What is radon?
Radon is a cancer-causing radioactive gas that comes from radium in the ground. Radium is everywhere, in all kinds of soil and rock. When radium in the ground breaks down, it produces a gas that we can’t see, feel, smell or taste. That gas is radon.
When radon is produced, it rises through the ground into the air that we breathe. When this happens outside, the radon becomes so diluted by the outside air that it is not a health concern. When radon seeps through the ground into the buildings we occupy, however, it cannot be diluted like it is outside. This is when radon can become dangerous.
How does radon get into my home?
Radon typically enters a building through any cracks or holes in the foundation. But it can also enter through pipes, windows, sumps and even through an undamaged foundation (since concrete is porous). Radon can be trapped inside all types of buildings: old homes, new homes, drafty buildings, well-sealed office buildings and buildings with or without basements.
Radon is of particular concern in the buildings where we spend most of our time: our homes and our workplaces. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers in the U.S. It is responsible for 21,000 deaths each year.
What buildings have radon?
Since radium is a naturally occurring element in all types of soil throughout the world, radon can be found anywhere. There is currently no way to predict which homes or buildings will have a high radon concentration. One home might have radon readings that are near zero while the adjacent buildings have levels that are dangerously high. The only way to know if your home has an unsafe concentration of radon is to test for it.
The good news is, there are a number of proven methods to reduce radon in your home or business. According to the EPA, the most common method utilizes a vent pipe system and fan which pulls radon from beneath your home and vents it safely outside. The cost of such systems, of course, depends upon your home’s or building’s specific needs but, in many cases, the cost is about the same as for most home repairs.
What should I do?
The first step is to determine if you have elevated radon levels in your home. The EPA considers radon levels to be elevated if they are at or above 4.0 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). If you are measuring radon in your own home, and it’s not for the purpose of a real estate transaction, you can choose to perform the test yourself. There are low-cost home test kits available from your favorite retailer or from the Ohio Department of Health. To order a kit from the ODH, click here.
Most home kits are not as precise as professional testing devices (and are therefore not approved for professional use) but they can be used by homeowners for personal use (and many of them are comparable to the passive testing devices that some radon testers use). If used properly, they can be a good, low-cost solution for homeowners who want to know whether they should pursue additional testing from a radon professional. When purchasing a home test kit, keep in mind that some kits require additional laboratory fees to process your results (so read the fine print on the box before you buy). If you want advice about deploying radon test kits in your home, contact the experts at Buckeye Building Analysis today.
For others, particularly those buying or selling a home, it’s usually a better choice to hire a qualified radon tester to perform your radon test. In many states, including Ohio, professional radon testers must by licensed by their state’s department of health. Don’t be fooled by fly-by-night characters or unscrupulous charlatans who tell you they are “certified” to perform radon tests. Many organizations offer such certifications that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Remember, being “certified” is not the same as being licensed. In states (like Ohio) where licenses are required, a “certified” radon tester is simply someone who isn’t qualified to perform a radon test. Always ask for your tester’s license number and then search for him or her on the Department of Health Radon webpage. In Ohio, it’s here. When your tester arrives to perform the test, demand to see their license. If they don’t have it, don’t let them into your home, and don’t give them any money.
Does it matter what equipment my radon tester uses?
You might also want to ask what kind of radon testing device they use–active or passive. Passive testing monitors, by definition, do not need power to function. They often consist of a charcoal canister that is left in the testing area for a specified period of time until it is collected and sent to a special radon testing laboratory. There, the lab determines the average radon concentration over the duration of the testing period. Since passive monitors can provide only one reading at the end of the testing period, they can be vulnerable to tampering by sellers and others trying to hide a building’s true radon concentration.
Active monitors, on the other hand, do require power to operate. Unlike passive monitors that can only provide one reading throughout the entire testing period, active monitors continuously measure and record the amount of radon or radon decay products in the testing area. While the State of Ohio approves the use of both active and passive radon monitors, we at Buckeye Building Analysis believe that active monitors are the better choice for anyone looking to get accurate radon results.
Because many passive monitors require an outside laboratory to provide test results, it can take up to two weeks to learn if a building has unsafe radon levels. Also, since radon gradually dissipates from charcoal testing canisters, such devices are also dependent upon the speed of the mail service. In other words, the longer it takes a laboratory to receive and to measure the radon in a charcoal canister, the less accurate those results will be. Since active monitors record results in real time, dissipation is never an issue. Also, most active monitors can provide results the same day that they are retrieved. This can save up to two weeks of valuable time (especially important during a real estate transaction). Also, active monitors, by design, are better able to detect attempts to tamper with the radon results. By continuously measuring and recording radon concentrations, active monitors can identify significant variations that could only be caused by deliberate attempts to skew measurement results.
When you receive your results, you should be given a number in picocuries per liter (piC/L). This number describes your radon concentration. Most often, the number is between 0.1 and 20.0. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends mitigation for buildings with a radon concentration above 4.0 piC/L, but they note that levels below this can also pose some risk. Keep in mind, too, that a number of factors can affect your radon levels, including weather, the time of year, and whether or not the home’s occupants maintain closed house conditions during the test. If you feel that the radon levels in your home are too high, your next step is to contact a qualified radon contractor to discuss the best remediation options for you and your home. In Ohio, you can find a licensed radon mitigation professional here. If you need impartial advice to help find the radon mitigation professional who is right for you, the experts at Buckeye Building Analysis are here to answer any questions you have.
The bottom line:
At Buckeye Building Analysis, we use the most advanced active continuous radon monitors available today. Our monitors employ sophisticated computer diagnostic technology to measure the testing area’s radon concentration on site, in real time. And our monitors are equipped to identify most instances of tampering, including even the slightest movement of the monitor during the testing period. Additionally, all of our radon testers are licensed by the Ohio Department of Health to perform radon tests. In short, at Buckeye Building Analysis, we provide radon results you can trust, at a price that’s competitive with those non-licensed “certified” guys. Contact us today to schedule your radon assessment.