What is Radon?

Radon, a chemical element with symbol Rn and atomic number 86, is a radioactive, colorless, odorless and tasteless noble gas. Coming from a natural breakdown of uranium in the soil, rock, and water, it goes into the air and into your home through cracks, expansion joints, the cavity inside walls, gaps in floors, service pipes, and other holes in the foundation. Under normal conditions, it is gaseous and can be easily inhaled.

Radon is considered a health hazard. It is colorless and odorless which makes it really hard to detect. You don’t have an idea of how much toxic this gas is and how much it is silently affecting your health. It is a silent killer. Studies have shown a clear correlation between breathing high concentrations of radon gas and lung cancer. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s 2003 Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes (EPA 402-R-03-003), it is the second most frequent cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoking, causing 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year. “For smokers, the risk of lung cancer is significant due to the synergistic effects of radon and smoking. For this population, about 62 people in 000 will die of lung-cancer, compared to 7.3 people in a 1,000 for never smokers. Put another way, a person who never smoked (never smoker) who is exposed to 1.3 pCi/L has a 2 in 1,000 chance of lung cancer; while a smoker has a 20 in 1,000 chance of dying from lung cancer.”

The decay of radon causes decay products, radioactive elements that are called radon daughters or radon progeny. Unlike radon gas, radon daughters are solid and stick to surfaces such as dust particles. Inhaling contaminated dust can also cause lung cancer.

Is Radon Testing Necessary?

If you are planning on skipping a radon test to save yourself from an additional expense, remember, it is much cheaper to fix something beforehand than fix a rather bigger problem down the road. Testing is necessary as it is a health hazard and needs to be mitigated.

Measuring the level of radon gas cannot be done by using a detector or changing batteries every year. The best way to know if this hazardous in your home is to have a home radon test. The minimum radon level established by the Environmental Protection Agency is 4.0 pCi/L and anything higher than that will be needing radon mitigation.

Although there are radon devices available that you can purchase and do the testing yourself, EPA recommends that the test be done by a professional. Home inspectors are the professionals you need to carry on this job as radon levels at 4.0 pCi/L can still pose a health risk.

It’s buildup commonly happens when the gas gets trapped in your home. It typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home. Common ways for radon to enter your home are as follows:

1. Cracks on floors

2. Construction joints

3. Gaps in suspended floors

4. Service pipes gaps

5. Cavities inside walls

6. Water supply

7. Cracks and holes in your foundation

If you are selling a home, radon testing is a positive selling point as much as it is a risk reduction action. Prior to listing your property, test your home and lower down radon levels if higher than the established minimum level. Potential buyers will also ask for a new test if the test is not recent, alteration or renovation was done since the test, the buyer opts to live in a lower level of the house such as the basement, and since State or local government requires disclosure of radon information.

As a homebuyer, you can ask the seller if a radon-reduction system is installed and gather all the information they have about it.

Buying a radon-resistant home

Ideally, purchasing a radon-resistant home is recommended. According to EPA, simple and inexpensive techniques can help lower down its levels by around 50%, building in features is much easier and cheaper than fixing a radon problem, and upgrading is easier since a fan can be easily installed to further the radon reduction.

Depending on foundations and site requirements, the basic elements of radon-resistant features are as follows:

1. Gas-Permeable Layer – This layer is used only for homes with casement and slab-on-grade foundations but not those with crawl space foundations. The gas-permeable layer is placed beneath the slab flooring which allows the soil gas to move freely. Commonly used material is 4-inch clean gravel.

2. Plastic Sheeting – This is placed on top of the gas-permeable layer and under the slab to prevent the soil gas from entering the home. For crawl spaces, this sheet is placed over the crawlspace floor.

3. Sealing and Caulking – Below-grade openings in the concrete foundation floor are sealed to reduce gas entry.

4. Vent Pipe – Gas-tight pipes such as a 3- or 4-inch gas-tight or PVC pipe is placed from the gas-permeable layer through the house to the roof to safely radon and other soil gases.

5. Junction Box – Wiring and installation of a vent fan can be made easier with an electrical junction box included in the attic.

So, if you are planning to sell your property or buy a house, always hire a professional to thoroughly look into all the areas and gaps of the house. Test your house and get it taken care of as soon as possible.

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