If you're in the process of searching for or buying a home, you've probably been advised to have a home inspection. But there's another test that you'll want to make sure your potential home -- or, if you don't have plans to move, your current home -- passes - the radon test.
Radon, a colorless and odorless decay product of uranium that occurs naturally in soil and rock, has been identified as a leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. It causes 15,000 to 22,000 deaths a year.
Radon can enter your home from the ground through cracks in walls, basement floors and foundations, and the risk of exposure increases during colder months when we keep our windows and doors closed and spend more time indoors.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, radon can be a problem in any type of home. Local geology, construction materials, and how the home was built are among the factors that can affect radon levels.
Radon is found in every state in the United States. However, there are some states that are more radon prone. The hottest radon spots are Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. But radon is also common in many other states.
The only way to know whether radon exists in elevated levels in your home is to test. Reliable radon tests can be purchased from some local hardware or home improvement stores, or from the National Radon Hotline at 1-800-SOS-RADON.
When you're buying a home, the EPA recommends asking the seller for their radon test results, if they have had the house tested. Find out who conducted it and where in the home it was taken. Also what, if any, structural changes, alterations, or changes in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system have been made to the house since the test was done.
If you need to test, do it as soon as possible and consider including provisions in the contract specifying where it will be located, who will conduct it, what type of test to do, when to do it, how the seller and you will share the results and costs, and when radon mitigation measures will be taken and who will pay for them, if necessary.
You can hire a qualified radon tester who is certified by the National Environmental Health Association (www.neha.org) or test yourself.
The quickest way is with short-term tests that remain in your home for two to 90 days, depending on the device. Charcoal canisters, alpha track, electret ion chamber, continuous monitors, and charcoal liquid scintillation detectors are the most commonly used devices.
If you need results quickly, you can take two short-term tests at the same time in the same location for 48 hours.
The EPA recommends that testing device(s) be placed in the lowest level of the home suitable for occupancy. The test should be conducted in a room to be used regularly; do not test in a kitchen, bathroom, laundry room or hallway. Operate the home's heating and cooling systems normally during the test. For tests lasting less than one week, operate only air-conditioning units that re-circulate interior air. If a radon-reduction system is in place, make sure the system is working properly and will be in operation during the test.
Also be sure to:
You should receive your test results within a few days or weeks. If you need results quickly, request expedited service. Action should be taken to reduce levels if the test results indicate a radon level of 4 pCi/L or higher.
To avoid/detect test interference:
Most homes can be fixed for about the same cost as other common home repairs. The average cost for a contractor can range from $800 to $2,500.
A variety of methods are used to reduce indoor radon levels, from sealing cracks in floors and walls to changing the flow of air into the home. Simple systems, known as sub-slab depressurization, use pipes and fans to remove radon gas from beneath the concrete floor and foundation before it can enter the home.
So as you hire a home inspector, check for termites, and dream about the home you're hoping to make your own, take the time to test for radon.
And if you're not planning on buying or selling anytime soon and you haven't had your house tested, put the radon test at the top of your household to-do list.