What's a Radon Inspection ... And Do I Need One?

by Team eLocal
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Is radon on your radar? If your home has never had a radon inspection, it could be worth having one done for your peace of mind.

While certain areas typically have higher radon levels, you can have elevated levels in any part of the country.

What Is Radon?

Naturally occurring radon is a radioactive gas that results from uranium, thorium and radium breaking down. When it's outdoors, radon disperses quickly, so it doesn't usually cause problems for people. However, it can also get inside your home, usually through cracks in the foundation, where it becomes trapped.

Why Is It Harmful?

Prolonged exposure to radon inside your home can cause an increased risk of lung cancer. In the U.S., the radioactive gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Your risk is even higher if you're exposed to both cigarette smoke and radon.

If you're exposed to radon, some of the radioactive particles can stay in your lungs, which causes the increased risk of cancer. It often damages the cells in your lung lining. You don't typically notice the effects right away. You might not experience health problems related to radon for years. As a general guide, you should take steps to mitigate radon if the levels are 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher.

What Are Radon Zones?

The EPA created a map of radon zones in 1993 that shows areas where the risk of high indoor radon levels is greater. The purpose of the map was to help organizations decide what resources to allocate and how to implement building codes that can reduce radon.

You'll see three zones on the map. Zone one is red and represents areas with the highest potential for elevated indoor radon levels, potentially above 4 pCi/L. Zone two, the orange zone, is for moderate risk areas, often ranging between 2 and 4 pCi/L. Yellow represents zone three, which has the lowest potential for high radon levels, usually less than 2 pCi/L. No matter which zone you live in, your home still has the potential for elevated radon levels, so you should have it tested.

How Do You Know If Your Home Has Radon?

Since the gas is colorless and odorless, you can't tell if it's in your home without testing. You can use different types of radon tests, including ones you do yourself and professional testing. It's a good idea to test for radon every two years or when you change how you use your home — like if you decide to finish your basement and spend more time in the space. The lowest levels of the home tend to have the highest concentrations of radon, so testing those levels is important.

Do I Need a Radon Inspection When Buying or Selling a Home?

While it's typically not required to sell a home, having a radon inspection and test done is a good idea. If you're selling your home, having radon testing done before you put it on the market can give buyers peace of mind. If you're buying a home, requesting a radon inspection helps you understand what potential issues you might have. The results could be used to request that the seller put in a radon mitigation system. Even if the seller doesn't handle the work for you, going into the purchase informed is important. You might decide to put in a radon mitigation system after you buy.

Can You Test for Radon Yourself?

You can get DIY radon testing kits to check the radon levels in your home. The options are either short-term tests that run for two to 90 days or long-term tests that go for more than 90 days. Longer tests can give you more accurate results and help you get a better idea of the average levels since they can fluctuate. No matter which type of test you choose, follow all instructions exactly and place the test on the lowest level of your home.

What to Do If Levels Are High

If the test results show that the levels are above 4 pCi/L, it's best to contact a radon mitigation specialist immediately. It's also a good idea to implement radon reduction systems if your levels are between 2 and 4 pCi/L to minimize the risk. A common option is a system with a vent pipe and fan designed to pull the radon from under the house and direct it outdoors. You can also improve your radon situation by repairing foundation cracks to cut down on how much radon enters your home. Always leave the work to a professional with extensive experience installing radon mitigation systems. It's a very specialized process that requires extensive knowledge to do properly.

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