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  • Tim M

Death from Below (Radon):

Radon Gas FAQ

The Skinny: Most of the people I know have no clue about radon -- it's a pretty boring element. You can't smell it an it's invisible. If you were to inhale it, there would be no taste. The negative - it causes lung cancer. Radon has been given the street name Silent Killer, so it might be worth-while learning about. The radon gas enters the home, where it is inhaled by the occupants.

Where does radon come from?

Radon is a natural (not man-made) element - an eventual breakdown product from uranium. It is located throughout the United States, but is more predominant (higher concentrations) in certain areas, like the Midwest, where glacial uranium-laden soils are found.

Here is an EPA link to another link that shows a map, depicting different radon concentrations across the United States.

Here is a great article, very detailed on the chemistry / origins of radon.

How does radon get into my home?

Radon enters the home through natural open pathways between the interior space to the underlying soil below the slab / foundation. An example of this would include a sump pit open to the soil below; or, deterioration of concrete block in an old basement wall to the soil. The pressure difference between the home and the subsurface, essentially pulls the radon into the home, via these entry points or "points of failure".

How many people die from radon?

Several studies have been done on this topic, lots of assessment and discussion The two leading sources are the EPA - Environmental Protection Agency and the WHO - World Health Organization. The most recent studies estimate approximately 21,000 radon cancer deaths per year in the United States.

How do I find out if I've been exposed to radon gas?

The best way to determine if your home has radon gas is to simply test for it. There are several types of testing apparatuses on the market -- both short-term and long-term-type (48-hour to one year). There are do-it-yourself tests available or a professional can be hired for not a lot of money.

How much does a radon test cost?

A do-it-yourself test will cost around $50 with a turn-around time for results of approximately two weeks (can be purchased online, Home Depot, Menards). A professional radon test will cost from $100 to $300 (average $150) with a 48 to 96-hour turnaround time. We always recommend the professional testing.

Where is the radon test in the home?

The radon testing apparatus is normally placed in the lowest level of the home or lowest lived in level (finished basement) - basement, crawlspace where the radon is generally the highest in concentration.

My result came back super high! (like a 10). Am I going to die?

Probably not. The EPA recommends mitigating (getting rid of the radon in the home) above 4.0 pCi/L, so a 10 pCi/L result would be very high and the home would need mitigation pretty quick. However, the danger of radon is mostly attributed to breathing in the gas for long periods (chronic exposure -- years). So unless, the results was in the 100's or 1,000 pCi/L's, I would be more concerned - probably be checking in at Red Roof Inn. Furthermore, studies have shown that radon concentrations in most homes will dissipate by about 50 percent per elevation level. For example, if the basement tested at 10 pCi/L, the main upper level could be assumed to be 5 pCi/L; subsequently, the master room above the main level could be considered 2.5 pCi/L in this hypothetical scenario.

What is the highest radon concentration you have seen?

The highest concentration reported to us, was approximately 23 pCi/L. We installed a radon mitigation for this home in Minnesota and re-tested the home, and were able to reduce the radon concentration to under 0.5 pCi/L.

Is radon everywhere, even outside?

For the most part, yes. Studies estimate an average outdoor radon concentration of 0.4 pCi/L.

What's the deal with the radon mitigation system and how much do they cost?

A radon mitigation should be put into any home or building with elevated radon. All radon carries a risk. We recommend systems for homes over 2.5 pCi/L. We have installed systems for people with kids in basements at levels of only 1.5 pCi/L. All Radon Carries a Risk. The radon mitigation system will normally take one day to install and will be followed up with testing to make sure the thing works. The cost of a radon mitigation system is around $1,000 - $2,000. A home owner should never pay under $1,000 for a radon system. Often times, the crawlspace (if present) is lined and treated as part of the system, which further increases the cost.

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