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Radon Testing

Approximately 1 in every 15 homes in the United States has elevated Radon levels. That statistic doesn’t seem too bad until you realize that Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. To break that down, 13% of the total lung and bronchus cancer deaths every year are caused by Radon poisoning.

Of course, we’ve already covered all of this before. You can find out more on our What is Radon page.

The real problem is that Radon gas is both colorless and odorless, which means the only way to know it’s in your residence is to test for it specifically. If you don’t know how to test for it, how often to do so or even where to get the testing materials you may never know this silent killer is in your home.

Worse yet, there are no immediate symptoms related to Radon poisoning. It may be years before you even realize you’ve been affected by Radon gas. It can seep into any home too, as it doesn’t matter whether you are living in an apartment, home or manufactured home. They are all equally susceptible, and could have elevated levels this very moment.

All of this talk sure is scary. How do you test for Radon? Where can you get the resources to do so? How often should it be done? What levels of Radon are considered dangerous? That’s exactly what we’re here to find out!

What is Radon Testing?

Radon Test Kit

Radon Test Kit

Assuming you already know what Radon gas is, there are several different ways to test for its presence in your home or residence. You can perform the test with a DIY kit purchased at any retailer, hardware store or online. Adversely you can hire a licensed professional to perform the Radon tests with more advanced equipment. Regardless of what anyone says, both methods are just as effective.

The advantage of using licensed professionals is that if the Radon levels in your residence are elevated, they are often qualified to help solve the problem. There are several different modifications and renovations that can be done to mitigate elevated Radon levels. Contrary to popular belief, such modifications are not all that expensive.

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Who Should Test for Radon in Their Home?

Radon can make its way into any residence. It doesn’t matter whether your home or business is big or small, old or new – Radon gas can still seep in. That means everyone should test their residence on a consistent basis to be sure the levels are safe.

Who Should Test For Radon?

  • Any homeowner, regardless of age of home
  • A business owner, manager or employee responsible for their building
  • Landlord or Tenant
  • Building manager
  • Superintendent of Schools
  • Anyone with a mitigation system in place to test its functionality

Radon actually comes from the natural decay of Uranium, which is found in most soils. As the related element decays, it releases Radon gas into the surrounding area. There is a possibility that the Radon gas will leak into the open air and escape, however in some cases it can seep through the foundation of a home or residence. Since Radon is a single atom element, it can glide through quite a few solid surfaces and materials, and it can easily slip through cracks or gaps in a building’s foundation, walls or floors.

Over time, this Radon becomes encompassed inside the home or residence collecting in dangerous quantities. It does usually take some time for the Radon gas to build up to a dangerous level, and there are no short-term symptoms associated with extreme exposure.

It is because of this, the best prevention methods involve continuously monitoring Radon levels in a home or residence to be sure they do not reach a harmful capacity.

Testing for Radon in a Home or Residence

One of the most common myths about Radon testing is that it is difficult to do, and very costly. Both of those points couldn’t be further from the truth. There are, of course, several different methods at your disposal which allow you to test Radon gas levels in a residence or business.

The more costly option is to hire a Radon contractor to run the tests. Although it is more costly than performing the tests yourself, it doesn’t necessarily mean there are ridiculous expenses involved.

There is an added benefit to hiring a professional. If the Radon levels in your residence or business turn out to be above the recommended limit – 4 pCi/L – the contractor can help start the mitigation process shortly after. Since a lot of the methods used to remove Radon gas from a home involve modifications or slight renovations, a contractor is a good idea.

You can also test the Radon levels in the home yourself by purchasing a DIY radon testing kit from a retailer, hardware store or online. The prices of a home testing kit can range from about $15 all the way up to about $60 depending on how elaborate the test is.

All of that being said, you will need to choose what kind of test you would like performed in your home as there are two: long-term or short-term.

What are the Differences Between Long and Short Term Tests?

Radon Test by Birdies100, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Birdies100 

Radon Test In Progress

The two types of tests are related to the length of time it takes to get an accurate reading. Because Radon levels are affected by many different variables, they can fluctuate at different times of the year. In that respect, short term tests only provide insight as to Radon levels during the time of testing. Long term tests, on the other hand will allow you to track the levels of Radon in your residence for an extended period of time.

Short term tests generally call for a testing device that remains in the residence anywhere from a 2 to 90 day period. Long term tests call for a device that remains in the home for longer than 90 days at a time. Radon contractors can perform both types of tests in your home, but more than likely will run several short term tests to gather a reading.

The EPA recommends that if the results are anywhere close to 4 pCi/L you should perform a follow-up test shortly after. Common practice is to start with a short term test and if the results show elevated Radon levels then you should retest using long-term standards.

Radon is measured in Picocuries per liter of air, or pCi/L. The average outdoor level of Radon gas is about 0.4 pCi/L, while the average indoor level is approximately 1.3 pCi/L. As you can see, the recommended limit is much higher than both of those numbers. It is certainly possible for any and all residences to maintain a level of 2 pCi/L or below. The recommended limit of 4 pCi/L is the absolute maximum Radon levels should ever go inside any residence. Levels higher than that are exponentially more dangerous in terms of exposure.

How Do You Test for Radon?

The first thing you need to do is purchase a Radon testing kit. For a quick comparison on the different types and ratings, please visit our radon test kit comparison page. Once you actually have the testing kit in hand, you can follow the steps listed here to find out the Radon levels in your home. You will need to decide upon a proper testing location before you begin. It should always be a room or area of your residence where you spend most of your time. It’s a good idea to test in the lowest levels possible, such as a basement or the first story of your home. Never place a test in a kitchen or bathroom, because it is possible to receive false results due to appliances and other variables.

Most Radon testing kits include two vials for collecting samples, and a form with information about a mailing address and prices. Once you have completed the testing period you will need to send the vials in the mail to a laboratory in order to receive results. Because of the mailing process the results can take a while to receive, which means if you needs results in a shorter period of time you’re better off hiring a qualified Radon tester or contractor.

In order to properly test your home, you will need to lock down the entire residence before collecting a sample. That means you need to leave all of your doors and windows leading outside closed and sealed for at least 12 hours prior to conducting the test.

Once you’ve done everything listed above you can begin the actual test. Generally, you will need to place the two sample vials about 20 inches off of the floor, and six inches apart from each other. You can use a measuring tape to approximate the recommended distances.

After the vials have been placed, you can remove the caps. It is very important that you wait a minimum of 48 hours, but no more than 96 hours (two to four days) before placing the caps back on the vials. In addition, you should never disturb the vials in any way. Make sure you have placed them in a location where they will not be disturbed.

Try to avoid opening any doors or windows during the testing period and do not use any temperature coolers during that time, like air-conditioners or evaporative cooling units. As an added precaution, make sure any and all fans have been turned off in the residence. Again, it’s important that you do very little to disturb the air or vials inside the testing location.

When the time is up, place the caps back on the vials and send them to the appropriate laboratory along with the necessary resources – which is usually an information form and a check to cover applicable fees. It is recommended that you mail the vials within a day or two so that the lab can return accurate results.

The laboratory will either mail the results back to your home or post them online, depending on the service and brand you’ve chosen for your test.

Obviously, if you hire a professional to do the test you will need to follow the same steps listed here but someone else will be conducting the air collection duties.

How Accurate are the Radon Testing Kits?

This is actually a difficult question to answer. The testing results can be easily swayed by a lot of different variables. The results are largely going to depend on the length of time you spend collecting samples, the time it takes for those samples to reach a lab or testing facility, and what the air situation is like in the testing residence. Simple things like opening doors or windows, or shuffling around the air inside a residence can cause testing anomalies and inaccurate results.

It’s also important to do multiple tests when you find there are elevated Radon levels in a residence.

How Often Should You Test Your Residence?

The Radon levels can be affected by a great deal of things such as the current season, home improvements or appliance additions, living patterns and much more. It is important to perform a test whenever there is a change in your home. If you move from one level of the home to another, you should also perform a test to be sure the conditions are safe. Always remember to test the lowest levels possible, because Radon gas is dense.

It is recommended that you test the Radon levels in your home at least twice a year, similar to annual medical or dental check-ups. In the event that the levels are found to be high, it warrants at least one or two more tests so that the results can be compared.

To see a list of one time short term radon tests vs long term and continuous monitoring, check out our radon test comparison page.

How Do You Know if the Radon Levels are too High?

According to the EPA, any amount of exposure to Radon gas is unhealthy. If the levels in your residence are higher than 0.4 pCi/L you should look into proper Radon mitigation procedures and methods.

The national average of outside radon levels is approximately 0.4 pCi/L, which is why the number was listed above as a reference point for mitigation. Depending on where you live, the levels outside of your home may be as high as 0.75 pCi/L. According to the National Academy of Sciences, outdoor radon levels cause approximately 800 of the 21,000 radon induced lung cancer deaths in the US each year. Furthermore, the risk of lung cancer increases significantly at higher radon levels. Lung cancer risk increases about 16% per every 2.7 pCi/L.

The US EPA has set an action level of 4 pCi/L, which means if the levels in your residence meet or exceed that amount you should take action immediately.

What to do if a Residence Tests Positive for Radon

If the radon levels in your home or residence are elevated then you must take action as soon as possible to reduce the presence of gas in your home. The first step in that process is selecting or hiring a certified radon mitigation contractor. A radon contractor will analyze your residence and help you decide the best method for radon gas reduction.

Find a radon contractor here

The type of residence and overall design will determine what kind of reduction system is going to be most effective. More specifically, the foundation of any residence will significantly impact the reduction method.

In houses with a basement, or crawlspace radon is reduced through four different types of soil suction: sub-slab suction, drain tile suction, sump hold suction and block wall suction. Sub-slab suction is actually one of the most common and most effective radon reduction methods. It involves running suction pipes below the floor or foundation directly into crushed rock or soil. The system basically vents out the radon gas before it can travel anywhere else.

Another method involves a device called a heat recovery ventilator (HRV), or air-to-air heat exchanger. It essentially creates ventilation to the outside by introducing fresh air into a residence, cooling or heating the new air at the same time. HRVs are actually more effective in confined areas like a basement, and must only be used when radon levels are well below 10 pCi/L.

You may or may not choose to seal your home better, but it should be noted that this will not reduce existing radon levels. Instead, sealing a home will only make a radon mitigation system more effective and should help prevent future gas from seeping in. It should never be used as a single method in radon reduction strategies.

Once a radon mitigation system is in place, you must also monitor and maintain it. It is an important part of the radon mitigation process even though it’s considered an extra step.

Is a Certified Radon Contractor the Same as a Radon Tester?

In many cases, yes a radon contractor also knows how to test for elevated radon levels in a home or residence. That being said, a radon tester is not always the same party as one who will help mitigate elevated levels. It depends on the contractor and the testing process used.

If you perform a test yourself and find radon levels in excess of 4 pCi/L, it is definitely recommended that you hire a certified contractor or tester to complete further examinations.

Radon Testing Methods

Visit our Radon Testing Methods page for more information on the various testing methods.