What is radon testing?
If you are a homeowner, then the question "what is radon testing?" should be an important part of your maintenance routine. Radon is a very dangerous radioactive gas that forms from the decayed uranium in natural stone. The radioactive metal atoms that come from the decay can easily be inhaled, causing conditions such as lung cancer or physically damaging respiratory tract cells.
Why do we test for radon?
Radon is a Group 1 carcinogen that can result in more deaths than pancreatic, colorectal, prostate and breast cancer combined, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).1 Twenty-one thousand people per annum die because of radon, estimates the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).2 The Surgeon General of the United States has imposed a national health advisory on radon since 2005.3
Although radon is extremely dangerous, it is completely tasteless, odorless, and colorless. There is no way to detect the presence of the gas indoors without a specialized test.
The amount of radon that is in a building depends on the weather, the concentration in the soil, and the structural makeup and ventilation of the building. Since these factors tend to change over time, it is good to test for radon on a consistent basis. This is especially true in high traffic structures such as schools and apartment buildings.
What is a radon test?
A radon test is the only way to know whether a building has high radon levels. Most tests can be performed without professional help. There are several different types of radon tests that you might want to consider based on your circumstances and the type of building you own.
What is a short term radon test?
The short term test is useful if you need to see if more serious testing is warranted. Radon levels are measured for a minimum of two days, after which the test is mailed to a lab for the final results.
What is a long term radon test?
This is a more serious test that measures the radon levels in a building for a minimum of 90 days and a maximum of one year. The long term test is a more accurate indicator of the average radon level in a building than the short term test.
What is a continuous radon test?
Generally used by radon professionals, a continuous test can be used for both short and long term testing. If you want daily readings or want to keep a running average of the amount of radon that is in your home, then this is the test that you want to incorporate. Some continuous tests run by plugging into an outlet and monitoring the radon level in real time.
What is a radon detector made of?
There are two types of radon detection mechanisms – passive devices and active devices.
What is radon testing with passive devices?
These types of radon detectors do not require any electricity to power them. They are made to trap samples of radon or "radon residue" products to be analyzed later in a lab environment. Electret ion detectors, charcoal canisters, alpha track detectors and charcoal liquid scintillation detectors are different kinds of passive devices.
- Charcoal liquid scintillation devices and charcoal canister devices, like the QuickScreen, use charcoal to attract radon or its byproducts. The charcoal then begins to emit radioactive particles that can be counted by a sodium iodide counter after the device is taken into the lab. Alternatively, the radioactivity can be turned into light and counted inside of a scintillation detector.
- Alpha track detectors, like the Rapidos and Radtrak3, determine the amount of radon through a plastic film that is affected by the alpha particles from radon that hit it. In the lab, these tracks can be made visible and easily counted.
- Electret ion detectors use a statically charged Teflon disc that loses its charge when it comes into contact with an ion that is generated from radon decay. The radon level is calculated from the charge reduction.
What is radon testing with active devices?
Unlike passive devices, active devices all need electricity in order to power them. They actively monitor the radon in an area through continuous monitoring devices. Because of their use of electricity, active devices are usually more difficult to use and require professional assistance for accurate tests.
Continuous working level monitors and continuous radon monitors are among the types of active devices that testers might use to detect radon.
Does the quality of the lab make a difference?
Hiring a measurement professional or performing your own test with an accredited detection device is only half the battle. The lab analyzing the radon devices must be calibrated and clean, and the employees working the lab must be competent. This can be quantified through national and state accreditations like the National Radon Safety Board or the National Radon Proficiency Program. Additionally, higher accreditations, like ISO 17025, ISO 9001, or ISO 14001 can be achieved through SWEDAC (Swedish European Cooperation for Accreditation) and DNV (Det Norske Veritas).
Accreditation ensures that the laboratory that is assessing radon levels has been assessed against an international standard and confirmed independently through a reputable state body. Accreditation is an ongoing process, and means that a company meets the ISO 17025 international quality standard. The process also provides a known framework that reduces the instance of careless errors.
How does the test work in your home?
In order to conduct a proper radon test, you must first consider how large your structure is and what type of building it is. Residences have different characteristics from schools and commercial buildings. Multifamily buildings have their own type of infrastructure as well. AARST-NRPP protocols are different for each type of building, and they should be followed. Depending on the state that you are in, you may need to comply with your local department of health or state certification board.
General rules to follow when testing are:
- Complete the test in the lowest level of the home with significant foot traffic.
- Do not test in places that are normally damp such as the laundry room, the bathroom, or the kitchen.
- Complete the test away from exterior walls, windows and doors
Follow the directions included in your test closely to yield the most accurate results.
What causes radon gas in houses?
Radon exists naturally in the ground and can come into your home via the following ways: 1) Rocks. Radon can be released from rocks as the Uranium contained in them breaks down below the foundation of your home. 2) Natural stone. Like the rocks beneath your home, any natural stone used in the home will have trace amounts of Uranium that can break down and decay into radon. The most common culprit is granite. 3) Cracks and gaps. Cracks in a home’s foundation, sump wells and drains, and gaps where walls meet floors are all responsible for radon entry. Radon will follow a path of least resistance into a home and all these openings allow for an easy route in. 5) Well water. If your water is sourced from an aquifer, it has a higher chance of containing radon than other sources of water. Well water has a closer proximity to the soil and rocks that naturally have radon in them. You release this radon indoors whenever you take a shower, turn on the dishwasher or brush your teeth.
What are the symptoms of radon in your home?
There are no symptoms of low or high levels of radon. This is the reason that it is so dangerous. Any symptoms that you will experience will come from a condition that is caused by radon, which means that the situation has advanced to a stage that requires immediate attention.
How does radon testing work?
The majority of at-home radon testing involves air containing radon in your home passing through a detector. As the air passes through, the radioactive elements of radon react with the unit and collect dose. At the end of the monitoring period, the test is returned to a laboratory who analyzes the collected dose and reports to you an average radon concentration.
How often is radon testing necessary?
Radon testing should be done on a regular interval. According to the EPA after performing a test and receiving a low level of radon, testing every 2 years is recommended. If you have tested high and installed a mitigation system, testing every year to ensure your system is properly functioning and reducing your radon level is recommended. If you have made changes to a building, especially changes in the foundation of a building, then testing should take place at a higher frequency.
What are some radon mitigation strategies?
Once you determine that the amount of radon in a building is unsafe, you should call a professional radon mitigation contractor immediately. In states that have a radon run program, contractors will be certified by the state. Otherwise, two certifications exist, the National Radon Safety Board and the National Radon Proficiency Program, and can be searched to find local contractors. Once a professional has installed a radon reduction system in your building, you should be able to maintain it without professional help in most cases. Some of the techniques that can be used to reduce radon include soil suction, improving the building's foundation, sub slab depressurization, drain tile suction, block wall suction, drain tile suction, house or room pressurization, or installing a heat recovery ventilator.
What is an acceptable radon level?
There are no acceptable levels of radon – all radon is dangerous. At the same time, there is no way to remove 100% of the radon from the air in an indoor space. However, a qualified radon reduction specialist can remove a large majority of it safely.
1 World Health Organization https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/radon-and-health
2 Environmental Protection Agency https://www.epa.gov/radon/health-risk-radon
3 Environment Protection Agency https://www.epa.gov/radon/health-risk-radon#surgeongeneral
Short Term Radon Test Kit
10-90 Radon Test Kit
The Rapidos is a short-term radon test that will monitor between 10 to 90 days. This extremely accurate test will take into account all of the daily fluctuations in radon and provide an average concentration.
Long Term Radon Test Kit
90-365 Radon Test Kit
The Radtrak³ is a long-term test that will monitor between 90 days and 1 full year. This extremely accurate test will take into account all of the daily fluctuations in radon levels.