Radon Gas Action Month: A threat that isn't another Hallmark holiday

This month, the EPA wants you to think about the air you breathe and take action against a health threat you probably didn't know existed: Radon gas.

Along with the many useful and sometimes useless "events" that are named by government agencies, interests groups and greeting card companies, the EPA has designated January to be Radon Action Month.

From experience however, I can tell you this one is pretty important. In the 20 years I spent as a professional home inspector, we frequently saw otherwise perfectly healthy homes test very high for radon gas.

Radon isn't yet another synthetic pollutant, but instead a naturally occurring threat resulting from the breakdown of uranium in the soil a home is built on. It's an odorless, colorless gas that also happens to be the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers.

So how do you know if there's radon in your home, and how do you get rid of it?

During National Radon Action Month, the EPA encourages you to test your home for radon either with a do-it-yourself kit (around $15) or the help of a pro (about $100 for more precise equipment, knowledge and a testing strategy tailored to your home).

The winter months are ideal for this process, as radon testing provides the most accurate results if done when your whole home will remain closed and free of air escapes except for standard exits and entries.

Results are delivered in a unit of measurement called a "picocurie." If the test reveals levels of 4.0 picocuries per liter of air, you may want to take action to reduce the threat. It's also important to note that there are both short term (3-7 day) radon tests and long-term (3 -12 months) tests.

Short-term tests provide a snapshot of radon levels during that short period of time they are exposed in the house. But since radon gas can fluctuate greatly based on the level of ventilation and activity in the house, as well as weather, a long-term test is more likely to determine your actual exposure risk.

If test determine you have a radon issue that calls for remediation, the solution is a professionally installed radon mitigation system. Essentially, this system is designed to draw the radon gas out of the soil around your house before it has a chance to build up to unhealthy levels.

Finally, if you are building a new home in an area prone to radon, be sure your builder is using radon-resistant new construction techniques. These are required in some jurisdictions, but not all. To find out more about radon gas in your specific state, visit the EPA's Radon Web site.

Bottom line, Radon Action Month is as good a reason as any to find out what lies beneath the home you live in. It's a silent threat that could be a matter of life or death for any member of your household.

But there's no need to run off and find a greeting card to match it.

Tom Kraeutler delivers tips to prevent radon gasand more each week as host of The Money Pit Home Improvement Show, a nationally syndicated radio program. He is also AOL's Home Improvement Editor and author of "My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure." You can also subscribe to Tom's latest home improvement podcast.

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