What the Tech: Checking for radon

It used to be expensive. Now anyone can check for radon using a handheld device.
It used to be expensive. Now anyone can check for radon using a handheld device.
Published: Jan. 29, 2023 at 9:02 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Radon gas is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. The invisible and odorless gas comes out of the ground, and into homes, and depending on where you live, radon can pose a serious risk to you and your family.

January is Radon Awareness Month, dedicated to encouraging homeowners to check their radon levels. It used to be expensive. Now anyone can check for radon using a handheld device.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates some 21,000 people die from exposure to radon every year. The gas comes up from the ground through any cracks or space in the foundation. If you live in an area with high radon levels, you might want to get your home tested.

A device from Airthings is small, lightweight, and battery-operated. These are typically around $150. You simply place the detector somewhere on the lowest level of your home. The first reading is available after about 24 hours. It shows both long-term and short-term averages. If the long-term average is over 4, the EPA suggests contacting a professional.

Last winter I was getting a long-term average of over 8. I contacted a home inspector who brought over a professional radon detector and the numbers were almost identical. Here are the numbers I was getting last fall: slightly over 4 long term, and a 7-day average of 6.62.

A professional then installed this radon mitigation system that pulls the gas out of the soil underneath the house and a fan releases it into the air outside. After a few days with that system in place, the radon level, according to the Airthings device had dropped to a 7-day average of .43.

There are other options. Hardware stores sell radon detection kits for about $25, which require returning the test kit to a lab for the results. But if you live in an area with high radon levels you may want a device like this to monitor radon levels around the clock.

As shown on the EPA’s radon map, most of Mid-Michigan is either in the first or second zone for potential radon exposure. You can tell by the darker colors. Those zones both mean there is either a high or moderate potential for indoor radon exposure. The map does not mean every house in the area has elevated radon levels, just that there is a greater potential for higher radon levels.

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