Radon: What Is It? Do I Need To Be Worried?

Have you ever been asked if you want a radon test done on your home?  Do you even know that that does? Radon is a natural occurring radioactive gas.  It is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas.

Radon happens with the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water.  Radon is everywhere, but when you are exposed to high levels of radon, that is when it gets harmful. It can get into your house no matter if your house is built on a crawl space, a basement, or a slab.  It can get into your home from cracks in the foundation. Your house may be more susceptible to higher levels of radon if you live in an area where the soil is dense in uranium, thorium, and radium. Radon can even come into the home from well water, the gas can get into the well, and then travel up into the house.  Any home can have high radon exposure. About one out of every fifteen homes end up having a high radon level.  


The Danger


It is bad to have a high radon level because after long term exposure to radon you can develop lung cancer.  Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer. There have been studies that people with lung cancer who do not smoke after testing their homes have shown high levels of radon. 


The Symptoms


It can take between five and twenty-five years to develop any symptoms from the radon. There are about twenty-one thousand cases per year of radon caused lung cancer deaths. Symptoms to look out for are persistent cough, coughing up blood, wheezing, shortness of breath, hoarseness, chest pain, and chronic or frequent cases of pneumonia or bronchitis.  If you experience any of these while in your house you will want to see a doctor, and get your house tested. 


Detection Methods


There are a couple of different ways to test your home for radon exposure.  If you are buying a new house the home inspectors may ask if you want a radon test done.  Usually for an additional fee you can have a short test done on the new home you are looking to purchase.  A short term test usually lasts between two to three days. There are different devices that can be used for a short term test.  An alpah-track detector, which look like a big capsule, a charcoal canister, a charcoal liquid scintillation device, or an electret ion chamber.  You can buy radon detection kits at any hardware store as well. You will place your device on the lowest level of the home where people are usually in.  If you have a basement that you use frequently you would place your device there, if you only have a main floor or a two story home, you would place the device on the main floor. While testing for radon it is important to keep your windows shut and your doors closed as much as possible.  You also will be discouraged to use fans that bring in air from the outside, and to not use fireplaces whether they are gas or wood burning. A well insulated home, or a well sealed home does not guarantee that you will have a low level of radon, it actually increases your chances of higher levels due to there being no place for the gas to escape, so it stays trapped in your house.  

A short term test is not always the best way to see if you have a high level of radon.  Levels of radon can vary from day to day. There is a long term test where you set up a device for ninety days in your house and then send the results off to a lab to be analyzed.  The ninety day test devices that can be used are only the alpha-track detector, or the electret ion chamber. Just like the short term tests you can buy this test at your local hardware store.  Home inspection companies usually do not offer the long term test in your home inspection. A level of 4 picoCuries/liter is a high level of radon. Once you get back your levels and see if you have a high level there are some usually easy home improvements you can do to fix the issue.  There is no need to panic. If you do receive your test back showing high levels of radon, you may want to go see your doctor and tell him that you have been exposed to high levels of radon and for how long you think this could of been. Of course if you are already presenting some of the symptoms of high level exposure you will want to go to your doctor as soon as possible.




Most of the home improvements you can do if you are presented with high levels of radon are fairly simple. 

You can seal all the cracks in your foundation. Sealing all the cracks helps limit the amount of radon that can flow into your house.  This is the easiest one to start with that will help make other types of improvements more effective.

You can install a soil suction radon reduction system.  This improvement is most effective in homes with a crawl space. There will be a plastic sheet in the crawlspace between the bottom of the house and the soil, then a fan will be placed down there to flush the radon out from under the house, while the plastic sheet doesn’t allow the radon up through it. 

Another thing you can do is to create a permeable layer beneath the slab of flooring. This is similar to the plastic sheeting used in the soil suction radon reduction system. But this is used more in homes with an on ground slab. Underneath the flooring between your slab and then whatever flooring you put down you will put down this plastic sheeting that will stop the radon from being able to seep up into the home. 

There are other things you can do like room repressurization, or installing a heat recovery ventilator. It may be best to contact a contractor to help you pick which method is best for your exposure.


The Takeaway

Radon is everywhere, we are breathing it in daily.  The problem comes when you have high concentrations of radon and are exposed to high levels for an extended period of time.  It is not necessary to get your home tested for radon, but it can save your life with radon being the second most common cause of lung cancer.  You can pay someone to come test your home or pick up a test at your local hardware store to see what your levels of radon are in your home. If there are any symptoms of high level exposure you will want to reach out to a healthcare provider.  It can take between five and twenty-five years for you to start showing symptoms from radon.  

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