FAIRBANKS — January is Radon Action Month. How can a simple radon test affect your finances? Whether the result of the test is good or bad, it can have a major impact not only on your health but also your assets.

For most of us, our home is our castle. It is where we eat, sleep and spend time. Knowing that we are safe from health problems will go a long way toward allowing you to sleep better. Radon also can reduce the value of your home or require you to invest more money in it. Ignorance is not bliss in this case. Knowing your testing numbers allows you to take steps now, rather than when you try to sell the property.

Radon is invisible, odorless and tasteless, but it is the second leading cause of lung cancer. It is a naturally produced radioactive gas that is formed as uranium breaks down in the soil. Radon is more likely to occur in homes that are on the rocky crags and ridges around Fairbanks.

Here’s the natural process that creates a problem. Uranium breaks down in the soil, releasing radon. Because it is a gas, it is moves through spaces in the soil and works its way into small cracks and holes in the foundation to get into your home. Even the smallest crack or opening can let radon enter and it pools in the house, mostly at lower levels. People breathe it into their lungs where it causes cell damage that can lead to lung cancer.

Now is a perfect time to test for radon and to plan mitigation procedures if they are needed. Radon testing is easiest and most effective in the winter months when houses are closed up for winter heating.

Researchers estimate that undetected radon may cause 20,000 lung cancer deaths per year and that as many as one in 15 homes may have elevated radon levels. Though it is present in much of our housing stock, fixing the problem can be done at a reasonable cost. Radon mitigation usually runs between $800 and $2,500 on an existing home. The bigger bargain is to build in protection in a new home from the start for as little as $250 to $750.

Every home is different because of the soil under it, construction details and maintenance. Radon is site specific. You may have a problem and your neighbor may have low radon levels. However, you can’t fix what you don’t know about. That’s why it is so important to test your home. It is a simple process and now is the best time to do it. There are short-term and long-term tests. The longer the test, the more accurate the results, and at Cooperative Extension, we recommend doing a long-term test. Radon levels are variable, so a longer testing period of three weeks to three months will result in a more accurate number.

Long-term test kits are available at several local construction suppliers and Cooperative Extension also stocks a reliable test kit. These test kits are available for $25 from our Extension offices or ordered by calling our toll-free number at 1-877-520-5211. The tests come with complete instructions on how to test. In addition, Art Nash, our energy specialist, or I will be glad to work with you to interpret your results.

Any change you make to the house may cause a change in the radon level. If you have already tested, but you remodel, insulate or have an earthquake, it is important to test again.

Testing is simple but is important. Knowing your numbers can save you from health problems and can save your investment in your homes.

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be emailed to her at rrdinstel@alaska.edu or by calling 474-7201.