Posted by JanL on July 20, 2018
There’s a silent killer potentially living in the earth below your home’s foundation. It’s a colorless, odorless gas and is the cause of over 20,000 lung cancer cases in the U.S. each year, which ranks second only to smoking. It’s called radon and fortunately, there are ways to test for it and treat it, which why it’s important to know what it is, where it is found, the health effects associated with it, and how to mitigate the danger.
Radon is a naturally occurring gas and derives from uranium, which occurs in the crust of the earth. It seeps up through the ground and into homes where it is then breathed in. By breathing radon in the average house in Colorado, people are exposed to radiation damage that is equivalent to receiving 200 chest x-rays a year. The higher the radon value, the more chance you have of receiving cancer. For homes with smokers, in addition to high radon levels, chances of developing cancer skyrockets. Recent awareness efforts have pushed legislators to make it a requirement for new builds and real estate transactions to test for radon.
The way to know if a home has a radon problem or not depends on how much radon is present in the soil that the home was built on. The highest concentrations are found in homes with basements and crawl spaces that are susceptible to higher levels of exposure. There are multiple ways for radon to enter the home. It can travel through the concrete foundation, through cracks in the floor, drains, crawl spaces. Anywhere there’s a source of radon below the home, it will find its way inside. The home then traps the gas inside and in time, it builds up and creates adverse effects on people breathing it. This is especially true during the winter months, when doors and windows are more likely to be closed shut, trapping warm air. The inside air temperature of the home is much higher than the outside, creating lower air pressure than the surrounding soil, so gasses, including radon, move into the home. It doesn’t matter how old or how new the home is, or how big or how small. Radon has the potential to invade any building.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, one in two homes in Colorado have unsafe radon levels. The geological makeup of Colorado includes huge deposits of granite and uranium, making it the perfect breeding ground for radon. The lower the levels of radon, the lower the risk of lung cancer developing. But for houses with high levels of radon, residents of the state are at risk of being one of 500 people killed annually from lung cancer caused by the gas. The gases decay into radioactive particles that can get trapped in the lungs, leading to lung tissue damage and potentially mutated DNA and cancer. Most of Colorado is in Zone 1 -- the highest levels of naturally occurring radon, in the country according to the EPA. As healthy as the state is, it ranks 7th for radon risks compared to the rest of the country, where unsafe radon levels are found in only one in 15 homes.
The State of Colorado has proclaimed January National Radon Action Month, where it encourages people to get their homes tested. Test kits are available to purchase online or at home improvement stores. Some states offer free or discounted tests to the public. Testing for gas is done in the lowest lived in part of your home with all the windows and doors closed. The kit is then sent off to have radon levels measured. Another option is to hire a professional inspector who will have a device to monitor the levels of radon in the room. After the test results come in, numbers will be analyzed to determine if the space is safe or not. The EPA recommends that for homes that test at 4pCi (picoCuries) of radon per one liter of air or higher, that they should take action. If radon testing results produce results that are unsafe, then the next step is to determine how to mitigate the radon in the home. Hiring an experienced contractor to install a vent pipe system with a fan to draw the harmful gas out will be necessary.
The system that is installed is essentially a vacuum that pulls the gas out of the ground and expels it outside. The contractor will take a core bit and drill a hole into the slab foundation. Some dirt will be removed to create a pathway to draw radon out from under the house. A discharge point is then created to the exterior of the home where the gas will be exhausted from the house. It should be expelled as far away from the house as possible, preferably above the roofline. Pipes are aligned and fitted, then sealed with caulking to create an effective air suction inside the pipe. A fan that runs 24 hours a day is installed in the system which sucks the soil gas from under the foundation, pulling it up and away from the home. A pressure monitor is also installed to ensure the system is running properly.
Just because a home tests high for radon, doesn’t mean it’s a reason to worry. Radon mitigation can typically be completed by a certified installer within a day. In addition, it’s an affordable home improvement investment, especially when considering the potential side effects of inaction are deadly. The average cost of a radon system will run around $1,200, assuming there aren’t any problems encountered during installation.
There are simple solutions to radon problems in homes. The important thing is to become educated, know the risks and take steps to mitigate those risks to ensure peace of mind that comes with safe levels of radon in the home. When shopping for a new home, it’s important to have a realtor who understands the potential for radon in homes for sale and is available to answer questions and concerns about the harmful natural gas.
Contact me today if you would like more information or to discuss your real estate needs in Summit County.