How to Do a Radon Test
LESLIE: Now we’re going to go to Bob in Virginia who has a plumbing issue.
Bob, what happened?
BOB: Well, I bought a new construction last July and, about four months ago, noticed some problems with the upstairs toilet. As it turns out, what happened when they built the construction, they had a radon pipe that went under the foundation to the roof to vent the radon and of course they had a sewer line that came from the toilet and somehow those got reversed.
TOM: Oh, no. (Tom and Leslie laugh)
BOB: So the radon is venting into the sewer. The sewer, I guess, is venting to the roof, which is not my big issue. My big issue is my toilet is flushing under my foundation. They have reversed the pipes but my basic question is what do I do to ensure that the radon pipe’s working?
TOM: Now do you have a radon problem, Bob?
BOB: I don’t think so.
TOM: OK, have you ever done a test?
TOM: Well, then you wouldn’t know, you see, Bob? Because you can’t smell that stuff.
LESLIE: Now explain to the laymen what is radon and how do you test for it?
TOM: Alright. Radon is a gas, it’s a soil gas, and it can cause cancer if it exists in a house at elevated levels. The level that you’re looking to determine is 4.0 picocuries per liter of air. If the radon test comes back higher than 4.0, it needs to be fixed. If it’s under 4.0, then it’s OK.
Now what we should understand is that in some parts of the country, builders are required to install a radon pipe. A vent fan is put in only if there’s a high level of radon. So that pipe that exists in your house right now, it’s just kind of static. You need to make sure that you have a problem before you activate it. So the first thing you should be doing is doing a radon test. If the radon test comes in high, then you install the fan and once that fan is installed, the installer will be able to test and see if it’s working properly.
LESLIE: And where do you get a radon test?
TOM: You can get that at home centers. They’re available over the counter. You can buy them online. There are several different types of tests but the easiest do-it-yourself test is a charcoal adsorption canister. It’s basically a small tin of charcoal; it’s about the size of a tuna fish can. You open it up, you leave it in the house for usually between two and seven days, then you seal it back up, Bob, and you send it to the lab. The processing is included in the purchase price. It will come back with a report telling you what you have.
Now by the way, when you do a radon test, you have to do it under closed-house conditions, which means that all the windows and the doors have to be closed in the house, except for normal exit and entry, while the test is ongoing. The best time, by the way, to do a radon test is probably in the winter because your home is naturally sealed up then. It’s a lot easier to get an accurate test.
BOB: OK, great. How often should I do that, assuming it comes back OK?
TOM: You do it once, you’re good to go.
BOB: Great. Thank you so much.
TOM: You’re welcome, Bob. Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.