What Does Radon Gas Smell Like – Radon Gas In Houses

According to the EPA website, radon gas is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer-related deaths in the United States every year.

Radon is invisible, odorless, and tasteless, making it impossible for you to detect without the proper equipment.

The only safe level of radon gas is no radon gas at all. There is no safe level of radon exposer since radon is a carcinogen that causes lung cancer.

What is Radon Gas?

Radon gas is a naturally-occurring radioactive gas that occurs when the uranium found in soil and rocks, break down. You can not see or smell radon; it is odorless, tasteless, and colorless.  Outside, radon gas is diluted and is not a problem. Radon becomes a serious health risk; however when it seeps into an enclosed space, such as your home. Once radon begins to fill an enclosed space, it doesn’t have a chance to dilute and it starts to accumulate too higher levels, which becomes dangerous to both humans and pets.

Where Does Radon Gas Come From?

When radioactive elements like uranium and thorium break down, the radioactive decay of these elements produces radon gas. These radioactive elements are present in soil, rocks, and water, meaning that radon gas is everywhere. Radon gas is nine times denser than air but still rises from the ground and into the atmosphere.

If the gas meets with open-air above the soil, the molecules spread out enough that the concentration of the gas becomes harmless. If the gas encounters the foundation of a building, however, it seeps into that building and becomes trapped in the space, unable to disperse into a low-risk level of concentration.

Why is Radon Gas Dangerous?

Let’s take a look at some of the things that make radon dangerous:

Carcinogenic Properties

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer and contributes to over 20,000 deaths per year in the U.S.

Once radon gas enters your home, you will begin breathing in the radioactive particles without even knowing. That radioactive gas that you are breathing in will disrupt and damage the DNA of your cells, possibly causing the cells to become cancerous.

Radon is particularly dangerous for children under the age of 10 and even more so to embryos. Their smaller lungs, rapidly dividing cells, and faster breathing rates are what make them more sensitive to radon exposure than adults. Recent studies suggest that children who live in homes with even the lowest levels of radon may still be at risk of developing childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). As the level of radon exposer increases, so does the percentage that the child will develop ALL.


Due to its gaseous properties, radon gas can seep through the cracks and gaps in your floor and foundation walls, through cavities, around construction joints and service pipes, and enter the home through your water supply. Radon gas can penetrate materials such as paper, leather, concrete, wood, and even standard insulation. Radon gas can enter ordinary homes, offices, or schools, putting just about everyone at equal risk.

Natural Occurrence

Since radon gas is naturally occurring and permeates common materials, there isn’t much that you can do to prevent it from entering your home. Not only does the gas enter your home through the cracks and crevices, but if the water in your home comes from an underground supply, such as a well, then the gas can contaminate your water. Each time you shower, wash dishes, wash your hands, or whenever you run water at all, you’ll be releasing radon particles into your home without even realizing it.

In every state, there has been evidence of elevated levels of radon gas. There is no generally agreed-upon level of radon that is considered to be “safe.” Every home in every location is at risk.

Consider investing in adequate underground ventilation, as this will reduce the levels of radon in your home by allowing better airflow to disperse radon molecules.

Hard-to-Detect Nature

Because Radon is impossible to see, smell, or taste, it can’t be easily detected. You could be breathing in radon gas and possibly ingesting it through contaminated water for years at a time if unchecked.

Issues caused by radon gas are ones that build up over time. The symptoms of high radon levels in your home are not immediately recognizable, which means by the time that you know that there’s a problem, radon levels in your home will likely have already risen to levels detrimental to your health.

Various health organizations, including the US EPA, National Safety Council, American Medical Association, Surgeon General, and American Lung Association, recommend testing your home for radon since it’s such a discreet problem. You can purchase a DIY kit for under $30 to do the test yourself, or hire a professional. The consensus that you should have your home professionally mitigated if your home possesses radon levels of or above four (4) pCi/L (picocuries per liter is a common unit used to measure the level of radioactivity).

Radon testing typically takes 90 days, so you may be tempted to look to see if your neighbors have gotten their homes tested in the meantime. However, if a neighbor’s home looks good, do not rely on their results alone, since the concentration of radon gas will differ from house to house because every building is different.

Where is Radon Most Commonly Found?

Radon is present everywhere in the United States and other parts of the world. The US EPA estimates that there could be at least 8 million homes throughout the country that has elevated levels of radon right now.

Some areas are worse than others when it comes to how much radon is present. Take a look at the radon map below to see if you live in one of the higher radon level zones.

EPA Map of Radon Zones in The United States – Click here

Radon Potential Map Canada – Click here

What Are The Symptoms of Radon in Your Home?

Radon gas is unlike any other type of gas such as carbon monoxide, wherewith carbon monoxide exposer, and you begin to experience different symptoms right away. Radon gas works much slower and shows health effects many years later in the form of lung cancer for example.

Some things to watch out for are:

  • shortness of breath
  • constant wheezing
  • dry cough
  • chest pains
  • coughing up blood
  • unexpected weight loss

If you notice any of these, notify your family doctor right away.

Is Radon Gas Dangerous For Pets?

Now that you know how dangerous radon gas is for humans, you might be wondering if it has the same effect on your pets. Unfortunately, pets are just as much at risk of developing lung cancer as you are from excessive exposure to radon.

Pets are often exposed to radon gas much more than humans are because they tend to hang around closer to the floor and remain in the home during the day while the family is working or off to school. 

Some of the cancer-related symptoms to look out for in your animal includes:

  • lameness
  • excessive vomiting
  • coughing
  • lack of appetite
  • abnormal swelling

If you notice any of these symptoms in your pet, have your home tested for radon right away, and take your pet to the vet to see what kind of health treatment that they would recommend.

Is Radon Gas Odorless?

Not only is radon gas odorless, but it is also colorless, tasteless, and invisible, which makes it nearly impossible to detect without the proper equipment. Every day you could be exposed to radon and you wouldn’t even know it.

What Causes Radon Gas in Houses?

Radon gas could enter the home through cracks in the homes’ floor, walls, and foundation. Even a very small crack that might look harmless could allow the dangerous gas to enter the home.

In some cases, radon could also enter the home through well water. Whenever you run the water to have a shower, wash your dishes, or clean your hands, the gas escapes into the air.

Once radon gas finds a way into your home, it will get trapped and continue to seep in and build up within the home to levels that are unsafe to breathe.

Can a Carbon Monoxide Detector Detect Radon?

Everyone should have at least one carbon monoxide detector in their home, preferably near your furnace or any other device that runs on natural gas, so the most common question is, can my CO detector also pick up radon gas in the air? As much as I want to say, yes, I have to tell you that carbon monoxide detectors can detect, well, carbon monoxide, and nothing else. The only way to check for radon in your home is by using a radon testing kit.

How Do You Test For Radon Gas?

Since radon gas is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, you might not be aware that you are breathing in unhealthy amounts of it. You won’t even begin to get sick or show symptoms right away. The only way to detect radon is by using a radon testing kit.

Testing for radon is fairly inexpensive, and it is something that you can do yourself, or hire a professional to do for you. If you are renting your home, or a basement apartment, you can ask your landlord to have it tested.  

There are two main types of radon testing kits.

  • Short-term test – that will typically take anywhere between 2 to 90 days.
  • Long-term test – that will take more than 90 days.

Initially, you will want to start with a short-term test. A short-term test is when you place the kit in your basement, preferably in an area you frequently use, which will tell you if radon gas has been detected in the air.

A long-term test will help you monitor the home over an extended period to help you determine what the radon level is.

There is no safe level of radon, so if you are picking up a reading of radon, you should look at having the problem fixed. Any reading of radon between 2 and 4 (or higher) should be fixed by a licensed contractor who can fix the problem of your home.

You can buy a radon gas test kit online from Amazon for under $15 (click here for current price), or by calling the National Radon Hotline at 1-800-767-7236 in the U.S.

Also, you can try visiting the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website for more information on where you can get a radon test kit.

In Canada, you can visit Take Action On Radon to find a radon test provider near you.

Is Radon Only In Basements?

A common misconception is that people believe radon gas is limited to only being found in the basement; however, this is not necessarily the case. Although homes with a basement might be more common to have a radon problem, the truth is, even homes built on top of a crawl space are still prone to the gas.

A home’s basement would show a larger level of radon gas in compared to the main level of the home or the upstairs portion. Homes built on a crawl space would find a larger level of radon on the main living areas of the home since it doesn’t have the basement area where the gas could absorb and dissipate.

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