Where radon comes from
Radon typically enters a home by rising up from the soil and seeping into the cracks and crevices of a home’s foundation. Any type of home, regardless of whether it has a basement, crawl space or sits on a concrete slab, is susceptible to radon. The house acts like a vacuum, pulling the inert gas upward from the soil. Therefore, the lower levels of a home tend to have higher concentrations of radon than a second or third story.
All homes, both new and old, have the potential of being inflicted with radon problems. Some of the most common entry points for radon include:
• Foundation cracks
• Construction joints
• Gaps found in suspended flooring
• Unsealed spaces around service pipes
• Wall cracks
• Cavity holes inside of walls
• Water supply sources
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 1 in 15 homes in the United States are affected by high levels of radon. However, without proper testing many of these cases go undetected until the health problems become so severe they cannot be reversed. Homes that depend on wells for their water supply or septic systems for their plumbing are at a heightened risk of radon exposure.
Venting radon gas
Fortunately for homeowners, there are ways to remove and reduce radon from the home. For example, radon mitigation contractors can install an active radon reduction system. The system has a pipe that extends below the foundation of the home, up through the residential building structure and out through the roof. A fan attached to this system draws the radon up and forces it out, preventing the radon from becoming trapped in the home. It features a u-shaped gauge that monitors pressure levels within the system. When the system is working properly, it creates a pressure differential and the levels appear staggered. If the system stops working, the levels will both fall to zero, requiring immediate action.
Another more cost-effective option for homeowners is to seal foundation cracks and holes where the radon initially enters. Additionally, some manufacturers now make building products that prevent and deter radon gases from entering through walls, the water supply, wells and septic systems. These products do not cost much more than the average building materials used for home repair.
For serious radon problems, a professional radon mitigation specialist should be hired. These professionals require licensing in most states, and are trained in safe radon removal practices. To find someone in your city, search Angie’s List under "radon testing,” and look for service providers who have been given high marks by other customers in your city.
When buying a home, request a radon test, then test again yourself after you take possession of the home. Sellers sometimes try to fool the test by airing out the basement with exhaust fans while the test is being conducted. That does reduce the radon levels, but the effect is only temporary.
Radon effects on health
Since radon is present in the air, it can be easily inhaled into the lungs. The trapped particles damage the lining of the lungs and increase the chance of serious respiratory problems. The EPA reports 20,000 people on average die each year from lung cancer due to radon exposure in the home. Thousands of others are treated for respiratory ailments such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and other lung-related illnesses. Without taking measures to properly decrease or remove radon from the home, these individuals continue to suffer from their symptoms regardless of treatment efforts.
The EPA reports that radon exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Cancer risks increase substantially among people who smoke and are also exposed to high levels of radon.
One way to measure radon levels in the home is to administer a radon test. Radon is measured in “picocuries” per liter of air (pCi/L). A picocurie is one-trillionth of a “curie,” which is the radioactivity of one gram of radon. According to the EPA, the typical home has a radon reading of 1.3 pCi/L, while levels above 4 pCi/L are considered dangerous.
There are both short-term tests and long-term radon tests which are available at hardware stores, and some are offered free of charge by local utility companies. Both tests record radon levels over a set period of time because levels fluctuate naturally and are affected by changes in weather and temperature. The test kits have a sensor which records air samples that can be sent to a lab for analysis. They should be placed at the lowest point in a home where radon levels will be the highest. The short-term tests are good for establishing an initial radon level. However, they are not as accurate as the long-term tests because radon gases have a lifespan of 3.8 days. The best way to establish accurate radon levels is to test the air for an extended period of time.