Is radon lurking in your home?
November 08, 2003
Cooler temperatures make this the perfect time to test your home for harmful radon gas according to Bob Schultheis, natural resources engineering specialist, University of Missouri Outreach and Extension.

"Testing in Missouri has shown that 18 percent of all homes have radon levels above the level considered dangerous (4.0 picocrquies per liter of air)," said Schultheis.

Radon is a colorless, odorless and radioactive gas caused by the natural breakdown of rocks and soils that contain uranium and radium.

Radon is also the second leading cause of lung cancer, immediately behind smoking. It is also something every house in the Ozarks has but the levels vary between neighboring houses.

"The best time to test your home for radon is during cooler weather, when it is 60 degrees or less. The house should be closed up at least 12 hours before and during the test," said Schultheis.

Energy-efficient or poorly ventilated homes are more likely to have higher radon levels according to Schultheis. This is because radon enters the home through cracks and openings in floors and walls, and through floor drains and sumps.

The most common radon detectors are charcoal canisters and alpha-track detectors. The charcoal canister units (about $15) are used for short-term testing. A positive result from a short-term test is no immediate cause for panic. A long-term test (three to 12 months) using an alpha-track detector to verify continuous exposure levels should follow it.

If you do find a radon problem, Schultheis says, spend less time in high-concentration areas, such as basements. Don't smoke, and when practical, ventilate the living area. It is also a good idea to keep crawl-space vents open year-round and seal all floor and wall cracks.

The cost to make repairs to reduce radon depends on how your home was built according to Donna Chilton, home and environmental design specialist.

"Radon problems can be fixed by qualified contractors for a cost similar to many common home repairs like painting or having a new water heater installed. The average cost for a contractor to lower radon levels in a home is about $1,200," said Chilton.

For more information on how to obtain radon testing for your home, call the Missouri Radon Information Helpline at (800) 669-7236.

For more information on radon ask your county University of Missouri Outreach and Extension center for MU Guide G1968, "Radon: An Indoor Health Hazard?" Or, get the publication online at

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