How to test for radon in a basement

Answered by Brett ~ March 4, 2011 ~ Comments

I want to turn our basement in a guest bedroom and a bathroom with a closet. A neighbor suggested that I do a radon test, because he has high levels of radon in his home. How do I do this? Is it necessary?

Jack ~ Bozeman, MT

Brett Kulina

Jack, testing for radon in your home is a wise idea, because radon is a cancer-causing radioactive gas that is commonly found in all parts of the country, and there are potential health risks for those that have high levels of radon in their home. In fact the EPA estimates that radon causes over 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year in the U.S., and the rates of cancer can increase for those that smoke inside homes that have elevated levels of radon.

The good news is that radon gas is often easily detected, and mitigating the problem with mechanical venting can reduce the problem by 99 percent in some homes. The first thing you should do is conduct a simple DIY short term radon test in your home's basement. You can purchase a radon testing kit at almost any hardware store or home improvement warehouse in the Bozeman area, and you should carefully follow all of the testing instructions that come with the specific kit that you purchase.

Radon is measured in picocuries per liter, and if your initial radon test detects a radon level in your home of 4 pCi/L or higher, then I would recommend that you consult a licensed radon mitigation specialist. A mitigation specialist can then conduct a second test with more sophisticated equipment, over a longer period of time, which can produce a more accurate radon measurement. Once you have an accurate measurement of the amount of radon in your home, then you can consider your options for mitigating the problem.

The most common way to mitigate high levels of indoor radon is to install a mechanical venting system under your home's concrete slab, which collects the radon gas and vents it out through a pipe in your home's roof. Although these systems are pretty straightforward, consisting of PVC pipe and an in-line fan, installing them under an existing slab can be challenging. In certain cases, you will have to cut a trench into your basement's floor and excavate out enough material to accommodate a length of PVC piping. Keeping this in mind, you can see why it makes sense to install the mitigation system into your home before you remodel your basement. Good luck with it!

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