Should I Test for Radon?
Whether or not to test for radon is a great question and one that gets asked all the time. Maybe you are a first-time home buyer or are someone who has lived in the same house for 30 years. You’ve heard about Radon but are not really sure what all the fuss or you don’t think it applies to your home. The more information you have, the better-informed decision you can make. To help with this, let’s break radon down into three parts.
I. What is Radon?
Before you can decide anything, let’s explore what Radon is and where it comes from. Radon is a radioactive gas that you cannot see, feel, smell, or taste. It comes from decaying uranium found naturally in the soil. As a gas, the radon moves easily through openings and cracks in a house. Once out of the soil, Radon itself decays, and it’s progeny attach to dust particles that can be inhaled. The inhalation of these particles has been shown to cause lung cancer, and the greater the levels, the higher the risk. Radon is currently the second greatest cause of lung cancer according to the EPA, smoking being the first.
II. How does it enter my home?
Since radon is a gas, it easily moves through soil as well as small holes, cracks, plumbing penetrations and sump pumps. Differences in air pressure between the basement or crawlspace and the surrounding soil draws radon into the home though these entry points.
Because radon can literally be sucked into a home, any home can potentially have a radon problem. All conventional house construction types have been found to have radon levels exceeding the action level of 4 pCi/L. Let’s review the most common types of homes:
Radon can enter through floor-to-wall joints, control joints, and cracks in the slab.
The vacuums that exist within a home are exerted in the crawlspaces, causing radon and other gases to enter the home from the area below. Even with crawlspace vents, a slight vacuum is still exerted in the crawlspace. Measurements of homes with crawlspaces have shown elevated radon levels.
Radon can enter a home regardless of whether it has a basement. Slabs built on grade can have just as many openings to allow radon to enter as do basements.
Unless these buildings are set up on piers without any skirting placed around them, interior vacuums can cause radon to enter these types of homes as well.
III. What really are the risks?
It is estimated that 1 in 15 homes nationwide have levels at or above 4pCi/L, the level at which the EPA recommends taking action to reduce concentrations. The only way to know if there is radon present is to test for it. I like visuals, so I l find the following table helpful to give some perspective to the risk at different Radon levels. (From “A Citizens Guide to Radon”)
The image below is from a recent inspection I did of a brand new home in which the attic access door was not insulated. An uninsulated door like this is one of the most common things I see during inspections! The "hole" this creates in the thermal envelope of a house is huge! Would you leave your window open all year when your heat and AC is on? Think of this in the same way.
Imagine opening up the smallest window in hour home on the coldest day of the year. I could say, "That window only accounts for less than 5% of your total wall, so don't worry, you won't loose that much heat." Would you believe me? Of course not! We all know how fast the inside of our home will cool down if we even crack a window!
Our attic access's have the same effect. Although they may account for only 5% or less of our ceiling space, leaving this uninsulated can make your tightly sealed attic your homes greatest energy loss. The good news, it's extremely easy and cheap to remedy! A couple of layers of rigid foam insulation cost's less than $20 and won't effect your ease of access. Check your's today and start saving money on your utility bills!