of answering your question, you find yourself left with more questions.
“Of all the potential problems in a home, radon is one of the easiest to identify and fix,” says Dwayne Boggs of Boggs Inspection Services. Below, Boggs sheds some light on this invisible hazard that can be anywhere.
What is Radon?
Radon is radioactive gas created from natural deposits of uranium and radium in the soil. It’s odorless, tasteless, and colorless. When radon leaks into homes, it has to potential to become trapped and build up to unsafe levels. Radon has been shown to be a cause of preventable lung cancer. Several major health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Lung Association and the American Medical Association agree that radon concerns should be taken seriously.
Is My Home Affected?
Any home can be affected by radon. Many dangers to a home are common throughout a neighborhood. If your neighbor’s house is in a floodplain, it is a good chance your house is too. Or if your neighbor has a problem with subterranean termites, you would want to keep an eye out for signs of the pest too. The same is not true for radon. Every single house carries its own individual risk. Every other house in your neighborhood could be accumulating radon, and yours could be the only one unaffected. Or the other way around.
Radon risk is determined by a number of conditions that all come together to allow radon to collect within the home. “Radon can be a problem in homes of all types: old homes, new homes, drafty homes, insulated homes, homes with basements, and homes without basements,” explains Boggs. “Local geology, construction materials, and how the home was built are among the factors that can affect radon levels in homes.”
Testing for Radon
There are three ways to test for radon, a short-term test, a long-term test and a water test. The short-term test usually takes between 2 and 7 days—a radon test should never take less than 48 hours. Short-term tests are placed in the lowest livable area of a home. “The test can provide a snapshot of radon activity during the testing period,” says Boggs. However, a short-term test cannot provide a year-round average. Short term tests are most effective when performed in the winter when windows are not opened as frequently. Instructions for performing the test should be followed carefully. Ideally, tests should be placed by a trained professional.
Long-term tests take a minimum of 91 days, and can account for seasonal changes that affect radon build up in the home. They are usually done if a short-term test comes back with elevated levels. Like short-term tests, they should be placed in the lowest livable area of the home and should be performed by a qualified professional.
Radon tests can also be performed on water, but radon entering a house through water is usually only a concern if the home is on well water, not on municipal water sources. Radon entering a home in the plumbing is a much smaller concern, and a qualified professional can evaluate the need for water tests.
Fixing a House with Radon Accumulation
The good news is that proper radon mitigation (sometimes called radon remediation) is a relatively small fix with low maintenance and upkeep costs. “Most homes can be fixed for about the same cost as other common home repairs,” says Boggs.
Radon mitigation should always be performed by skilled professionals. Simple steps, like patching holes and cracks in the home’s foundation are usually the first steps a radon mitigation specialist will take. Other parts of the mitigation process are more complicated, which may involve the installation of specialized mitigation equipment to redirect the radon out of the house and prevent it from building to hazardous levels. Once a home is identified as having elevated levels of radon, it should be retested after radon mitigation and every two years to ensure that the mitigation is effectively managing radon levels.
Radon can be managed safely and effectively, but it is a concern that people should take seriously. If you are currently in the home buying process, ask to perform a short-term radon test as part of the inspection. If you haven’t had the home you live in tested for radon, consider having it tested.
Visit the EPA website to learn more about radon. Head over to the Boggs Inspection Services website or call 360-480-9602 if you would like advice about radon testing, radon mitigation services in the area or simply to schedule an inspection of your home to look for areas where your home might need attention.