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Know your radon risk

Radon testing for your home is easy and affordable

Posted: March 7, 2009 1:39 a.m.
Updated: March 7, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Homes in the Santa Clarita Valley usually test between 2 and 4 pCi/L.  The Environmental Protection Agency had designated January 2009 as National Radon Action Month. Homes in the Santa Clarita Valley usually test between 2 and 4 pCi/L.  The Environmental Protection Agency had designated January 2009 as National Radon Action Month.
Homes in the Santa Clarita Valley usually test between 2 and 4 pCi/L.  The Environmental Protection Agency had designated January 2009 as National Radon Action Month.
We missed it. The Environmental Protection Agency had designated January 2009 as National Radon Action Month. What with New Year’s and the Super Bowl and some other pressing topics, we are just now getting around to bringing you up to speed on radon, a dangerous radioactive gas that may be lurking in your home. Now, if you’ve started glowing in the dark, we apologize, but either way, it’s past time to take action and find out if radon is in your air.

The related stories on these pages explain all about radon gas, where it comes from and what to do about it. But we’ll give you some easy insights here.

Quick, what does pCi/L stand for? Why, picoCuries per liter, that’s what. It’s a measure of radiation — tiny counts, actually, something like one part in a trillion.

But it doesn’t take much. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control recommend that homes where the indoor air has radon levels at 4 pCi/L or higher should be “fixed.”

According to the map at, Los Angeles County has a predicted average indoor radon screening level between 2 and 4 pCi/L. That’s a mid-range level, as opposed to San Diego County, coming in at less than 2 pCi/L, and Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, which are greater than 4 pCi/L. (Ouch — and you wanted to move north to the beach to get that “glow” of good health.)

But a general-area prediction isn’t enough to go by. Your next-door neighbor’s home could have a significantly different radon level from yours. You need to get tested my friend.

With or without help
There are two ways to test the air in your home for the level of radon gas — short term and long term. The short-term test is done over a couple days, and the long term from 91 days up to a year. With either, you can do the tests yourself or you can employ a certified radon tester.

The do-it-yourself method is easy and inexpensive. You purchase a radon test kit, use it according to directions, and then mail the exposed samples to a lab. The lab analyzes your samples and sends you the results.

These kinds of kits are available at local hardware stores and you can get them online. For example, Alpha Energy Lab’s short-term test kits are only $5 for California residents. Visit

On the other hand, employing the services of a certified radon tester could make your results a lot more valid because that will ensure the test is done correctly.

B.J. Rogers is a partner and inspector with Affordable Inspection Services of Chatsworth. The company, which has been in business since 2002, offers a number of services, including testing for radon, mold, asbestos, lead and pollen.

“We offer any type of indoor air quality testing,” Rogers said. “And we’ve done quite a few radon inspections in Santa Clarita.”

Rogers emphasized the need for each individual home to be tested for radon. “You can’t go by a map (of local radon levels). You won’t know unless you test,” she said.

Rogers said that Affordable gets a lot of business from relocation companies that are concerned homes their employees will be staying in might have elevated radon levels. She added that a lot of people contact Affordable for radon inspections because the EPA’s public information campaigns are working (things like National Radon Action Month).

“The state has been very proactive about making the public aware of the potential health risks of elevated radon levels in the home.” she said.

Rogers explained that disclosure forms for real estate transactions now include mention of radon gas, and thus a lot of business comes via real estate agents.

“The good news is that at least they now disclose it, so the (buyer) has the option to test,” she said.

Short-term test: Rogers said that homeowners “can certainly do” the short term radon tests themselves but emphasized doing it correctly.

“Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on the test kit,” she said. “They need to follow protocol to get an accurate reading, and some devices don’t outline the protocol.”

As the test basically involves exposing the test media, such as activated charcoal, to the air inside the home, the most important aspect of this protocol is “closed building conditions.” That means keeping the home sealed up, with windows and doors closed during the testing period. And she said that attic fans, or other devices that exchange inside air with outside air, should be turned off. Rogers said that family members can go in and out of the house during the testing period but they need to “close the door behind them.”

Of course, Affordable Inspection Services can do the short term test for you, and Rogers said the company can usually send out an inspector the next day after they are contacted. The test period includes having the closed building conditions for 12 hours before the test starts and the testing period of 48 hours — 60 hours total. “The advantage of having a professional is they will know the protocols involved,” she said.   

Instead of using things like activated charcoal and sending them to a lab, Affordable uses a Sun Nuclear Continuous Radon Monitor. This electronic device takes hourly readings on radon levels. And the best part is you don’t have to wait for lab analysis.

“We can print out the hourly readings for the test period and print out the average,” Rogers said.

Naturally, this professional protocol, extensive data collection and fast analysis cost more than a mail-in test kit. Rogers said that for local areas, such as the Santa Clarita Valley, the short term test is $250.

Long-term test: Rogers said that if the short term test shows radon levels higher than 4 pCi/L, Affordable can do a long term test.

“These run from 91 days up to one year,” she said. And during this time the family members “just live in the home normally. There are no restrictions.” The most important protocol is in placing the monitor correctly, away from windows and other sources of air exchange with the outdoors.

The cost of the long term inspection is the same as the short term — $250. “But these do have to go out to a lab,” Rogers said.

“The results are sent back to us and we prepare a written report and provide recommendations.”

Call Affordable Inspection Services at (818) 773-9932 or For more information on radon and your home, visit


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