Radon is a carcinogen that causes approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year. Around 13% of these deaths are in non-smokers. Smokers have a higher risk, so radon is especially dangerous to smokers who live in homes with high radon levels.
Radium, thorium, and uranium are found in bedrock like limestone and shale and decay over time. When they decay, it forms a carcinogenic radon gas. That gas can end up in basements, exposing those living in the home to that carcinogen. Even low levels of radon can cause problems. You cannot see, smell, or taste radon, making it impossible to detect without using a test kit.
What Does a Test Look At?
What is it looking for when you have your home tested for radon? A radon test measures the level of radon gas in the air. Radon is measured using picocuries (pCi) in one liter (L) of air. The EPA set the level for immediate action at 4 pCi/L. If you get a test that shows 4 pCi/L of radon or higher, you need to lower the levels.
What happens if the tests show you have high radon levels? Most homes have levels lower than 1.3 pCi/L. When the levels are 2 pCi/L or higher, it’s important to fix the issue. Here’s what the levels mean (for a non-smoker).
- 4 pCi/L – The average level of radon outdoors
- 3 pCi/L – Levels that mean around 2 out of 1,000 people will get lung cancer
- 2 pCi/L – Around four people could get lung cancer.
- 4 pCi/L – Same risk of getting lung cancer as dying in a car crash
- 8 pCi/L – Four times greater risk of getting lung cancer than dying after falling
- 10 pCi/L – Ten times greater risk of getting lung cancer than dying in a house fire
- 20 pCi/L – 35 times greater risk of getting lung cancer than drowning
Those are the risks if you do not and have never smoked. If you’re a smoker, the chances are greater.
- 2 pCi/L – Around 32 out of 1,000 people could get lung cancer.
- 4 pCi/L – Five times greater risk of getting lung cancer than dying in a car crash
- 8 pCi/L – 30 times greater risk of getting lung cancer than dying after falling
- 10 pCi/L – 200 times greater risk of getting lung cancer than dying in a house fire
- 20 pCi/L – 250 times greater risk of getting lung cancer than drowning
If you don’t do anything, you and others living in the home have a higher risk of developing lung cancer. It would be best to lower radon levels in your home before it’s too late.
Radon-Resistant Features vs. Passive Radon Systems vs. Radon Mitigation Systems
The lowest radon levels may be lowered more by running ventilation systems and fans. Opening windows helps. Seal cracks and holes in your foundation walls to prevent gas from coming in. If you have a sump pump, make sure it’s sealed. Those are simple fixes for levels that are well under the EPA guidelines.
When you have higher than normal radon levels, there are three terms you need to know.
- Radon-resistant features
- Passive radon systems
- Radon mitigation systems
What you end up using does depend on the levels of radon gas in your home. It also may depend on your budget. What’s important to remember is that high radon levels that aren’t adequately ventilated may make it impossible to sell your home. Take a closer look at the three options for reducing radon.
Radon-Resistant Features and Passive Radon Systems
Newer homes are often constructed with radon-resistant features. These are construction steps that lower the risk of radon gas building up and entering the house. They include:
Pour the home’s foundation or slab on a layer of gravel at least four inches deep. The gravel allows air to flow, dissipating the radon gas. Once the layer of gravel is in place, a poly tarp or vapor barrier that’s at least six mils thick helps keep the concrete from impacting the effectiveness of the barrier.
While pouring the foundation or slab, builders can install PVC piping leads from the slab and up through the roof to help vent radon. Any openings or seams between a slab and concrete block walls must be sealed tightly with waterproof caulk.
Passive radon systems incorporate those radon-resistant features. Radon is redirected from the home by preventing it from being able to build up and enter the house. It’s a cost-effective measure that doesn’t require electricity to run.
While effective, passive radon systems only handle low levels of radon. If your radon tests show you have 4 pCi/L or higher, a passive radon system is not enough. You need to look into radon mitigation systems.
Radon Mitigation Systems
A passive radon system needs no electricity. There are also active radon mitigation systems. Larger amounts of radon gas must be appropriately ventilated, or they’ll end up in the home. There are several options for radon mitigation options.
One option involves the creation of a suction pit that’s below the basement, slab, or crawlspace floor. A vent pipe extends into the suction pit. That pipe travels through the home and to the roof. A radon fan is installed in the attic or outside space, similar to the outdoor unit you’d see with a central air unit. That fan draws the radon gas from the pit and expels it through the roof vent. If the fan stops working, there is a monitor that alerts the homeowner that something is wrong.
Another option, house pressurization, uses fans to extract air from the house into the basement, which prevents the basement air from being able to enter the living areas. House pressurization is often considered a last resort if the radon fan is not removing enough radon to adequately lower levels.
A radon mitigation expert helps you understand your options. Much of this depends on whether you have a traditional poured basement, a block-wall basement, a slab, a crawlspace, or a mix of these. Some homes have basements under part of the home and slab on another section.
It might be possible to install your own system but carefully consider this. Radon mitigation installers are certified. The work you do may not be enough when it comes time to sell your home, so you’ll have to hire a professional anyway and spend more money. While a radon test isn’t typically legally required for a home sale in Florida. There are exceptions if the home will be used as a foster home, school, etc. But, the buyer may insist on it, delaying the sale and becoming a frustration.
Can a Central Air System Help Lower Radon Levels?
The NEPIS performed a study on the effects of central air conditioning on radon. They took a test that had few leaks around doors and windows and shut everything up for ten days. After running the AC system for three hours, the radon levels in the home decreased by around 5x.
In a similar study, the EPA saw radon levels from 25 pCi/L to 1.5 pCi/l in just 20 minutes. Something as simple as a well-sealed new AC installation can help lower radon levels in the home.
All Year Cooling has helped more than 350,000 consumers stay cool all summer. The company started in 1973 and offers new AC installs or repairs and maintenance on existing systems. If you have radon levels that aren’t at EPA danger levels but still concern you, talk to our specialists to discuss the benefits of a new AC system.