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Q - Before I make energy-saving improvements to my home, I want to check it for radioactive radon gas. Are those new electronic radon detectors effective and will operating one increase my electric bills? J. K.A - Although making energy-efficiency improvements will not necessarily increase the concentration of radon gas and the risk of lung cancer, you should test the radon concentration level first. Each house is unique and the level of radon gas can vary from house to house on the same street.

The new electronic radon detectors are excellent for do-it-yourself short- and long-term testing of your house. They operate on low voltage and use only a negligible amount of electricity.

A small warning light on the detector switches from green to red when the concentration goes above the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended maximum of 4 picocuries/liter. The actual concentration level is also displayed on a readout.

The advantage of electronic detectors is that they continuously test your house for radon gas. The concentration of radon in your house can vary substantially from day to day. Just running your clothes dryer can increase it. In my own house, the radon level varied more than 50 percent over just a single day, from a safe level to above the danger level.

Electronic detectors keep both a 12-hour average and either a one-week or a one-year average in memory. The longer-term averages are continuously updated with the most recent 12-hour radon readings.

One model is designed to allow friends to borrow it to test their homes.

They can take several one-week averages, several times a year, without its value being recorded in your house's long-term average.

There are two basic types of electronic detectors and each is effective and accurate. One design uses a small ionization chamber that senses the very small electrical charge given off when radioactive radon decays.

The other method uses a silicon device to sense the small amount of energy given off. By counting the number of these "hits" over a 12-hour period, they can determine the radon concentration in the air.

If you test your house and find unhealthy levels of radon gas, it usually can be reduced without throwing your windows open and wasting energy.

You will have to inspect your house to determine the entry points of the radon gas. Your state's EPA office is a good source for detailed information and names of radon mitigation experts and contractors.

You can write to me for UTILITY BILLS UPDATE No. 357 showing a list of manufacturers of electronic radon detectors and product specifications and a list of telephone numbers and addresses for each state's radon program office. Write to James Dulley, The Deseret News, 6906 Royal Green Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244. Please include $1.00 and a self-addressed envelope.

Q - Now that the milder weather is here, my gas furnace won't come on until next fall. If there anything I should do to it to get it ready for the layoff over summer? D. H.

A - Gas furnaces are fairly clean running machines, so there really much that you should do to ready it for the layoff. You should have it inspected every couple of years by a qualified technician.

Before fall, you should change the furnace air filter. Check and adjust the tension on the blower belt. It never hurts to test for leaks at the gas line connections with a few drops of soapy water (leaks will bubble).