Radon testing, a measurement done to detect the presence of radon gas in our homes, could theoretically prevent 20,000 deaths from lung cancer each year in the United States.
Radon gas is an invisible, odorless gas that is produced by the normal breakdown of uranium in the soil. Although some regions of the U.S. have higher levels of radon, elevated levels have been found in homes in all 50 states, and around the world. At the present time, it is estimated that 1 out of 15 homes in the United States have elevated radon levels.
Thankfully, if elevated radon levels are detected and repaired, this cause of lung cancer is entirely preventable. Radon testing is easy, inexpensive, and doesn’t even require willpower.
Radon Testing – Who Should Test
Since radon is an odorless, colorless gas, the only way to know if levels are abnormal in your home is through testing. The EPA recommends that every home in the United States be tested for radon. In the past, some people thought that homes without basements were not at risk, but this is not the case. Any living area below the 3rd floor of a building should be tested.
Radon Testing – What Do the Results Mean?
Radon is present in small amounts in the air throughout the world. The average level of radon in outdoor air is 0.4 pCi/L (pico Curies per Liter), and the average level in indoor air is 1.3 pCi/L. The EPA recommends fixing your home if the radon level is above 4 pCi/L. They also state that individuals should consider repairs if the level falls between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L.
Radon Testing – Importance in Lung Cancer Prevention
Exposure to radon in our homes is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer, and the number one cause in non-smokers. To put the risk of radon in perspective, the EPA has a chart in which they compare the risk of radon to other risks. At a level of 4 pCi/L, the risk that non-smokers will develop lung cancer is about the same as the risk of dying in a car crash. For smokers, exposure to radon is of even greater concern. At a radon level of 4 pCi/L, the risk of developing lung cancer is 5 times the risk of dying in a car crash.
Methods of Radon Testing
Both short-term and long-term tests are available to test for radon.
Short-term tests for radon
Short-term tests are the fastest way to detect elevated radon levels in your home, and are performed over a period of 2 to 90 days (most test kits are done over 2 to 4 days). Do-it-yourself short-term kits are available at most hardware stores, and can also be ordered online or by phone (see below).
Long-term tests for radon
Long-term tests for radon are conducted over a period more than 90 days. Radon levels fluctuate throughout the year, and are highest during cold weather when heating is used and windows are closed. Long-term tests can give an indication of what the average level of radon is in your home year round.
Radon Testing – Devices
Both passive and active devices can be used for radon testing. Passive devices, such as charcoal canisters, do not require power, and are widely available. Active devices require power to run, and can provide continuous monitoring of radon levels. These devices are usually used by a certified radon testing company rather than as a do-it-yourself test, and are usually more expensive.
Radon Testing – How to Test for Radon
Carefully read and follow the manufacturer’s directions on your radon test kit. Some of these are very specific – for example, if your test is left out for more than the required amount of time, improperly sealed, or there is a delay between the test time and when you mail the test, your sample may be rejected. Most test kits recommend the following:
- Place the test kit in the lowest area of living space in your home
- Keep windows and doors closed (except for entering and leaving) for 12 hours prior to testing your home, and throughout the duration of the test (short-term tests)
- Avoid placing the test kit in the kitchen, bathrooms, hallways, laundry room, and rooms that may be drafty
- Place the kit at least 20 inches off the floor
What Do I Do if Radon Testing Reveals Abnormal Levels in My Home?
If your radon level is above 4 pCi/L, the first step it to repeat the test. If the average of the tests remains above 4 pCi/L, it is recommended that you contact a professional to perform radon mitigation. Advantage can provide you a list of certified Radon remediators for further evaluation and estimates for remediation. Your mitigation contractor can offer complete details about different types of radon reduction systems. After performing tests to determine how radon is entering your home the contractor will be in a better position to recommend the “best” system for your house. Costs vary, but most systems can be installed for $1,000-$2,500.
Radon Test Kits – Resources
Most hardware stores carry short-term radon test kits. Discounted kits are often available (especially during Radon Awareness Month in January) through state or county health departments. By phone, discounted test kits can be purchased at 1-800-SOS-RADON