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Testing for Radon

Like carbon monoxide, radon is a colorless and odorless gas, so it can affect your family’s health in subtle or dramatic ways with no warning. Usually, there are no immediate, apparent symptoms of radon poisoning. However, breathing radon for extended periods increases the risk of cancer. Radon is a naturally occurring result of the decay of radium, an element that can be found in most any locale. According to some estimates, 1 in 15 houses in the United States is affected by radon poisoning.

Though it is present most everywhere, radon is more of a problem in some locales than in others. Before buying a home, check with an inspector to see whether radon is a danger in that neighborhood. Some communities require a radon test before selling a home. To test for radon, you may choose to hire a company that specializes in testing for radon and other airborne dangers. Before hiring the company, check with your building department and the Better Business Bureau to make sure it is on the level: Radon detection and protection is fertile ground for unscrupulous contractors.

Alternatively, purchase a radon testing kit. Typically, a kit consists of a canister filled with charcoal. Leave the canister open for a few days in the house, then send it to a testing agency. Radon typically seeps up through the ground and into a home via small openings in a basement or crawlspace. If a home is otherwise well sealed, radon will remain in the air. A well-ventilated home is somewhat less likely to be affected, but the real solution is to stop the radon from entering the home.

Sealing out radon is largely a low-tech affair. Check your basement or crawlspace, as well as lower parts of your first-floor siding or masonry, for any points of access. Use latex/silicone caulk to seal small gaps, such as around pipes and cables that enter from the outside. Stuff larger gaps with insulation or foam sealant. If your basement walls are often moist, they could also be allowing radon into the home. Paint them with waterproofing basement paint. If you have a sump pump, install a tight-fitting lid. Then take steps to increase your home’s ventilation.

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