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Understanding Radon Risks in Your Home

What is radon?

Radon is a cancer causing radioactive gas that you cannot see, smell, or taste. It is produced by the normal breakdown of uranium in the soil and rock, and it may be a problem in

your home. The United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Surgeon General’s Office have estimated that as many as 20,000 lung cancer deaths are caused each year by radon exposure. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, and the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Radon induced lung cancer costs the United States over two billion dollars a year in health costs.

What is an Acceptable Level of radon?

The U.S. EPA has set an action level of four pCi/l (picoCuries per liter) for radon, and they recommend corrective measures to reduce your exposure above that level. A family whose home has radon levels of four pCi/l is exposed to approximately 35 times as much radiation as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would allow if that family was standing next to the fence of a radioactive waste site. Radon enters your home through cracks in the foundation, openings around sump pumps and drains, through gaps around pipes and wires and builds up over a period of time.

Should You Test for radon?

Flagstaff has a higher concentration of radon gas than other parts of our state because of the type of soil and rock present. Testing is the only way to know if your home’s radon levels exceed the federal guidelines. The quickest way to test for radon is with short-term tests that typically take from two to 90 days. Charcoal canisters kits are the most commonly used and are available through the mail, in hardware stores and other retail outlets. The test kit should be placed in the lowest lived in level of the home that is used regularly, like a living room, den, or bedroom and left in place as long as stated in the instructions. The kit is then sent into a lab for analysis. Another option is to hire a qualified professional contractor

to do the testing. A local home energy and auditing company like Flagstaff’s E3 Energy LLC can be contracted for full service testing. They can also help diagnose the cause of the situation and write the appropriate prescription for the solution.

How Do You Lower the radon Levels in Your House?

Radon levels in indoor air can be lowered in a number of ways, including sub-slab depressurization, soil suction, and increasing ventilation. According to the EPA, the method most commonly used is a vent pipe system and fan, which pulls radon from beneath the house and vents it to the outside. This is known as sub-slab depressurization, where one or more pipes are inserted through the floor slab into the soil underneath. They also may be inserted under the slab from outside of the house. The pipes run up to the roof either inside or outside of the house and the radon is drawn up and out. A fan can be used in conjunction with the pipes to draw out the radon and create a vacuum beneath the slab.

An effective method to reducing radon in crawlspace homes is covering the earth floor with a high-density plastic sheet along with a vent pipe and fan, known as soil suc- tion. Increasing ventilation in the home with efficient heat exchangers is another option. The cost of radon mitigation by a qualified contractor can vary greatly depending on the home. Naturally, when building a new home or during major remodeling, it makes sense financially to incorporate radon-resistant  construction techniques in your plans.

Are Granite countertops Dangerous?

In today’s construction industry, there have been numerous opinions based on a Rice University physics professor’s paper linking granite countertops to radon. The EPA admits there are potential health problems, but does not believe sufficient data exists to conclude that the types of granite

commonly used in countertops are significantly increasing radon levels in homes. As a precaution, some experts suggest homeowners make sure their granite countertops are properly sealed every year or two.

Hope Construction agrees with the Arizona Radiation Regulatory Agency in recommending that all homeowners check the radon levels in their homes, just to be safe. FBN

David Carpenter is the owner of Hope Construction, a general contract- ing and construction management firm with an emphasis on sustainable building. He can be reached at 928-527-3159.

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