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TIPS & ADVICE

Test for Radon to Protect Your Family from a Silent Killer

What you need to know about radon, the second leading cause of lung cancer.

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Photo: Istock

By Brian Clark Howard

January is Radon Awareness Month. It's a very simple, inexpensive task to test your home for radon. It could save your life, so make sure one is done before you buy or sell a home, any time major structural or heating and cooling changes are made, or at least periodically.

What is radon? It's a tasteless, odorless heavy gas that occurs naturally from the decay of radioactive rocks in the ground. The radioactive gas is estimated to cause about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year in the U.S., according to the EPA, making it the second leading cause. The risks of cancer are compounded in those who also smoke.

Radon seeps into homes through cracks in the foundation, and can collect there, leading to dangerous indoor air quality.

Opinions among experts vary as to how frequently homeowners should make routine tests for radon, but every year to every year and a half is a good idea to stay on the safe side. Radon test kits are sold at most hardware stores and home centers, and cost $10 to $20. Some states even offer coupons to get them free. Short-term tests take as little as a few days, but more accurate measurement can be made with tests that monitor for 90 days.

Winter is generally considered the best time to test for radon. The EPA stresses that there is no level of radon considered totally safe, but the agency recommends taking action if a long-term test indicates levels of 4 pCi/L or more.

If you need to lower radon levels, call a qualified contractor, who will install vents and fans or other solutions. Expect to pay a few hundred dollars to about $2,500, according to the EPA.


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