Radon is an indoor air quality issue that’s kind of a big deal, since it can KILL you! I had never given it much thought until I started thinking about putting together a post about it. I didn’t get too far with it because I realized I needed to test our own house to see what our Radon level was. The test kit we purchased was inexpensive and easy to use. Open the bag, place the puck, wait, then send the puck back. That’s it.
Radon exposure is measured in pCi/L (Picocuries per liter) and the EPA recommends a level between 2 and 4 pCi/L, but 0 is best. The average indoor air level is 1.3 pCi/L and the average outdoor air level is .4 pCi/L. The good news is that our test is done and our results came back below the EPA recommended levels at .8 pCi/L.
What Is Radon?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is the byproduct of uranium decay. It has been found in nearly every State and lives in the soil. Unfortunately, it migrates up through the soil and into our homes and it does not matter if your house is new or old or if it has a basement or not. You can’t smell, see or taste radon and the only way to know if you have it in your home is to test for it. The EPA has links for testing facilities. We used one called accustar.
Where Does It Occur?
Radon has been found in every State. The EPA has produced a map of Radon Hot Spots. I thought that Arizona, where I live had a fairly low incidence of radon, but in researching this article I read about one area of the state that had a home with record levels of radon! Crazy, but as I have learned radon can occur anywhere and the map is more of a guide about general not specific risks.
Radon is the SECOND leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. With over 20,000 deaths per year, it’s nothing to ignore. Smokers are more vulnerable, but even non-smokers have a substantial risk. Breathing Radon doesn’t make you wheezy or short of breath, so it’s not likely that you would notice any exposure. The radioactive particles that you breathe slowly deteriorate lung tissue, It’s something that can take years to show up.
The only way to know of your radon exposure is to test for it with a radon test kit. Did I say that already? It’s only because it’s a really good idea. If your home tests higher than 4 pCi/L, the EPA has recommendations for mitigation in existing construction. Best advice, get someone who’s done it before.
Testing the soil before you build does NOT give a reasonable indication of what expected radon levels are. The best strategy is to install a system during construction because it is MUCH less expensive (on the order of 10x) to install during construction rather than after the fact.
Building A Radon Safe Home:
RADON MITIGATION sounds scary and complicated. You might be surprised to learn that it is insanely simple and affordable in new construction. It’s a subfloor pipe, a vent and maybe a fan. That’s about the sum total of it.
There are two types of systems.
Active, which has the fan and Passive, which is the pipe. Most homes should be installed with a passive system and the option to connect a fan if necessary. The pipe is installed under the slab or floor and connected to a vent that rises through the house. Over the pipe is plastic sheathing, which is not an added expense, because you should install it for moisture mitigation reasons anyway. Tape and seal all penetrations and that’s it.
Check out the EPA’s excellent publication on how to install a radon mitigation system.