Radon testing


What is radon?

Radon is a cancer causing, radioactive gas. It comes from a natural breakdown of uranium in the soil, rock and water and gets into the air you breathe. Radon typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks, expansion joints and other holes in the foundation.

I have never heard of radon. Is it really that dangerous?

You cannot see, smell, or taste radon.  But it still may be a problem in your home. When you breathe air containing radon, you increase your risk of getting lung cancer. In fact, the Surgeon General of the United States has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. If you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high.

Is radon really as dangerous as cigarette smoke?

Radon is regarded as a Group A carcinogen; that is, it is known to cause cancer in humans with prolonged exposure. It has been shown in carefully controlled studies on animals, and on hard-rock miners, and most recently confirmed in residential case-control studies, that the effects of radon gas can significantly increase the potential of lung cancer. The United States Environmental Protection Agency and Surgeon General recommend that people not have long-term exposures in excess of 4.0 pico Curies per liter (pCi/L).  The EPA estimates that radon causes thousands of cancer deaths in the U.S. each year. Radon is estimated to cause about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year, according to EPA?s 2003 Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes (EPA 402-R-03-003). The number of deaths from other causes are taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention?s 1999-2001 National Center Injury Prevention and Control Report and 2002 National Safety Council Reports.

Why should I test for radon?

Nearly one out of every 15 homes in the United States is estimated to have an elevated radon level (4pCi/L or more). Elevated levels of radon gas have been found in homes in your state. Contact your state radon office for more information about radon in your area. The EPA recommends fixing your home if the results of one long-term test or the average of two short-term tests show radon levels of 4pCi/L or higher. With today?s technology, radon levels in most homes can be reduced to 2 pCi/L or below. You may also want to consider fixing if the level is between 2 and 4 pCi/L.

How does Radon enter your home?

Radon typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Your home traps radon inside, where it can build up. Common ways for radon to enter your home are as follows:

  • Cracks in solid floors
  • Construction joints
  • Cracks in walls
  • Gaps in suspended floors
  • Gaps around service pipes
  • Cavities inside walls
  • The water supply

I'm selling a home. What should I do?

The EPA recommends that you test your home before putting it on the market and, if necessary, lower your radon levels. Save the test results and all information you have about steps that were taken to fix any problems. This could be a positive selling point. A potential buyer may ask for a new test, especially if: 1) The last test is not recent, e.g. within two years; 2) You have renovated or altered your home since you tested; or 3) The buyer plans to live in a lower level of the house than was tested, such as a basement suitable for occupancy but not currently lived in; 4) State or local government requires disclosure of radon information to buyers.


If I find a home with a radon problem, should I look for another home?

If a properly performed test indicates an elevated level of radon in the home you wish to purchase, it is highly possible other homes in the same area will have elevated radon. So, if you like the house, consider taking a reasoned approach that will confirm levels and reduce the radon. Perhaps the best news about radon is that radon can be reduced, either before you buy the home, or after you buy it and move in. 

Caution to buyer: If you want to insure that the radon mitigation system is installed to your standards you may consider overseeing the work yourself. A Seller would have incentive to look closer at cost than quality and in certain situations may make decisions that would differ from your decision. 

Radon testing is simple. Here is a common scenario for potential homebuyers:

  • Find the house you want to buy
  • As part of the home inspection process, request a short-term radon test, using a qualified radon measurement professional. Your home inspector may or may not be qualified to conduct radon testing.
  • If the short-term test result is 4.0 pCi/L or higher, then consider asking the seller to fix it, or consider purchasing the home and performing a long-term test to determine what the actual exposure is.
  • Once you decide to reduce the radon in the house, seek bids from qualified contractors who are willing to guarantee and warranty results.
  • Use bids from contractors to either fix the home prior to moving in, or after you take possession. Bids can be used as a basis for negotiations or even establishing escrow funds that can be used to mitigate the house once elevated levels have been confirmed.Of all the problems a house may have, radon is one of the easiest to identify and fix! 

I'm buying a home. What should I do?

The EPA recommends that you know what the indoor radon level is in any home you consider buying. Ask the seller for any and all previous radon test results. If the home has a radon-reduction system, ask the seller for any information they have about the system.

If the home has already been tested for radon

If you are thinking of buying a home, you may decide to accept an earlier test result from the seller or ask the seller for a new test to be conducted by a National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) qualified radon tester. Before you accept the sellers test, you should determine the following:

  • The results of the previous testing;
  • Who conducted the previous test; the homeowner, a radon mitigation professional, or some other person;
  • Where in the home the previous test was taken, especially if you may plan to live in a lower level of the home. For example, the test may have been taken on the first floor. However, if you want to use the basement as living space, test there; and
  • What, if any, structural changes, alterations, or changes in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system have been made to the house since the test was done. Such changes might affect radon levels.If you accept the sellers test, make sure that the test followed the EPA and test manufacturers recommended protocol for deploying the test. 

If the home has not yet been tested for radon

Make sure the radon test is done as soon as possible. Consider including provisions in the contract specifying:

  • Where the test will be located (If your house has multiple foundation types or slab systems, we highly recommend testing not only in the lowest livable area of the house but also above each independent slab system and/or crawlspace within the house. Radon entry can take place in each of these areas independently thus mitigating lowest livable area may not lower the overall radon to safe levels);
  • Who should conduct the test;
  • What type of test to do;
  • When to do the test;
  • How the seller and the buyer will share the test results and test costs (if necessary); and
  • When radon mitigation measures will be taken, and who will pay for them.Make sure that the test followed the EPA and test manufacturers recommended protocol for deploying the test. 

My home has tested high for radon, now what do I do?

If you have confirmed that your home has elevated radon levels 4 pico curies per liter (pCi/L) or higher you will need to complete the following:

  • Select a qualified radon mitigation contractor to reduce the radon levels in your home
  • Determine an appropriate radon reduction method with your contractor
  • Have the appropriate radon reduction system installed
  • Perform post mitigation testing to verify the radon levels have been effectively reduced
  • Maintain your radon reduction system and inspect the system monitor periodically

Are all Radon Mitigation Contractors the same?Absolutely not! Many contractors may indicate they follow EPA protocols and standards when in fact they may cut corners and/or use inferior materials to enhance profitability of jobs. 

The nature of the radon mitigation business has created an opportunity for some who do not understand the implications of installing an ineffective system. When a real estate transaction is pending the installation of a radon mitigation system, many are anxious to see the system installed as quickly as possible and for as inexpensive as possible. Therefore, unqualified individuals or companies who cut corners may end up installing the system. What many do not understand is that they may be causing more harm than they are doing good.