November 30, 2021

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What Is Radon, And How Do You Get Rid of It?

Photo: sommart sombutwanitkul (Shutterstock)

If you’ve been putting off testing your home for radon for months (or even years), it’s time to put it (back) on your to-do list. It’s one of those things that you know you should do, but often gets pushed to the side in favor of more exciting home projects where you notice an immediate difference—like hanging curtains or painting a room. But you’ll probably be able to enjoy the room and curtains more knowing that you’re safe from radon. Here’s how to test for, get rid of, and prevent radon.

What is radon?

First of all, it’s sneaky. Radon is a colorless, odorless, invisible, naturally occurring radioactive gas that results from the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). From there, it gets into the air we breathe—including the air in homes, offices and schools.

But because we spend much of our time at home (or at least we do now), there is concern over undetected radon in our places of residence. Also, elevated radon levels aren’t confined to one geographic region: that gas can be anywhere.

All of this matters because radon is bad for our health. As in, the EPA estimates that radon may cause thousands of deaths each year, and the Surgeon General says that radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the country—after smoking.

How to test for radon

Fortunately, testing your home for radon is easy and relatively quick. You just need to pick up an Accu-Star certified radon test at your local home improvement store or directly from the company’s website.

There, you’ll see options for both short- and long-term radon testing kits. Short-term testing kits measure radon levels for between two and seven days. If this is the first time you’re doing a radon test in your home, start with a short-term test, so it’ll take less time to find out if you have a radon problem. But after that, you might want to opt for a long-term testing kit, which measures radon levels for at least 90 days.

On the Accu-Star website, the tests run from $25 for a short-term kit, to $30 for a long-term kit. You can also purchase discounted kits through the National Radon Program Services at Kansas State University, which cost $15 for a $15 for a short-term kit and $25 for a long-term kit.

How to get rid of radon

If the results of your radon test indicate that there are high levels of the gas in your home—that’s above 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCI/L)—then it’s time to call in a professional, because it’s no longer a DIY job. Contact your state EPA office for a list of qualified mitigation contractors in your area.

Here’s what they do, per Natalie Rodriguez at This Old House:

A radon mitigation contractor will be able to tell you what kind of radon control system (active or passive and sub-slab, sump hole or block wall suction) will be most effective for you based on where you live and what kind of foundation you have. They should also be able to provide tips for keeping your home safe, such as continually checking for and sealing up cracks in your foundation.

Rodriguez also notes that it’s important to re-test your home after any work is done—and then periodically after that—to make sure everything is working properly.

How to prevent radon

There is something you can do yourself to help protect your home (and the people living in it) from radon: install a passive radon control. Here’s how to do that, again, courtesy of Rodriguez:

  • Install a layer of gas-permeable aggregate, such as four inches of gravel, beneath the slab or flooring system of your home if you don’t have a crawlspace. Cover this layer or your crawlspace floor with plastic sheeting to stop radon gas from moving past that level and into your home.
  • Seal and caulk all cracks in your foundation and walls. Not only will this help prevent entry of radon, but it’ll add to the energy efficiency of your home.
  • Run a three to four-inch gas-tight pipe from the first layer or crawlspace to the roof. This will safely vent gases from the soil to the outside.
  • Wire in an extra circuit to the attic so that a vent fan can be installed to turn the pipe into a vacuum cleaner, or an active radon control system, which routes the gas out of your home.

Sure, it takes a little time and effort, but it’s worth it not to be breathing harmful gas.



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