If you have an unfinished basement, and you’re looking to turn it into some sort of living space, you may need to test it for Radon gas. To give you some background, Radon is a naturally occurring gas that is also radioactive.
In some areas of the world, it’s not a problem, but some residential developments – those built back in the 1950’s and 60’s, and that used a lot of fill from borrow pits – have soil that is rich in Radon. As a result, the gas can seep into your home, and lung cancer can result from long term exposure.
So, how to test for Radon gas? One simple and inexpensive method is to get a series of small canister testing kits. These are round metal dishes – about the size of a lady’s compact – and they have a small opening to allow for air to enter. The first step in testing your basement is to drill a few small holes in the concrete flooring. For this, you’ll need a concrete drill bit, and a powerful drill. Make several holes – about half an inch in diameter – across the floor.
Next, you need to determine if air is flowing across the ground under the concrete. A cheap and easy way of doing that is to use cigarettes and a vacuum. Light enough cigarettes so that you can place one at each hole – save one.
After that, place a vacuum at the remaining hole, and turn it on. If the smoke rising from the cigarettes gets sucked down into their holes, you’ve got air flow! This is bad news if you end up having a high level of Radon; it means that that the gas can flow freely about your basement.
The next step is the placement of the testing kits. Put one at each hole, remove the cover, and leave them in place for 24 hours. After that, put the covers back on, and mail them off to the testing lab. Usually, the kits come with self-addressed, stamped envelopes for the kits, and then they send you the results.
If you can’t buy a simple testing kit, there are companies that will come out to your home and set up a unit to run a one-day test. These are usually small devices – about the size of a laptop computer – and they sniff the air every few minutes, test it for Radon, and then print out the results on a roll of paper. These tests are quicker than the other kind – you get results in a day – but usually more expensive, as you have to hire a firm to do them.
Still, no matter the method, if your area is prone to high levels of Radon gas, get your basement tested before getting it finished.