What Is Radon?
The first time I heard about radon was when I was buying my first house. The inspector asked if I wanted a radon test. I had no idea what it was and asked him why I would check for it. He told me it was an odorless, invisible gas believed to cause higher levels of lung cancer. It sounded scammy, but the test was $50, and I told him to do it.
Radon is a naturally-occurring radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer. Radon gas is inert, colorless, and odorless. Radon is naturally in the atmosphere in trace amounts. Outdoors, radon disperses rapidly and, generally, is not a health issue. Most radon exposure occurs inside homes, schools, and workplaces. Radon gas becomes trapped indoors after it enters buildings through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Indoor radon can be controlled and managed with proven, cost-effective techniques. Definition pulled from the EPA Website.
I believe the level was under 2 Pci/L. According to the EPA, the level that requires a fix is any level over 4Pci/L. When I was looking for a new home after my divorce, I found one relatively close to my old house (less than a mile). It was great because my boys would only have short car rides to go back and forth from my house to their mothers. I hired the same inspector who did another radon test on this house. The level came back at 3.8 Pci/L. The email I got said I was under the value of 4 Pci/L, which would recommend a remedy. The level was close and made me uncomfortable, but it was indeed under the level.
The Risk of Breathing High Radon Levels
I bought the home and didn’t consider it until about two years later. I was taking care of a patient having a procedure due to cancer. I was talking to her about it, and she also mentioned her husband had cancer. She said, “Neither my husband nor I have any family history of cancer. Neither of us ever smoked. After getting cancer, we checked our house for radon, which was very high. We spent 20 years in that house, and I swear the radon gave us cancer.”
This was an eye-opener! It was compelling that two people with different genetic backgrounds who didn’t smoke would both get lung cancer. So naturally, I went on Google and did a little research.
I found that, according to the EPA, radon is the second largest cause of lung cancer. Smoking is the first. The chart above shows that radon causes about 21,000 lung cancer cases annually. I also read I should check my radon levels every few years. So I ordered this radon test from Amazon for $16.
After sending off the test, I patiently awaited the test results. It took a couple of weeks. When I got the email from the lab, I quickly opened it. The level was 5.5 Pci/L. Damn. Much higher than my last reading. My family had been breathing this stuff in for the previous few years!!! It was an upsetting feeling. What did it mean???
As you can see from the chart, if I was breathing at the level of 5.5 Pci/L for a lifetime, the chance of getting lung cancer is between dying in a car crash and dying in a fall. Phew! So my chances would be much better not to get it than if I sustained breathing in this amount for the rest of my life. But why would my initial test be under 4 Pci/L, and now I have one that’s 5.5 Pci/L?? So I started questioning the accuracy of the test.
Testing for radon is a little frustrating. The tests that I did were charcoal tests. You typically put these tests in your basement for three days and send it to a lab. The thing is, you are just getting a snapshot in time. Radon can rise and fall with different weather patterns, for example. It will decrease drastically indoors if windows are open. So I decided to look into a test that could monitor over a more extended period.
What I found were digital continuous radon monitors. As always, various brands make these monitors. One brand had a monitor that was a jack of all trades. It measured air quality as well as radon. From the reviews, the radon monitor fell short with this brand. I then came across the Radon Eye by Ecosense. It gives you a readout in 10 minutes. Within an hour, you have a highly accurate value. It’s pretty pricey at $174. I dwelled over whether it was worth getting. I wanted to know what my house was averaging for radon, which was the best way to do it. I pulled the trigger.
The Radon Eye came a few days after I ordered it. I anxiously plugged it in and waited 10 minutes to see the initial reading. The first reading was 6 Pci/L. Damn. Still high. The Radon Eye has a display on the top that will tell you your radon level. An even more valuable feature is the app. I downloaded the app on my phone and followed the directions to connect the monitor to my phone. It was easy.
The app is valuable because you can get an average over time. As I said before, radon can fluctuate frequently. An average will give you a better idea of what you consistently breathe in. The above image is a screenshot from the app (minus the extensive editing I did with the arrow). As you can see from the graph, my radon levels were well over 4 Pci/L. The average was closer to 8 Pci/L. The high was 13.2 Pci/L. Yikes! I needed to fix this problem. I’ll get to how I did that in just a second. First, I want to point out the drastic drop in average when I put the Radon eye upstairs on the first floor. This was during the summer, so the windows were opened at some points (you can see it when it dips almost to nothing). With the windows closed, the average was closer to 2.5 Pci/L. Our basement doesn’t have a living space, so I felt better about consistently not being exposed to such high numbers.
Fixing A Radon Problem
Radon can seep through cracks in the basement. I had a few cracks in my basement floor, but the culprit was an obvious open sump pit. I considered sealing up the sump pit and seeing if it lowered it to reasonable levels. The consensus I got was although this might temporarily reduce the levels, it won’t solve the issue. A far more effective method is called sub-slab depressurization. A pipe is either put into your sump hole or a hole is created in your basement floor. That pipe is run outside, and a fan draws the radon up and out of the house. It’s a simple system. I called and got a few quotes from businesses in my area.
The system cost $1255.
I had a pedestal sump pump in the sump hole. That had to be changed out for an immersible pump, which I was able to do myself. As you can see in the after photo, the sump whole is completely sealed off now. If I need to gain access to it, I can pull out that white cap. You can see the Fan that sits on the outside of the house; where the pipe is situated on the place, it’s hardly noticeable.
More importantly, let’s see what the Radon Eye told me when installing the system. As expected, the radon level drastically dropped, with the average below 2 Pci/L in the basement. However, when I put the Radon Eye on the first floor, the levels were consistently below 1 Pci/L, even with closed windows.
I recommend getting your home tested for radon. If you’re like me and would like to measure the radon in your home continually, then the Radon Eye by Ecosense is the way to go.
If you have any questions or want to share your experience, please comment below.