Protecting Your Home From Radon

According to some studies, as many as 21,000 people a year die from lung cancer linked to radon gas. This substance is not something to take lightly. One in ten homes nationwide has elevated levels of the gas indoors. The Appalachian region is known to have significantly higher levels than this. The gas is a radioactive element that’s invisible, odorless, and tasteless. Fortunately, it’s easy to test for it, and there are effective ways to vent it out of the house.

Natural History of a Dangerous Element

Radon gas follows an interesting course that starts with traces of uranium in the soil. The uranium experiences a phenomenon called radioactive decay. This means it loses protons and electrons and transforms into this element. Once this heavier-than-air gas is generated, it’s driven up through the ground due to the continual settling process of soil. Because of its weight, this gas accumulates in home basements and at ground level. The gas undergoes its own decay after just four days, but the result is the extremely radioactive solid polonium. If the decay occurs while the gas is circulating through your lungs, the resulting polonium remains there and zaps surrounding lung tissue with cancer-inducing radiation. Just to add insult to injury, the polonium will decay after about four and a half months into lead.

Running Tests

Since this radioactive gas eludes the human senses, specialized tests are required. All methods of testing ultimately involve sending the collected samples to a testing laboratory, but gathering the evidence can be done in several ways. There are alpha particle track tests that the homeowner can use. These approaches demand several months of passive sample collecting, but they supply a better understanding of changing gas levels throughout the year. The most accurate methods are those used by professional radon testing and mitigation businesses. These companies can also perform regular follow-up tests to ensure any abatement systems are working properly.

Protecting Property

There are several measures that can be taken to remove this harmful gas from a residence.

  • Sealing cracks

  • House pressurization
  • Venting fans
  • Heat recovery ventilator
  • Foundation suction system

The first three items on this list are mostly ineffective in reducing gas levels. Venting fans will work to a degree, but aren’t practical in winter. You can overcome this drawback with a heat recovery ventilator, but this method is not as thorough as foundation suction and uses more electricity to work since large volumes of air are involved. A foundation suction system, the preferred technique, basically works by drawing gas out through an existing port in the house’s foundation or installing perforated tubing below the foundation where the gas can gather. Once collected, the gas is funneled through piping with an attached fan that pulls the unwanted gas outdoors. If your house has a sump pump well, this provides a great natural extraction point. For some basement floors or slabs with good circulation beneath, a single venting hole drilled through the concrete is all that’s needed to vent the gas into the suction system. In the case of unpaved crawlspaces, a professional mitigation contractor will place a heavy, air-tight canvas over the ground to contain the seeping gas while piping and a low-powered fan provide an exit to the outside.

Whether you are preparing home to sell your home or simply want to give it an overall check up, contact a local home inspector that conducts radon testing for a comprehensive look at your home's health.