February can feel like an odd sort of limbo. Winter is feeling as though it is beginning to taper off, yet it is not quite spring. Odds are that you have spent the past few weeks, or even months, with your home sealed up tight with the heater going nearly round the clock. While this strategy does wonders for keeping all of that nice, warm air inside, it can also trap some more nefarious culprits as well. We refer, of course, to most visions of vapors, radon gas. If your home does not already boast a radon mitigation system, this is an excellent time to have the radon levels within your home tested.
What is it and Why is it in my House?
If it has been a while since your high school Chemistry class (we know that you were only half paying attention anyway), Let’s take a minute to talk about what radon gas actually is. Radon is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas that is created as the byproduct of uranium decaying in the rocks and soil under your home. Unlike many other natural occurrences that plague the unsuspecting homeowner, like blizzards, hurricanes, floods and the like, radon gas is not unique to any one area of the nation. While there are areas that are slightly worse than others (states such as Alaska, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Washington, to name a few), this process takes place in ALL areas of the country.
As for how this unwelcome guest comes to take up residence in your happy home, radon gas normally enters structures (not just homes, but schools, offices and community buildings) through holes and tiny (or not so tiny) cracks in the foundation. The problem is that, once inside your home, this gas tends to stick around and build up. This process is exacerbated in the cooler months, when windows tend to stay closed tight, and ventilation is at a minimum. With nowhere to go, radon gas accumulates, creating a level considered to be unhealthy by established standards. According to the CDC, one in every 15 homes has a level of radon considered to be too high.
While radon is a naturally occurring gas, it is by no means healthy. Prolonged exposure to radon gas can lead to some pretty serious health problems, including various types of cancer. In fact, according to the EPA, Constant exposure to radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, second only to smoking. Rough estimates indicate that around 21,000 Americans die each year from lung cancers thought to be radon-related.
Testing … Testing
Given that radon gas is both colorless and odorless, the typical homeowner would have no way to know the level of build-up gas their home contains without testing. Elevated levels exist in both new and older homes, and (oddly enough) homes that sit right next to each other can have very different radon levels. To have your home tested, you can go the DIY route, or you can opt to have a professional, with specialized equipment pay a visit. DIY radon tests can be purchased at most improvement stores (or on the wide world of the internet), and are relatively inexpensive. Most tests will require you to place a device in the lowest level of your home, like a basement, crawl space or ground level, and leave it there, COMPLETELY undisturbed for a matter of days (some even require weeks or months). Before you begin testing, you will need to close all windows and outdoor ventilation for a period of time (usually 12-24 horse) for a proper reading. After the allotted amount of time has passed, it is time to send everything off to the lab and await results. Because of the room for error on the part of the well-intentioned, but untrained homeowner, professional testing is often the more highly recommended route. Testing done by the pros will set you back a bit more money, but you will likely have results a bit faster and can take some comfort in knowing that the accuracy is guaranteed, rather than relying on your ability to follow directions exactly (know thyself, right?). Depending on your results, next decisions can be made, including whether you may need/want to install a radon mitigation system.
Get to It
With this plethora of information, and given that we have all spent the past couple of years thinking a bit more about our health, as well as our homes (funny how a global pandemic will do that), may we suggest taking some time this month to take care of both by having your home tested for radon? You can thank us later.