January has been designated “National Radon Action Month” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The purpose is to encourage Americans to either self-test their homes or have a licensed radon inspector perform the test for you.
Despite numerous stories in major newspapers and on national television, many homeowners are unaware of the dangers of this invisible, odorless gas inside their homes or apartments.
Radon gas is produced by the decay of uranium in the soils. The radon enters the structure through cracks or gaps in the foundation. According to the EPA, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers, resulting in more than 20,000 cancer deaths each year (www.epa.gov/radon/healthrisks.html).
To put this into perspective, more deaths are linked to radon each year than to car crashes, falls in the home, drowning or home fires.
Because radon occurs naturally in nature, it is around us all of the time. The normal outside levels of radon are 0.4 picocuries per liter of air represented as PCI/L (www.epa.gov/radon/aboutus.html), but there are no known safe levels of radon.
The only way to detect radon in your home is with an approved passive test kit or a professional active testing monitor. Test kits are available online for less than $20. You can also contact your county health department for information on free test kits that may be available in your state.
Once the home has been tested, you will receive a report on the levels of radon in the home. A reading of 3.9 PCI/l or less is considered acceptable. Levels at 4.0 PCI/L or greater should either be retested or mitigated by a licensed radon mitigation contractor.
If mitigation is necessary, a venting system is installed below the foundation which then extends to the exterior of the home, usually above the roof line, to pull the radon from the soils and dispense the gases safely to the outside environment.
Radon levels can vary depending on the weather conditions such as high winds, rain and snow pack. If you first receive a high reading, test again under different weather conditions.
Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Send home improvement questions to him at C. Dwight Barnett, Evansville Courier & Press, P.O. Box 286, Evansville, Ind. 47702 or e-mail him at d.Barnett@insightbb.com.