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  • How to Test Your Home

You can't see radon, but it's not hard to find out if you have a radon problem in your home. All you need to do is test for radon. Testing is easy and should only take a few minutes of your time. The amount of radon in the air is measured in "picoCuries per liter of air, " or "pCi/L. " Sometimes test results are expressed in Working Levels (WL) rather than picoCuries per liter (pCi/L). There are many kinds of low-cost  "do-it-yourself" radon test kits you can get through the mail and in hardware stores and other retail outlets.  If you prefer, or if you are buying or selling a home, you can hire a qualified tester to do the testing for you.  You should contact your State radon office about obtaining a list of qualified testers.  You can also contact a private radon proficiency program for lists of privately certified radon professionals serving your area.  For links and information, visit www.epa.gov/radon/proficiency.html.

  • There are Two General Ways to Test for Radon
  • SHORT-TERM TESTING: The quickest way to test is with short-term tests. Short-term tests remain in your home for two days to 90 days, depending on the device. "Charcoal canisters, " "alpha track, " "electret ion chamber, " "continuous monitors, " and "charcoal liquid scintillation" detectors are most commonly used for short-term testing. Because radon levels tend to vary from day to day and season to season, a short-term test is less likely than a long-term test to tell you your year-round average radon level. If you need results quickly, however, a short-term test followed by a second short-term test may be used to decide whether to fix your home.

  • LONG-TERM TESTING: Long-term tests remain in your home for more than 90 days. "Alpha track " and "electret" detectors are commonly used for this type of testing. A long-term test will give you a reading that is more likely to tell you your home's year-round average radon level than a short-term test.

  • How To Use a Test Kit

Follow the instructions that come with your test kit. If you are doing a short-term test, close your windows and outside doors and keep them closed as much as possible during the test. Heating and air-conditioning system fans that re-circulate air may be operated.  Do not operate fans or other machines which bring in air from outside.  Fans that are part of a radon-reduction system or small exhaust fans operating only for short periods of time may run during the test.  If you are doing a short-term test lasting just 2 or 3 days, be sure to close your windows and outside doors at least 12 hours before beginning the test, too. You should not conduct short-term tests lasting just 2 or 3 days during unusually severe storms or periods of unusually high winds.  The test kit should be placed in the lowest lived-in level of the home (for example, the basement if it is frequently used, otherwise the first floor). It should be put in a room that is used regularly (like a living room, playroom, den or bedroom) but not your kitchen or bathroom. Place the kit at least 20 inches above the floor in a location where it won't be disturbed - away from drafts, high heat, high humidity, and exterior walls. Leave the kit in place for as long as the package says. Once you've finished the test, reseal the package and send it to the lab specified on the package right away for analysis. You should receive your test results within a few weeks.

  • EPA Recommends the Following Testing Steps
  • Step 1.  Take a short-term test. If your result is 4 pCi/L or higher (0.02 Working Levels [WL] or higher) take a follow-up test (Step 2) to be sure.

  • Step 2.  Follow up with either a long-term test or a second short-term test:

  • For a better understanding of your year-round average radon level, take a long-term test.

  • If you need results quickly, take a second short-term test.

The higher your initial short-term test result, the more certain you can be that you should take a short-term rather than a long-term follow up test. If your first short-term test result is more than twice EPA's 4 pCi/L action level, you should take a second short-term test immediately.

  • Step 3.  If you followed up with a long-term test: Fix your home if your long-term test result is 4 pCi/L or more (0.02 Working Levels [WL] or higher).  If you followed up with a second short-term test: The higher your short-term results, the more certain you can be that you should fix your home. Consider fixing your home if the average of your first and second test is 4 pCi/L or higher (0.02 Working Levels [WL] or higher).

  • What Your Test Results Mean

The average indoor radon level is estimated to be about 1.3 pCi/L, and about 0.4 pCi/L of radon is normally found in the outside air. The U.S. Congress has set a long-term goal that indoor radon levels be no more than outdoor levels. While this goal is not yet technologically achievable in all cases, most homes today can be reduced to 2 pCi/L or below.

Sometimes short-term tests are less definitive about whether or not your home is above 4 pCi/L. This can happen when your results are close to 4 pCi/L. For example, if the average of your two short-term test results is 4.1 pCi/L, there is about a 50% chance that your year-round average is somewhat below 4 pCi/L. However, EPA believes that any radon exposure carries some risk - no level of radon is safe. Even radon levels below 4 pCi/L pose some risk, and you can reduce your risk of lung cancer by lowering your radon level.

If your living patterns change and you begin occupying a lower level of your home (such as a basement) you should retest your home on that level. Even if your test result is below 4 pCi/L, you may want to test again sometime in the future.

  • Radon and Home Sales

More and more, home buyers and renters are asking about radon levels before they buy or rent a home. Because real estate sales happen quickly, there is often little time to deal with radon and other issues. The best thing to do is to test for radon NOW and save the results in case the buyer is interested in them. Fix a problem if it exists so it won't complicate your home sale. If you are planning to move you can also use the results of two short-term tests done side-by-side (four inches apart) to decide whether to fix your home.

During home sales:

  • Buyers often ask if a home has been tested, and if elevated levels were reduced.

  • Buyers frequently want tests made by someone who is not involved in the home sale. Your State radon office can assist you in identifying a qualified tester.

  • Buyers might want to know the radon levels in areas of the home (like a basement they plan to finish) that the seller might not otherwise test.

Today many homes are built to prevent radon from coming in. Your State or local area may require these radon-resistant construction features. Radon-resistant construction features usually keep radon levels in new homes below 2 pCi/L. If you are buying or renting a new home, ask the owner or builder if it has radon-resistant features.  The EPA recommends building new homes with radon-resistant features in high radon potential (Zone 1) areas.  For more information, refer to EPA's Map of Radon Zones Figure 168 and other useful EPA documents on radon-resistant new construction, or visit www.epa.gov/radon/index.html. Even if built radon-resistant, every new home should be tested for radon after occupancy.  If you have a test result of 4 pCi/L or more, you can have a qualified mitigator easily add a vent fan to an existing passive system for about $300 and further reduce the radon level in your home.

  • Radon in Water

The radon in your home's indoor air can come from two sources, the soil or your water supply.  Compared to radon entering the home through water, radon entering your home through the soil is usually a much larger risk.

The radon in your water supply poses an inhalation risk and an ingestion risk.  Research has shown that your risk of lung cancer from breathing radon in air is much larger than your risk of stomach cancer from swallowing water with radon in it.  Most of your risk from radon in water comes from radon released into the air when water is used for showering and other household purposes.

radon in water

Radon in your home's water is not usually a problem when its source is surface water.  A radon in water problem is more likely when its source is ground water, e.g. a private well or a public water supply system that uses ground water.  Some public water systems treat their water to reduce radon levels before it is delivered to your home.  If you are concerned that radon may be entering your home through the water and your water comes from a public water supply, contact your water supplier.

If you've tested your private well and have a radon in water problem, it can be easily fixed. Your home's water supply can be treated in two ways.  Point-of-entry treatment can effectively remove radon from the water before it enters your home.  Point-of-use treatment devices remove radon from your water at the tap, but only treat a small portion of the water you use and are not effective in reducing the risk from breathing radon released into the air from all water used in the home.

For more information, call EPA's Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791 or visit www.epa.gov/safewater/radon.html. If your water comes from a private well, you can also contact your State radon office.

  • How to Lower the Radon Level in Your Home

Since there is no known safe level of radon, there can always be some risk. But the risk can be reduced by lowering the radon level in your home. A variety of methods are used to reduce radon in your home. In some cases, sealing cracks in floors and walls may help to reduce radon. In other cases, simple systems using pipes and fans may be used to reduce radon. Such systems, known as soil suction, do not require major changes to your home. These systems remove radon gas from below the concrete floor and the foundation before it can enter the home. Similar systems can also be installed in houses with crawl spaces. Radon contractors use other methods that may also work in your home. The right system depends on the design of your home and other factors.

The cost of making repairs to reduce radon depends on how your home was built and the extent of the radon problem. Most homes can be fixed for about the same cost as other common home repairs like painting or having a new hot water heater installed. The average house costs about $1,200 for a contractor to fix, although this can range from about $800 to about $2,500.  The cost is much less if a passive system was installed during construction.

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