What is Radon?
Radon is formed when uranium, thorium, and radium breakdown within bedrock and release radon gas into the soils, rock and water. It is a radioactive-noble gas, naturally occurring, and which human senses cannot detect it. This means smelling, seeing, feeling, tasting, and yes even hearing will not be determining factors for if a house has Radon. Only way to tell if you have Radon, is to test.
Why should I test for Radon?
Radon is considered a “Class A Carcinogen.” This meaning that it is a cancer-causing agent, in which no level is safe. Due to it being a gas, it is acceptable for finding easy pathways into structures through foundation holes or cracks, and at times through ground water. When in the home, it continues to breakdown into radon decay particles that are capable of attaching to floating dust. These dust particles are eventually breathed in and capable of attaching to your lungs’ airways, where lung cancer may then develop.
Testing your home for radon can also be great assurance for buyers in a Real Estate Transaction. A buyer or agent knowing the home has been tested and is clear of high indoor radon concentrations is a relatively good start to the transaction. Some states require testing before the transaction has been concluded, and if there is no verification of those results the Real Estate transaction can actually be postponed upon the completion of indoor radon test.
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, behind environmental tobacco smoke, and the first leading cause of lung cancer among people who have never smoked. TESTING YOUR HOME MAY SAVE A LIFE!
Who should test?
Every person in the United States should test their home for Radon, and just because your neighbor tested, and came back with low levels, does not mean your house will. Each house has its own characteristics, and therefore creates diverse indoor environments. Fortunately, there are Radon reduction techniques that are successful in bringing high-radon-level-structures down below the EPA standard. Most techniques involve taking the radon gas from underneath the structure slab, before it infiltrates the structure or foundation, and releasing them above the house (More radon reduction technique and strategy information can be found at www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/).
When Should I test?
A person should test if their home if it has never been tested. If they have tested but there has been new construction or refurbishing, they should test post-construction. You should also continue to test every two to five years. For regions, such as northern Wisconsin, a person should test during the winter or colder months when the home is closed-up and more acceptable to high indoor levels.
Who can administer the test kits?
Any person could test their home in the state of Wisconsin; however, having a radon professional conduct measurement testing can be reassuring in knowing the process has been done correctly and you are receiving accurate results. Having a radon professional conduct a full radon assessment of your home is highly recommended to assure accurate results.
The Bad River NRD has technicians trained and qualified for measurement testing and mitigation. Bad River is fortunate to own a continuous radon monitor which can be very accurate in measuring levels throughout the day, week, or year. Bad River is also able to offer measurement testing services free-of-charge or, if necessary, offer free test kits for homeowner usage. The Wisconsin State Department of Health Services also has a Radon program that can assist with measurement testing and mitigation, as well.
Daniel Wiggins- Air Quality Technician
Bad River Natural Resource Dept
Wisconsin State Radon Program
Wisconsin Dept. of Health Services
1 West Wilson Street Room 150
Madison, WI 53703
What should I do when I have tested and have found my home has high indoor radon concentrations?
It is important to know that there are solutions for high levels of indoor radon, which are considered up to 99% effective. Still, not many homeowners are prepared for the effects of radon, yet the rehabilitation to a home to lower it. There have been many radon reduction (mitigation) techniques attempted over the past decades, and are still several being used. The EPA realizes the complexity of radon reduction and has published the Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction (http://www.epa.gov/radon/pdfs/consguid.pdf), which will help homeowners in locating the right contractor, understanding the right radon reduction method, and maintaining those systems after installation.
What kind of contractor am I looking for?
Finding a contractor that is licensed for radon mitigation and that understands your State/Tribal building codes are both excellent qualities. Some states, such as Wisconsin, do not require a licensed professional, but do however offer websites that list certified radon contractors (www.lowradon.org).
A professional will look at three major contributing factors of radon: strength of the source (amount of radon in the soil and home), air pressure differences, and the pathways of radon (cracks, crevices). Having a contractor that understands these three factors are essential in installing an effective system that lowers radon concentrations below the EPA’s action level. A contractor should test before and after installation to show the effectiveness of the system. A contractor should also go over every aspect of the system with the homeowner, should guarantee his work and shall leave contact information in case of emergencies.
What types of radon mitigation systems are out there?
There have been many radon reduction (mitigation) techniques attempted over the past decades, and are still several being used. Many techniques use to involve sealing up the cracks and foundation joints that would allow for radon gas to maneuver through into the home. This was found to be not as efficient as once thought. A structure is always settling and, therefore, cracks can reopen, expand, and even become worse. It was also found that if all the cracks were not sealed correctly, it could create an environment that produces even higher indoor radon concentrations. The sealing method is still used, but used with other techniques that involve removing the gas from the source and directing it above the outside roof’s edge. The two most common techniques are Passive Soil Depressurization (PSD) and Active Soil Depressurization (ASD) system. These systems are further distinguished by the type of foundation in place, but rely on the same basic principle, which involves reversing the air pressure relationship from indoors, and the source (or soil), and reducing the concentration of those sources that are next to the structure.
Active Soil Depressurization (ASD) utilizes a fan, with PVC, which directs the radon gas, from underneath the foundation and disperses it above the roofs edge. A pit is sometimes excavated, which will create more surface area for the fan to “suck on,” which will in return allow the fan to extract the radon with less energy. Each fan must also be installed in a non-livable area, such as; a garage, attic, or outside. Contractors should test 24 hours after the installation and recommended future testing of every two years to assure the homeowner that the system is working properly.
Passive Soil Depressurization (PSD) is unlikely used in existing structures and more often applied in the beginning stages of building a home. Having clean-aggregate, which allows for easy movement of gases underneath the foundation, is one reason why. Basically, PSD involves a PVC pipe being tapped into this space underneath the foundation and then directed above the roof’s edge for disbursement; very similar to Active with the absence of a fan. This has been proven to be very reliable and cost efficient as long as it is applied in the beginning stages of construction. To assure the effectiveness, contractors should test 24 hours after the installation and recommended future testing of every two years. Later if this has proven to be inefficient, in lowering indoor radon concentrations, an Active system can later be installed, by the simple addition of a fan.
What are the costs after a mitigation system has been installed?
There may be some maintenance and electrical costs post-installation. If you are fortunate to have a home that only needed a passive system, the costs post-installation is very minimal to no cost at all. However, if your home has been fitted with an Active Soil Depressurization System than post-installation costs may be slightly higher. An ASD system consists of mounting a fan within the PVC, which is ran entirely on electricity. Although these fans run “24-7”, they are considered rather energy efficient, and costs have been estimated for some systems to be as low as $75 annually. Maintenance may be needed dependent on the durability and location of certain features of the system. It is important to discuss the maintenance of a system with the contractor, to effectively plan ahead for any issues. Each system is unique with each structure, and therefore, the energy costs are more reliant on the type of system installed and the price of electricity in your area. Again, having a radon professional install the system is very important in assuring these energy costs are not to excessive. Even though, you do have a system it is still important to test every two years to determine the effectiveness of the system.