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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog
Radon Infographic

Silent but deadly

Posted by Jason Haupt - Air Quality

You would not sleep in a house that was full of deadly gas would you? You would not stay in a place that you thought could kill you but you may be doing just that. When you buy a house you test for lead paint, termites, and you have the home inspected to ensure that the house is safe for you and your family. But most people overlook one test that can have a huge effect on your health - testing for radon.

Radon is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. The USEPA estimates that 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year can be attributed to exposure to radon. In Illinois an estimated 1,160 people develop radon- related lung cancer each year. Radon is also classified as a "Known Human Carcinogen" by both the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. The only way to know if you have elevated levels of radon in your home is to test your home. Here are a few facts about radon and testing your home.

  • Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is found in the soil and will find its way into any home through the cracks and gaps in the foundation.

Radon is a natural decay product of Uranium deposits in the soil. As a gas it is able to travel up through the soil into the home through even the smallest cracks and gaps in the foundation. This includes your sump pit. If you have levels of radon below the action level and you are still concerned about radon in your home to start reducing levels of radon in your home is to seal the sump pit along with all cracks and gaps in your foundation.

  • Radon is found in homes with all foundation types and is found in new and old homes alike.

As a gas a small gap is all that is needed for it to enter your home. All foundation types are at risk for elevated levels of radon in the home. New homes built in Illinois are required to have a "passive radon mitigation" system in place in the home. This system uses stack effect to draw soil gases from beneath the home and vent them above the home. This is true of all homes built since June 1, 2013.

  • Testing your home is simple and easy. You can test your own home or hire someone to test your home for you. In Illinois IEMA licenses and monitors radon professionals.

A list of licensed measurement professionals can be found at http://www.illinois.gov/iema/NRS/Radon/Pages/RadonIllinois.aspx

Test kits can be found at some county health departments or a list of test kits is found at http://www.illinois.gov/iema/NRS/Radon/Pages/MeasurementLabsPriceList.aspx

If you are testing your own home, you should test the lowest livable level. If you have multiple foundation types, you should test above all of the foundation types that you have. If you have a basement, crawl space, and a slab on grade you would need to have three tests and test above all of the foundation types that you have in your home.

  • If you are buying a home, you should consider including a radon test as part of the home inspection process. It is also a very viable negotiation point.

You would not buy a home without first having the home inspected. The same should be true of having the home tested for radon. Hiring a professional to test your next potential home should be an important step in the home buying process. And having an elevated level of radon is a viable concern - one that should be considered by all home buyers. Talk to your real estate agent to learn how to ensure that you and your family are safe in your new home. If the home that you are going to buy has elevated levels of radon, you should consider this as a negation point to either reduce the price of the home by the estimated cost of installing a mitigation system (approx. $800-$1500) or having the home mitigated as a condition of purchasing the home.

  • If you have tested your home before, the USEPA recommends that you test every two years. You should also test if you have done some major modifications to your home.

A house is constantly changing. As a house settles cracks develop in the foundation. Soil around the home is compacted, and as you make changes to your home the characteristics of the home have changed. The USEPA recommends that you test your home every 2 years. You should also test your home if you make any major changes to your home. This includes any modifications that would potentially change the air exchange rate of the home. This includes new windows, additional insulation, new doors or any work that would extend the foundation of the home.

  • The USEPA recommends that action is taken if indoor Radon levels are higher than four Picocuries per liter of Air (4.0 pCi/L).

Action means having your home mitigated. The USEPA has determined that levels at or above 4.0 pCi/L pose a health risk to those living in the home.

  • If the levels in your home are at or above the action level than this, it is recommended that you have your home mitigated.

Mitigating your home should be done by a professional. The link above will also take you to the list of mitigation professionals. Mitigation is a very site specific job, but in general a mitigation professional will seal any visible entry methods into the home. They will then drill a hole in the foundation and place a pipe into the foundation where they will apply suction to the area below the foundation slab. If you have a crawl space a gas barrier will be placed on the floor of the crawl space and will be sealed to the walls. A pipe is run beneath this as well. The pipe is run up the home above the highest eve of the home where any soil gases will be vented above the home. A fan is attached to the pipe and suction is applied to the foundation. This vents the soil gases including radon above the home so it is not able to enter the home and elevate the level of radon to above the USEPA action level.

If you have any questions about Radon and indoor air quality, contact Jason Haupt (jdhaupr@illinois.edu).



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