What is Radon?
Radon is a radioactive element that is part of the decay chain of naturally occurring uranium in soil. You can’t see, smell or taste radon. Unlike carbon monoxide and many other home pollutants, radon’s adverse health effect, lung cancer, is usually not produced immediately. Thus, you may be exposed to radon for many years without ever suspecting its presence in your home.
How does radon enter your home?
The air pressure inside homes is slightly lower than in the ground (typically 0.7-1.4 psi vacuum), which draws in radon gas from several feet away. Combustion appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, and fireplaces, as well as exhaust fans and vents, reduce the indoor air pressure. The warm air inside our homes naturally rises reducing the air pressure on lower floors. Strong winds can even create a vacuum. When the ground is frozen or soaked by rain, “bottled up” radon gas in the ground moves to the warm porous gravel and disturbed ground around the house, then up into the house.
The majority of homes, whether a slab or a basement, are built on concrete. Although extremely hard, concrete is actually porous. The naturally rising Radon gas is pulled into the house by the negative vacuum and in through openings or cracks and through the pores in concrete. Modern houses tend to build up radon, because the building envelope is almost airtight while the foundation is “leaky” to soil gas. The soil gas infiltration ranges from less than 1% to over 20% of the total “fresh air” infiltration into homes.
The heavy radon gas will usually accumulate in basements and on lower floors. Heating and air-conditioning, natural air movement, and diffusion of radon atoms through the floors and walls distribute radon throughout the house.
Should you test for radon?
You cannot see, smell, or taste radon. But it still may be a problem in your home. When you breathe air containing radon, you increase your risk of getting lung cancer. If you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers in America and claims the lives of about 21,000 Americans each year. Radon testing takes approximately 48 hours, as long as closed building conditions are maintained.
What if my results are high?
If your radon level is 4.0 pCi/L or greater, remediation is needed. There are several proven methods to reduce radon in your home, but the one primarily used is a vent pipe system and fan, which pulls radon from beneath the house and vents it to the outside. This system, known as a soil suction radon reduction system, does not require major changes to your home. Sealing foundation cracks and other openings makes this kind of system more effective and cost-efficient. Similar systems can also be installed in houses with crawl spaces.
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