Radon in the Home

Radon is a tasteless odorless gas that could be a problem in your home. This hidden danger is reported to be responsible for thousands of deaths each year. When you breathe air containing radon it can cause lung cancer. The Surgeon General has designated radon as the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States with smoking being the leading cause. A smoker living in a home with high radon levels is especially at risk for lung cancer.

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What is Radon?

Radon is a natural gas that stems from the radioactive breakdown of uranium in rocks, soil and water. The breakdown causes radon to be present in the air we breathe. Radon is present everywhere and penetrates all types of buildings. Since most of our time is spent at home this is where the greatest exposure occurs.

How Radon Gets into Your Home

Since radon rises from the very soil a home is built on it can enter the home through various avenues. Radon can enter through gaps or holes in the structure that include, cracks in walls, gaps around pipes, construction joints, cracks in floors and cavities inside walls. This radon becomes trapped inside the home raising radon levels.

Radon can also enter the home through the water supply especially if it's ground water. However, it should be noted that the higher risk comes from the air causing lung cancer than being ingested through water which has less chance of causing stomach cancer. The threat from water is when radon is being released into the air or sprayed, showering is an example.

What to Do

Radon levels can be determined by testing. Testing for radon can be carried out by contacting a qualified tester or by using a do-it-yourself test kit. Qualified testers can be located by contacting your state radon office. There are also privately certified testers that can be contacted through organizations in your local area.

Do-it-yourself testing consists of two types of test, a short-term and long term test. Short term testing is conducted from 2 to 90 days. Long term testing is for more than 90 days. The tests are quite simple to perform. The kits will give instructions on each step to be followed. Once the test is complete the package is sealed and sent to a lab for analysis. Normally you should receive the results in a few weeks. The EPA recommends that if the result of the short term test is 4 pCi/L or higher follow up with another short term test or a long term test.

What the Test Results Mean

The average indoor radon level is about 1.3pCi/L (1.3 picocuries per liter) and 4 pCi/L for outside air. The goal is to keep inside levels equal to or below outside levels for the least amount of risk. Although there are risks with any level of radon, 4pCi/L is determined to be the highest safe inside level. There are solutions for levels that exceed the standard 4pCi/L.

Fixing the Problem

A radon mitigation contractor can be hired to reduce radon levels in the home by installing a radon mitigation system. Contractors can be contacted through your state radon office as they are required to be licensed and certified in many states. In states without requirements you can ask the contractor if they are certified and if they follow industry standards.

As with any other home repair you should compare contractors, ask for references, get an explanation of work to be done and how long it will take. Get an accurate estimate of all charges.

Radon mitigation systems are classified by the type of foundation the home is built on. Homes built on slab foundations or that have basements use Active Subslab Suction. Pipes are driven through the floor slab into the rock and soil. A ventilation fan then draws air from the pipes and releases it into the outside air.

Homes with a crawlspace use Submembrane Suction. The ground beneath the home is covered with a thick plastic sheet. A pipe and vent fan are used to draw the radon from under the sheet and vent it to the outside air.

There are other methods used to lower radon levels in the home as well. The method used should be agreed upon by the homeowner and the contractor in the contract. The systems do work and can reduce radon levels in the home by as much as 99% with costs running about the same as other home repairs.

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