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Everything You Need To Know About Radon

Sam Smith Foundation Repair Consultant

Everything You Need To Know About Radon

Are you concerned about the possibility of radon seeping through your foundation?

If so, you’ve come to the right place!

In this Regional Foundation Repair guide, we cover the most common radon-related issues and their effects, including:

  • Radon sickness statistics in the U.S.
  • What radon actually is
  • How radon gets into your home

And much more!

Radon is a radioactive gas existing in homes across the United States. The gas is produced from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water and gets into the air we breathe. Radon is the primary cause of cancer among non-smokers.

But can you easily determine how much of it is in your home? Can you do anything to reduce the amount of radon in your home? These are among the several questions that we want to answer in this article.

Some Quick Statistics

Here are some quick statistics to give you an idea of the extent of the radon challenge:

  • Radon cases around 21,000 deaths annually.
  • Out of the estimated 21,000 deaths caused by radon each year, 2,900 occur to people that have never smoked.
  • For every 15 homes in the US, one is estimated to have high levels of radon.
  • The level of radon in any place is measured in picocuries per liter (pCi/L). The United States Environmental Protection Agency recommends that any home or office measuring above 4.0 pCi/L needs to be fixed immediately. Those measuring between 2.0 pCi/L and 4.0 pCi/L need to be fixed soon.
  • The estimated average radon level in the US is 1.3 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) indoors and 0.4 pCi/L outdoors.
  • Some radon reduction systems can reduce levels by up to 99%.

What is Radon?

Even though you can neither smell nor see radon, it could still exist in high levels in your home. These levels could be high enough to cause lung cancer. But what is radon?

The National Cancer Institute defines radon as “a radioactive gas released from the normal decay of the elements uranium, thorium, and radium in rocks and soil.” Adding, “It is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas that seeps up through the ground and diffuses into the air.”

The Kansas State University’s National Radon Program Services reports that radon can be found in all the 50 states in the US. The same source adds that “Radon has a half-life of about four days—half of a given quantity of it breaks down every four days.”

According to the EPA, radon amounts in a specific place depend on soil chemistry, which differs from one house to the next. The EPA also adds that “the amount of radon that escapes from the soil to enter the house depends on the weather, soil porosity, soil moisture, and the suction within the house.”

Why Should You Be Concerned About Radon?

Learning as much as you can about the dangers of high levels of radon is vital because it encourages you to take the necessary action to protect yourself and your family from overexposure.

We need to be concerned about radon because where it is found in high levels, it escalates the risk of cancer for those living in such environments. This is a view also supported by the EPA, which says, “When you breathe air containing radon, you increase your risk of getting lung cancer.”

pleural effusion due to lung cancer

The American Lung Association notes that the health risk comes about when radon particles are “inhaled into the lung and bombard your cells with dangerous, cancer-causing radiation.” The same organization adds that “Smoking and radon exposure can separately increase the risk of lung cancer.”

How Does Radon Enter A Building?

Most of the radon found indoors comes from the soil around the building. According to the National Radon Program Services, radon rises through the soil before getting trapped just below a building’s foundation. The trapped gases accumulate pressure, which forces them up into the building through the walls and floors.

The National Radon Program Services adds that “Most of the gas moves through cracks and other openings.” Inside a building, the radon can become confined and concentrated. The same source identifies some common openings that make it possible for radon to enter a room.

  • Cracks on walls and floors
  • Gaps in suspended floors
  • Openings around sump pipes and drains
  • Cavities in walls
  • Joints in construction materials
  • Crawl spaces opening directly into buildings
  • Openings around utility penetrations

Some indoor radon can be trapped in the water and released into the indoor environment when the water is used when doing activities like showering or washing dishes. Other sources of radon could be the building materials used in the construction of a house.

The American Lung Association reports that in recent times, concerns have also been growing around natural gas obtained through hydraulic fracking, also called fracking. However, the same organization says that studies done in homes in the Northeast indicate that the gas coming into such homes does not cause adequate radon levels to cause substantial additional risk.

Testing For Radon

Because you cannot see, taste, or smell radon, the only way to determine the presence of the radioactive gas levels is through testing. The EPA advises that all homes below the third floor of a building should be tested for radon.

The Minnesota Department of Health advises that “Hiring a licensed radon measurement professional is recommended when an unbiased, third party is needed, such as in a real estate transaction.”

natural gas leak detector alarm in action

Radon tests can generally be divided into two categories: short-term and long-term. The short-term tests measure the levels of radon for two to seven days. Long-term tests measure radon levels for at least 90 days in a year, providing you with the best way of determining the annual average.

How Often Should I Test For Radon?

Guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health indicate that once an initial test has been conducted, a building should be retested every two to five years. The same department advises that you should “Consider testing before a major remodeling project to determine if radon mitigation should be added into the project.”

How Do I Test For Radon?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies three ways of getting a radon test:

Do It Yourself: You can get the test kit from online retailers, hardware stores, or home improvement outlets. These tests will have instructions on how to use them.

Hire a Qualified Tester: When buying or selling a house, a qualified tester can help you do the testing. You can find a professional using the EPA interactive map.

Private Radon Proficiency Program: Provides a list of privately certified radon experts in different areas. More information about radon test kits or measurement and mitigation professionals is available from the EPA website.

The American Lung Association suggests digital radon detectors that you can buy for your home.

Suppose the test shows a result of a reading that is 4.0 pCi/L or greater. In that case, the EPA recommends that you take action, with the ultimate aim of getting your radon level to the lowest level possible.

Reducing the Amount of Radon Coming Into a Building

While it would be impossible to get rid of radon completely, the good news is that we can take some measures to reduce amounts to acceptable levels. When correctly done, a radon test can help you determine whether you should take measures to reduce radon levels in your building.

The EPA recommends that the most effective way of reducing radon levels in a building is to use radon-resistance construction techniques. The agency says that “When installed properly and completely, these simple and inexpensive techniques can help reduce indoor radon levels in homes.”

Below are some specific techniques suggested by the EPA to reduce the level of radon in your building:

Sealing: Involves identifying cracks and other openings in the building’s foundation and sealing them. This reduces the flow of radon into the building, making other radon reduction techniques work better.

House or room pressurization: This is a method of blowing air into the basement or living area. This air should come from outside the building or upstairs rooms. It creates a balance of pressure between the room and beneath the foundation, so that radon doesn’t flow from the high-pressure area outside the building into the low pressure area inside the building.

Heat recovery ventilator (HRV): This system is installed to increase ventilation and bring air into the building from outside.

Reducing radon levels is not always complicated. For instance, ventilation in the lower level rooms can be increased through natural ventilation methods like opening windows and doors and having air vents on walls on lower floors of a building.

How Do I Choose A Mitigating Contractor?

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services advises that you should “Choose a contractor to fix a radon problem just as you would choose someone to do other home repairs.” The same department adds that “It is wise to get more than one estimate, to ask for references, and to contact some of those references to ask if they are satisfied with the contractors’ work.”

Some questions recommended by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services you could ask include the following:

  • Is the contractor willing to show you examples of work they have done before?
  • Can the contractor tell you what the work will involve, the duration, and how they will reduce the radon levels?
  • How much will the contractor charge for the whole project, or do they charge for providing a quote?
  • Will the contractor inspect your home before providing an estimate?
  • Does the contractor understand the test results, and can they determine if the correct process was followed in testing?

Radon Is a Serious Health Issue

By now, it should be clear that no one can afford to ignore radon. Thus, it is vital to determine the radon levels in your home so that you can decide which action to take. Where you decide to employ a radon specialist to reduce radon levels in your building, it’s vital that you find someone appropriately qualified to do the work.

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Sam Smith Foundation Repair Consultant
SHORT BIO: Hey, I'm Sam Smith. I'm one of our service techs here at Regional Foundation Repair. I'm here to help you learn more about your home's foundation. I've been doing this for a while, so I have a few insider tips and tricks to share!

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