Radon Testing and Mitigation: The Basics

According to the EPA, the World Health Organization and many other public health organizations, radon is second only to cigarette smoking as a leading cause for lung cancer, causing 21,000 deaths every year. But, what exactly is radon gas and where does it come from? When should you test and how can you take action to mitigate radon gases in your home? We’ve created a helpful guide for homeowners on the basics of radon to answer these questions and more.

What is Radon and Where Does it Come From?

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer. You can’t see or smell radon, and it’s harmful for everyone – children, adults and even pets. The EPA classified radon as a human carcinogen in 1988. Today, it’s the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers in the U.S.

So, where does it come from? Radon comes from the breakdown or decay of uranium found underground. The soil under and around your home or building is by far the largest source of radon gas, but it’s also present in well water, building materials, public water supplies and indoor air. Radon is an unstable gas, so it breaks down and dissipates quickly in open air, but dangerous levels can accumulate inside a home.

Any home or building – new or old, basement or no basement – can have a radon problem. The EPA estimates nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the U.S. to have elevated radon levels, with most of Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas categorized as a “Zone 1” area, meaning the predicted average indoor radon screening levels are greater than the EPA action level of 4 pCi/L. Radon can also be a problem in schools and workplaces, and enters through cracks in solid floors, construction joints, cracks in walls, gaps in suspended floors, gaps around service pipes and cavities inside walls. In fact, in many states, radon testing and is required for schools, daycares and other public facilities.

New homes can be built with radon-resistant features used to prevent radon entry. Simple and inexpensive techniques installed at the time of construction can make it easier and less expensive to reduce radon levels after the fact. The EPA still recommends testing every new home for radon after occupancy, even if it was built with radon-resistant construction techniques. To learn more about radon-resistant building techniques, check out the EPA publication Building Radon Out: A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Build Radon-Resistant Homes.

How Do I Test For Radon?

Testing for radon is simple. You can buy a Do-It-Yourself radon test kit online or at Home Depot and get pretty accurate readings in a few days as long as you follow the instructions carefully. It’s always recommended to place the test in the lowest level of your home – whether that’s your basement or crawl space – and in the center of the room. If you don’t have a basement, it’s still important to test for radon because it can enter your home through cracks in the floor or porous concrete slabs.

If you’re not confident or interested in doing a radon test on your own, or if your home test kit results come back high, the next step is to have a radon professional in to conduct a continuous radon monitor (CRM) test. A professional CRM test conducted by a Certified Radon Mitigation Specialist takes an hourly reading of your levels for 48 hours to get an aggregated and very accurate picture of your levels over that period of time. Working with a radon professional will ensure that the test is placed accurately, errors are avoided, and ensure that the entire process complies with EPA standards. He or she will explain the results and guide you through the options for mitigation if your radon levels are high.

How Much Radon is Too Much?

Radon is measured in picocuries (pCi). While no amount of radon is good for you, the EPA recommends taking action to mitigate at a level of 4.0 pCi/L, and the World Health Organization at 2.8 pCi/L.

Is My Neighborhood at Risk?

The EPA categorizes most of Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas as a “Zone 1” area, meaning the predicted average indoor radon screening levels are greater than the EPA action level of 4 pCi/L. Because uranium deposits in soil can be scattered, it’s not uncommon for levels to vary from home to home, even within the same neighborhood. This means even if your neighbors test low, your home could still be at risk, or vice versa. While the EPA Radon Zones map is a useful tool to help predict the radon potential for a specific area, the EPA recommends every home be tested, regardless of geographic location, and notes that homes with elevated levels of radon have been found in all three zones.

What is Radon Mitigation?

Radon mitigation, also referred to as radon remediation or radon abatement, is simply the process of reducing radon gas concentrations in the indoor air of a home or building. At Thrasher, we use sub-slab depressurization to reduce radon levels, which involves a radon depressurization vent that forces radon gas out of your house through a PVC pipe. What does that mean exactly? Listen to one of our experts describe the radon mitigation system installation process:

Can radon levels change over time?

Radon levels can change over time as new entry points arise. Even if you already have a radon mitigation system in place, floor cracks and porous concrete can bring your radon levels to a hazardous state. The EPA recommends testing radon levels every 2 years. If you’re not sure what the radon levels in your home are, find out. Because it’s invisible, odorless and tasteless, the only way to know is to test.

If you’re interested in radon testing or mitigation in Nebraska or Western Iowa, we’re here to help. Our Certified Radon Specialists can perform an inspection and conduct a radon detection test in your home in as little as two days. Give us a call at 1-800-827-0702 or contact us online to learn more.