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How Do You Test For Radon Gas In The Home?

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How Do You Test For Radon Gas In The Home?

By EnviroVent May 30, 2016

What is Radon Gas?

Radon is a  radioactive gas. You cannot see, smell or taste radon, but it may be a problem in your home. It was discovered by English physicist Ernest Rutherford in 1899 and can only be detected using specialist equipment. 

The radioactive elements formed by the decay of radon can be inhaled and enter our lungs. Inside the lungs, these elements continue to decay and emit radiation, most importantly alpha particles. These are absorbed by the nearby lung tissues and cause localised damage. This damage can lead to lung cancer. The radon level in the air we breathe outside is very low but can be higher inside buildings.

Believe it or not, Radon is a naturally occurring gas.

Small amounts of uranium are found in most rocks and soils, as the uranium decays it produces radium which in turn as it decays, produces a new radioactive element - Radon.

Exposure to radon gas can be harmful to respiratory health, but as the gas is odourless, you can't directly tell if it is present in your home. The only way to know if radon gas is making its way into your home through a building's materials or foundations is to carry out a test.

What type of test do you need?

There are various types of testing kits to check for radon in the home. You can test this yourself, or call in the experts, if you want to get professional assistance. 

Home radon gas testing kits are straightforward to use, and include liquid scintillation vials, charcoal canisters or electronic monitors. The type of kit you choose should be influenced by whether you want to take a short or long-term test. For most homeowners, a short-term radon test is perfectly adequate and measures levels for up to a week. 

Testing your home for radon is easy and doesn't cost very much. You can test for radon yourself or hire a professional to do it for you. If you rent your home, ask your landlord to get it tested. There are 2 main types of radon test kits.

  • Short-term tests take between 2 and 90 days.
  • Long-term tests take more than 90 days.

Start with a short-term test.

  • Test for radon in the lowest level of your home where people spend time. If you use part of your basement for living space, like a playroom, test there. If you only use your basement for storage, test the first floor. Avoid testing in places that are damp – like the kitchen, bathroom, or laundry room.
  • You can buy test kits at home improvement stores, hardware stores, or online. 
  • If your home has a radon level of 4 or higher, it’s time to take action. There is no safe level of radon, so you may still want to fix your home if the radon level is between 2 and 4.

A radon measurement is easy to complete, make sure you use a validated laboratory . PHE runs the validation scheme for laboratories and is a validated laboratory too, if you choose to test with us we will post you two detectors to place in your home: one in the living area and one in an occupied bedroom. After three months you post the detectors back to us in the pre-paid envelope provided. Public Health for England can analyse the detectors and post the results to you: the cost is £51.60 inc. VAT.

Whichever type of kit you choose, make sure it complies with relevant industry standards.

What pre-testing conditions are required?

In order to ensure your kit produces accurate and reliable results, you need to have certain conditions in place. Exposure to outside air can influence the results, so close windows and doors, and turn off heating systems or fans that extract air from outside, at least 12 hours beforehand. It's also worth avoiding using the kit on a stormy or windy day. You can still use heating systems or fans that re-circulate air from inside.

Where is the best place to use the kit?

Set the radon testing kit up in a room that you use most often. This room should not suffer from humidity as this can interfere with the results, so avoid the kitchen or bathroom. 

How do you set up the kit?

Place the kit approximately 20 inches off the ground, such as on a table. Read the instructions and note how long you need to leave the kit in place. The electronic radon testers are very easy to use and you simply need to insert the battery and it begins to measure the radon levels indoors. The manual radon tester kits require a bit more effort although they do work out cheaper, you will need to follow the instructions precisely to ensure that the readings are correct. If you're using vials, these should be set around six inches apart from each other.

How do you test for radon?

  • First test your home with a short-term test, this will take between 2 and 90 days.
  • Test for radon in the lowest level of your home where people spend time. 
  • If your home has a radon level of 4 or higher, it’s time to take action. There is no safe level of radon, so you may still want to fix your home if the radon level is between 2 and 4.

However The radon level in your home can change., so it is important to know your results are accurate. A long-term test is the best way to know what the radon level is over time.

It's also a good idea to test your home again after remodelling — likewise if you make changes to your heating, ventilation, or air conditioning.

You can also invest in a radon detector, like a carbon monoxide detetctor they are safe and simple to use: e.g., they can sit on a shelf. The hollow plastic shell contains a piece of clear plastic that records the damage caused by radon. The detectors do not emit anything and do not collect anything dangerous. However, they can be damaged by heat or submersion in water and should not be opened.

How do you get the results?

If you use an electronic radon testing kit, this will display the results in real time. Other types of kits will require you to send it off to a lab immediately after the end of the testing period. You'll then receive the results a few weeks later by post or email.

The results will be displayed by measuring picocuries per litre of air (pCi/L). If your reading comes back with anything over 3.5 pCi/L, this means that radon gas could be present in your home. As a first measure, you may need to do more testing, as results can often vary. You may wish to use a different test, or seek professional testing.

Where radon gas is present in a home, there are a number of products available that can help to tackle this potentially hazardous problem.