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Radon and Your House

Radon is nasty stuff. It is an odorless gas, commonly found in nature and, unfortunately, also found all too often within homes in the US today. What makes radon nasty is its role as a leading cause of lung cancer. The more radon you are exposed to, and the longer you are exposed to it, the greater your chance is of developing cancer of the lungs. Certainly, radon is not something you want to share your house with!

So, what is radon and how does it get into your home in the first place? Radon is a radioactive gas. Unlike other gasses, radon cannot be detected by sight, smell or taste. It comes from the breakdown of uranium, which occurs naturally. In fact, most soil samples in the US can be found to contain some amount of radon. Although radon is usually found in rock and dirt or soil, it can also be found in well water. The radon is released when normal household activities occur, such as washing dishes or taking a shower. So, radon can be everywhere, but when it is in the air outdoors, its amount is so small that it is readily diluted in the air and has no known effect on people. However, when radon is inside a home, particularly inside a modern home that is well insulated and tightly constructed, the radon can accumulate to problematic levels. How problematic will depend on the amount of radon in the underlying soil or well water, as well as the type of construction and the actual design of the home involved. Accordingly, you want to prevent radon from entering your home wherever possible, ventilate your home to reduce the impact of the radon that does invade your home, and then remove all of it that you can from your home.

Radon Testing
First, though, test your home for radon. There are tests that take only a few days to complete. You can buy a kit from your local home store for less than $30 and follow the simple instructions, which will probably include the suggestion of testing particular indoor spaces with doors and windows shut. Some experts recommend testing occur during cold weather, though your radon testing kit will specify its particular requirements.

If there is any concern about the accuracy of the results of the initial, short-term test, you may wish to opt for a longer-term test. These can take up to one year to conclude. Long-term testing is the most accurate way to test for radon, but it is not usually practical, especially if radon-testing is one of the contingencies you have in a contract to purchase a home. Most agreements to purchase a home require home inspections, including radon testing, to occur within 30 days.

Some sources quote that the average radon level in homes is about 1.5 pCi/L. The EPA recommends that no radon level of 4.0pCi/L be tolerated in a home. However, no radon level is considered to be perfectly safe, so efforts to reduce radon levels in any home may be recommended. This is complicated further by the fact that different states consider widely differing levels of radon to be dangerous. A radon water test that would fail according to state regulations in a New Hampshire residence, for example, might pass with flying colors in Maine. A comprehensive resource for information about radon levels, along with various radon testing kits available by phone or Internet, is this web site: http://www.rtca.com/rts.html

Radon Mitigation
Fortunately, if your home does have unacceptable amount of radon when you test, you don't have to live with it. There are various methods of radon mitigation, depending upon site layout, home construction, and other factors. The EPA provides several excellent, free and downloadable reports that will help guide you in your best choice for preventing the radon from entering your home, ventilating your home to reduce radon's impact, and removing radon from your home. Research your options here: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/radon/pubs/
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