What Radon Is and How It’s Affecting Your Home and Health

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What Radon Is and How It’s Affecting Your Home and Health

By Laura Gaskill, Houzz

If you’ve recently been in the market to buy or sell a home, you’ve probably heard something about radon. But what is it exactly? Is it really dangerous? And if you do find elevated radon levels in your home, what are you supposed to do about it? The fact is, radon is something we should all take seriously — and it’s not as difficult (or costly) as you might think to test for and reduce it in your home. Find the facts here.

Adrienne DeRosa, original photo on Houzz

What is radon?

Radon is an odorless, colorless, cancer-causing radioactive gas, produced by naturally decaying uranium, which is commonly found in rock and soil across the United States. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers.

How does it get into a home?

Radon is a gas that comes from the soil and rock beneath a home. It can seep in through cracks in the foundation, flooring, joists, wall cavities and gaps around service pipes. It can then become trapped in the home, accumulating in the air, gradually reaching unsafe levels. Some new homes are being built with features that help prevent radon from entering and becoming trapped in the home.

Architecture Workshop PC, original photo on Houzz

How common is it?

According to data from the EPA, 1 in 15 homes in the U.S. has elevated radon levels. The kind of home or its age doesn’t seem to matter — dangerous levels of radon have been found in all types of homes and buildings, both new and old, across the country.

What are unsafe levels of radon?

Outside air, on average, has 0.4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of radon. If the air inside a home is 4 pCi/L or higher, it is considered unsafe. That said, there is no safe level of radon, and the EPA recommends reducing levels as much as possible (even if your test shows normal results in your home), because any amount of radon poses a health risk.

Oak Hill Architects, original photo on Houzz

Who should test for radon?

The EPA recommends that every homeowner test for radon. Households with children should be especially vigilant about testing and fixing radon levels, because children are the most likely to be affected. If you are buying a house, ask to see the results of any previous radon testing, and test the house again yourself after moving in. And because radon can build up over time, it is a good idea to periodically retest. Radon levels can change over time, sometimes quite dramatically.

What about renters?

Ask if the space has been tested for radon, and whether anything has been done to reduce radon levels. If there hasn’t been any testing done, ask if your landlord will pay for a test or buy one yourself. The EPA recommends notifying your landlord in writing if you find there are elevated radon levels in the building — you can also share the results of the test with the other tenants. If you find that there are elevated radon levels in your space, provide your landlord with information on the dangers of radon from the EPA website, and ask him or her to pay for radon-reducing measures.

Ryan Duebber Architect, LLC, original photo on Houzz

How to test for radon.

The least-expensive option is to buy a test kit that you use yourself at home. These simple kits, which come in either a short-term (fewer than 90 days) or long-term (more than 90 days) version, are easy to use and are widely available at home improvement stores. Following the instructions on your kit, place the tester in the lowest living area in your home (the basement if you use it; otherwise the first floor) and leave it in place for the time indicated. Keep the tester away from drafts and heat sources, and keep windows closed and fans off in the area during the test period. Once the time is up, reseal the test kit and send it in — you should get the results within a few weeks.

Another option is to seek out a qualified radon tester — check with your state radon office to get a list of qualified testers in your area. This is a good option if you are thinking of selling your home in the near future, as buyers may be more comfortable getting the data from a third party. Having proof of normal radon test results (or proof of work done to lower elevated radon levels) can help avoid potential hitches in a future sale.

Can you reduce elevated radon levels in your home?

Yes! Even extremely high levels of radon can be reduced to a normal range. Hire a qualified contractor or certified radon contractor to do the work. As with any home improvement job, ask around for recommendations, check references and ask for price estimates before deciding on a pro. You can find radon removal pros on Houzz and through your state radon office.

Locati Architects, original photo on Houzz

What can a radon contractor do to make a home safer?

The most common fix is to install a vent pipe system and fan to pull radon from the air under the house and vent it to the outside. Your contractor may also want to seal foundation cracks to make the system more effective. This is a relatively simple job and shouldn’t cost more than a number of other basic home repairs — but it will greatly increase the health and safety of your home.

Related: Increase Ventilation in the Kitchen With a High-Tech Range Hood and Vent