What is Radon?

Families moving into Eastern Washington or Northern Idaho may be offered the chance to have a radon measurement along with their home inspection, and for good reason. If you are new to the area, you may be unfamiliar with radon. Even those moving here from as close as the Puget Sound area have never heard of radon. So what is it, and why should you have a professional radon test in your new home?

Radon is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas. In other words, you would never know if you were exposed to high levels or not – much like carbon monoxide poisoning. Radon is hazardous to humans because it of how it affects the body – specifically the lungs. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking. Even that second place status is in dispute because those who smoke are also exposed to variable levels of radon throughout their life. So the question becomes – if you could isolate smokers in a hypothetical bubble with no radon gas – would the number of patients with lung cancer drop off? I suspect that it would drop off, in which case it would seem to indicate even those patients with lung cancer attributed to smoking were affected by radon levels.

Radon occurs naturally in the breakdown of rocks and minerals, which in turn breaks down further into less dangerous elements after a few days. Radon is not limited to areas with nuclear power or anything artificial – it simply occurs as elements break down. It disperses and dissolves with open air before becoming inert in nature. The problem is that we build homes, which trap air and keep dangerous gasses like radon from dispersing to safe levels. It is found everywhere in the country and the world. The geology of a region will affect how much radon is found in nature. Parts of the country have notoriously high levels. Spokane and surrounding areas, for example, have elevated levels above the national average. Of course, that means there are areas with lower radon levels, such as Seattle. That’s why people moving from Seattle to Spokane may not know how to protect themselves in their new homes – they were protected by nature, simply by the geographic region in which they lived.

Even a poured slab foundation will not block radon gas out of a home – remember the gas is able to seep through rocks and soil, so a very porous material with gaps and minute cracks is no problem for radon to infiltrate through. The good news is that radon can be mitigated to healthy levels. The type of home you have will affect how a radon mitigation company works to reduce radon levels, as well as the pricing, but it’s surprisingly inexpensive in many cases. It’s all about diverting natural gasses which that seep up through soil. A vapor barrier will likely be implemented to encapsulate air and push it through a pipe above your roofline, with either a passive system or an active fan system. Both passive and active systems work well, but a mitigation specialist will recommend the best tactic based on your home.

The EPA sets standards and definitions that we should strive for in our homes, offices, and other confined spaces. They are the agency that reports radon levels from every city, county, and state and compiles a national average, so we know how we compare to other regions. We follow these standards when we perform radon measurement tests. We are also trained by the National Radon Proficiency Program and use EPA listed continuous radon monitors. Not every inspection company can say that. Sadly, Washington is one state that does not have minimum qualifications for radon measurement companies – so it’s important to hire a company that voluntarily adheres to national standards, such as Top Notch Inspection Services llc does. Our equipment is calibrated in a national radon chamber yearly, and our team indulges in continuing education on the topic. The equipment is perfectly safe – it does not have a radioactive core or anything like that – it is simply measuring what concentration of specific elements already exist in an area and does not put out new hazards. For real estate transactions, this simple test can be performed in as little as 48 hours with immediate results – our certified Radon Measurement Professionals do not need to mail canisters to a national laboratory. You are in good hands when you choose a Top Notch Inspector!

Too Long, Didn't Read Version: Radon is a known hazard to human health that is the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking. Just like carbon monoxide poisoning, you cannot see, smell, or taste radon gas. It’s everywhere and is a product of nature. Like nature, it is not consistent – our area for example has elevated levels above the national average. That is why we advocate for testing at every real estate transaction, because it can be mitigated for healthier air.

-Marshall Tramp, CPI, RMP


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Marshall Tramp, CPI, RMP
Author: Marshall Tramp, CPI, RMP
Top Notch Inspection Services llc
Serving Eastern Washington & Northern Idaho