David Valley's Real Estate/Home Inspection Blog

head_left_image

Radon In Your Home - Why Test For Radon?

 

WHAT IS RADON?

Radon is a radioactive gas. It's colorless, odorless, tasteless, and chemically inert. Unless you test for it, there is no way of telling how much is presently in your home.

Radon is formed by the natural radioactive decay of radium and uranium in rock, soil, and water. Naturally existing, low levels of uranium occur widely in the Earth's crust. It can be found in all 50 states. Once produced, radon moves through the ground to the air above. Some remains below the surface and dissolves in water that collects and flows under the ground's surface.

Radon has a half-life of about four days - half of a given quantity of it breaks down every four days. When radon undergoes radioactive decay, it emits ionizing radiation in the form of alpha particles. It also produces short-lived decay products, often called progeny or daughters, some of which are also radioactive. Unlike radon, the progeny are not gases and can easily attach to dust and other particles. Those particles can be transported by air and can also be breathed. The decay of progeny continues until stable, non-radioactive progeny are formed. At each step in the decay process, radiation is released.

 

HOW DOES RADON GET INTO YOUR HOME?

Most indoor radon comes into the building from the soil or rock beneath it. Radon and other gases rise through the soil and get trapped under the building. The trapped gases build up pressure. Air pressure inside homes is usually lower than the pressure in the soil. Therefore, the higher pressure under the building forces gases though floors and walls and into the building. Most of the gas moves through cracks and other openings. Once inside, the radon can become trapped and concentrated.

 

Openings which commonly allow easy flow of the gases into your home:

*Cracks in floors and walls

*Gaps in suspended floors

*Openings around sump pumps and drains

*Cavities in walls below grading

*Gaps around utility penetrations (pipes and wires)

*Crawl spaces that open directly into the building

 

Radon may also be dissolved in water, particularly well water. After coming from a faucet, about one ten thousandth of the radon in water is typically released into the air. The more radon there is in the water, the more it can contribute to the indoor radon level. Trace amounts of uranium are sometimes incorporated into materials used in construction. These include, but are not limited to concrete, brick, granite, and drywall. Though these materials have the potential to produce radon, they are rarely the main cause of an elevated radon level in a building. Outdoor air that is drawn into a building can also contribute to the indoor radon level.

The average outdoor air level is about 0.4 pCi/L, but it can be higher in some areas. While radon problems may be more common in some geographic areas, any home may have an elevated radon level. New and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements can have a problem.

Radon levels can be higher in homes that are well insulated, tightly sealed, and/or built on uranium-rich soil. Because of their closeness to the ground, basement and first floors typically have the highest radon levels. All homes below the third floor of a multi-family building are particularly at risk.

Health effects associated with Radon exposure?

There have been no reports of short-term effects or symptoms caused by radon exposure. The only reported long-term effect is lung cancer. The Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. There are currently no conclusive data on whether children are at greater risk than adults from radon. No specific subtype of lung cancer is associated with radon exposure. Scientists estimate that approximately 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer deaths per year are related to radon.

Radon is present in nearly all air. Everyone breathes in radon every day, usually at very low levels. However, people who inhale high levels of radon are at an increased risk for developing lung cancer. If you inhale a radon atom, the atom can disintegrate while it is in your lungs. When it disintegrates, it becomes polonium-218, which is a metal. This metal atom can get trapped in your lungs, and over the next hour or so it will emit a number of alpha particles, beta particles and gamma rays.

It eventually turns into lead-210 with a half-life of 22 years, which is fairly stable in this context. But now you have an atom of lead in your system, which causes its own problems. It?s the quick, hour-long sequence of alpha, beta and gamma emissions that can lead to the mutations in the lung tissue, which can cause lung cancer over the course of your lifetime.

Smoking enormously increases the risk of lung cancer from radon exposure. If you smoke and you are exposed to elevated radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high. Stop smoking now and lower your radon level to reduce your lung cancer risk. Not everyone exposed to elevated levels of radon will develop lung cancer, and the amount of time between exposure and the onset of the disease may be many years. Breathing radon does not cause any short-term health effects such as shortness of breath, coughing, headaches, or fever.

So, you can see that a high concentration of radon gas, despite the fact that it is completely natural, is not something you want in your home.

 

WHAT IS THE "ACCEPTABLE" LEVEL OF RADON IN AIR?


4.0 pCi/L or LESS (According to the EPA)

 

HOW OFTEN IS INDOOR AIR A PROBLEM?


Nearly one out of every 15 homes in the United States has a radon level EPA considers to be elevated - 4 pCi/L or greater. The U.S. average radon-in-air level in single family homes is 1.3 pCi/L. Because most people spend as much as 90 percent of their time indoors, indoor exposure to radon is an important concern.

 

 

Radon Risk Comparison Charts

Radon Risk If You Smoke

Radon Level If 1,000 people who smoked were exposed to this level over a lifetime*... The risk of cancer from radon exposure compares to**... WHAT TO DO:
Stop smoking and...
20 pCi/L About 260 people could get lung cancer 250 times the risk of drowning Mitigate Building
10 pCi/L About 150 people could get lung cancer 200 times the risk of dying in a home fire Mitigate Building
8 pCi/L About 120 people could get lung cancer 30 times the risk of dying in a fall Mitigate Building
4 pCi/L About 62 people could get lung cancer 5 times the risk of dying in a car crash Mitigate Building
2 pCi/L About 32 people could get lung cancer 6 times the risk of dying from poison May consider mitigating between 2 and 4 pCi/L
1.3 pCi/L About 20 people could get lung cancer Average indoor radon level Reducing radon levels below 2 pCi/L is difficult.
0.4 pCi/L About 3 people could get lung cancer Average outdoor radon level
Note: If you are a former smoker, your risk may be lower.
* Lifetime risk of lung cancer deaths from EPA Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes (EPA 402-R-03-003).
** Comparison data calculated using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 1999-2001 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Reports.

Radon Risk If You've Never Smoked

Radon Level If 1,000 people who never smoked were exposed to this level over a lifetime*... The risk of cancer from radon exposure compares to**... WHAT TO DO:
20 pCi/L About 36 people could get lung cancer 35 times the risk of drowning Mitigate Building
10 pCi/L About 18 people could get lung cancer 20 times the risk of dying in a home fire Mitigate Building
8 pCi/L About 15 people could get lung cancer 4 times the risk of dying in a fall Mitigate Building
4 pCi/L About 7 people could get lung cancer The risk of dying in a car crash Mitigate Building
2 pCi/L About 4 person could get lung cancer The risk of dying from poison Consider fixing between 2 and 4 pCi/L
1.3 pCi/L About 2 people could get lung cancer (Average indoor radon level) (Reducing radon levels below
2 pCi/L is difficult.)
0.4 pCi/L   (Average outdoor radon level)
Note: If you are a former smoker, your risk may be higher.
* Lifetime risk of lung cancer deaths from EPA Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes (EPA 402-R-03-003).
** Comparison data calculated using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 1999-2001 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Reports.
Comment balloon 7 commentsDavid Valley • October 15 2008 08:49AM
Radon In Your Home - Why Test For Radon?
share
WHAT IS RADON? Radon is a radioactive gas. It's colorless, odorless, tasteless, and chemically inert. Unless you test for it, there is no way of telling how much is presently in your home. Radon is formed by the natural… more
TESTING HOMES FOR DRUG USE WITHIN
share
Houses can be tested for drugs just as simple as an individual gets tested. But… when you're purchasing a home, you're objective is not to pinpoint an individual drug user at this point in time. You want to test the actual components… more
GFCI Receptacles - Why they are so important
share
WHAT IS A GROUND FAULT CIRCUIT INTERRUPTER? These are receptacles that typically have the black and red test buttons on them (pictured above). GFCIs are found in outlets and service panels. They monitor the flow of current to… more
How To Maintain Your Heating System
share
There are many home Buyers out there (today) that do not know how to maintain their heating system. I'd like to explain the procedures here at ActiveRain so that Realtors can supply this information or this link to their Home Buyer clients. I'd like… more
Purchasing a home with lead paint and piping.
share
Lead - What is it? Lead has been mined, smelted, and compounded for thousands of years. Lead is a neurotoxin metallic element that was historically used in paint, gasoline and plumbing materials for many years. Lead was easy to work with for a… more
Infrared Detects Faulty Electrical Wiring, Breakers and Fuses
share
Infrared electrical inspections are completely safe, fast, and very reliable. These inspections are non contact and can be performed at any time of the day without disturbing the occupants or shutting down the electrical… more
Locating Wood Boring Insects with Infrared (Thermal) Imaging
share
One very important finding with thermal imaging would be wood boring insect infestations. It's crucial in locating any hidden Termite or Carpenter Ant damage much sooner than later. Colonies can become so catastrophic and cause expensive structural… more
LOCATING RADIANT HEAT PIPING WITH INFRARED (THERMAL IMAGING)
share
Radiant heating systems are installed in many floors and ceilings of homes and businesses throughout Massachusetts. The continuous supply pipes for these systems are not visible and are unable to be monitored (on a continuing basis) in order to… more
Detecting moisture intrusion with infrared (thermal) imaging
share
Moisture is the leading cause of costly building upgrades today. Scanning interior surfaces of your building can reveal excess moisture due to roof leaks, plumbing leaks, moisture entering your building at wall penetrations, leaks around windows and… more
INFRARED (THERMAL) IMAGING - APPLICATIONS
share
There are a host of applications for infrared cameras and there are many issues (throughout the average building) that can be easily detected through infrared imaging. I'd like to post the many applications (one post at a time) that infrared imaging… more
INFRARED (THERMAL) IMAGING - Becoming a norm in home inspections
share
Even though the real estate market has slowed down quite a bit (compared to three years ago), Home Inspectors are getting more requests for infrared imaging than ever before. There are many home owners that are not familiar with IR inspections… more
Taking Care of your House
share
The easiest way to take care of your house is to keep unwanted moisture away from the exterior, particularly the foundation, and out of the interior, particularly the attic, closets, and interior ceilings. This typically means little or no watering… more
Purchasing a home with Aluminum branch wiring
share
This picture is a perfect example of the problems that are associated with Aluminum wiring. Note letters A and B (the insulation jackets are melted), which I will explain "Why" in the third paragraph and C (mixing copper wiring with… more
Maintaining Your Home on a Seasonal Basis
share
Your home is one of the single biggest investments you'll ever make, so be sure you that you do all you can to care for it properly. A well-maintained home usually sells more readily and usually brings a higher price. It's also more comfortable… more
Purchasing a home with UNGROUNDED OUTLETS
share
There are a lot of homes on the market today that still have ungrounded outlets throughout the house. During my home inspections, I recommend that my clients upgrade some of these outlets, depending upon what they plan on utilizing these ungrounded… more
Insulation Upgrade In Your Home
share
With as many homes as I've inspected, I'm surprised to see that so many areas are not insulated properly and are not to today's standards. Homeowners need more information in order to bring their home up to par. They can save themselves a lot of… more
Moving Tips for all Sellers and Buyers…
share
Moving Tips I have compiled a To-Do list that will assist you in moving into or out of your New or existing Home. Simply check these items off as your moving date closes in. 8 WEEKS BEFORE MOVING Fill out an IRS change of address form and see what… more
Foundation Maintenance
share
There are many foundations (that I've inspected) that are falling apart and need immediate attention. Many homeowners have no idea where to start or what to look for. So I'm here to teach many of you how to properly maintain your foundation. Your… more
Common Electrical Issues that I find on Home Inspections
share
FPE BREAKERS ALUMINUM WIRING KNOB & TUBE WIRING POTENTIAL ELECTRICAL PROBLEMS Overloaded outlets or outlet multipliers: Too many appliances plugged into a single outlet could indicate your house… more
Most common defects on a Home Inspection
share
These are items that I find on an everyday basis. Some of these defective items are what kills the deal at times. If Sellers can take this list and correct any items that they find to be in disorder, the Sale of their home would be less stressful… more