Should You Be Concerned About Radon?

By Lawrence Englehart, GPI Franchise Owner, Halifax, Nova Scotia
IMG_0634Radon is a radioactive gas that is slowly released during the natural decay or breakdown of uranium in the earth, and it moves freely though any soil, rock and water. Because it is the heaviest gas in nature, radon can easily accumulate in high levels in the basement or poorly ventilated areas of a house or building.

Why Is Radon Dangerous?
As radon decays, it further breaks down to form radioactive elements that can be inhaled into the lungs, where they can damage the cells that line the lung, causing lung cancer.

Health Canada reports that radon exposure is linked to 16 percent of lung cancer deaths and is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. In Nova Scotia, the Department of Natural Resources has developed an amazing radon risk map; you can enter your physical address and it will show whether you are in a low-, medium- or high-risk area. In the United States, you can find a radon zone map on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website.

How Much Radon Is Too Much?
In North America, radon test results have shown that 40 percent of buildings in high-risk areas exceed Health Canada and EPA guidelines; however, even homes in low-risk areas should be tested, as this is the only way to know how much radon is in your home.

In Canada, radon is measured in Becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3), and the current Canadian guideline for radon action is 200 Bq/m3. In the United States, radon is measured in picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L), and the current guideline for remediation is any level higher than 4 pCi/L. In both countries, the higher the number, the higher the risk. However, even the current action level is equivalent to the radiation exposure from 30 medical chest x-rays per year (assuming radon exposure at home for 12 hours per day).

Radon levels can vary over time and especially from season to season, which is why home owners should conduct radon testing over a duration of 91 days or longer to properly determine radon levels and better understand whether remedial action will be required.

For the average home owner, a simple do-it-yourself radon testing kit can be ordered online or purchased in a hardware or home improvement store.

Should You Test Your House for Radon?
When it comes to buying or selling a house, a long-term test is considered unrealistic, so a short-term test of lasting 48 to 72 hours should be performed. Make sure you hire a certified radon inspector who has been specifically trained to an industry-recognized standard of practice and are held accountable for working to established radon testing guidelines. Your home inspector may be a certified radon tester; if not, he/she can recommend a professional to conduct the test for you.

Englehart PhotoLawrence Englehart is a professional Global Property Inspections home inspector and C-NRPP Certified Radon Measurement Professional in Halifax, Nova Scotia. If you live in the area, call 902.403.2460 to schedule your home inspection with Lawrence.

NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home, and many of our inspectors hold additional certifications for radon, mold or lead testing. Consult your local NPI or GPI inspector for an inspection of your home or a home you are planning to purchase.

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What You Need to Know About Radon Mitigation

By Kenn Garder, National Accounts Manager and Technical Support, NPI/GPI

IMG_0620Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. Because air pressure inside a house is usually lower than pressure in the soil around the foundation, a house acts as a vacuum, drawing radon in through foundation cracks and other openings. Once inside the house, radon gas is diluted somewhat by fresh air that is naturally pulled in around windows and doors. The radon gas is then distributed throughout the house by the heating and cooling system. When a house is tested for radon and elevated radon levels — 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/l) or higher — are discovered, the EPA recommends a radon mitigation system be installed.

Reliable techniques are available to reduce radon in houses. Research conducted by public and private agencies has formed a strong knowledge base of proven mitigation systems for homes, schools and commercial buildings.

Design of a radon mitigation system is determined by the construction of the house, not the concentration of radon in the house. A state or nationally qualified contractor should be hired to design and install the system in accordance with the local, state or national standards used in the area where the house is located.

Radon mitigation or reduction requires more than just sealing cracks in the foundation. Active soil depressurization has proven to be cost-effective and reliable for reducing radon gas in a building. A depressurization system draws air and radon gas from beneath the foundation and exhausts it outside the building. The termination point of the exhaust should be far enough away from windows and door openings so it will not re-enter. A common design for the system is a plastic pipe connected to the soil through a hole in a slab floor, through a sump lid connection, or beneath a plastic sheet in a crawl space. Attached to the pipe is a quiet, continuously operating fan that discharges the radon outdoors.

Additional parts of a house or building may need special attention when designing the radon mitigation system:

  • If the return-air ductwork for a forced-air HVAC system is located beneath a concrete slab floor, then the vacuum created by the blower fan can pull radon into the system if the duct is not sealed.
  • Soil air drawn from beneath a floor or in a crawl space is commonly high in moisture. If the system is not designed and installed properly, this moisture will condense and pool inside the ventilation pipe.
  • Local building codes may require the piping for a radon mitigation system be installed during construction of the house to allow for future mitigation needs.

The cost to install a radon mitigation system can range from $800 to $1,500, with a national average of $1,200. For more information about radon and mitigation systems, visit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website in the United States, or visit the Health Canada website in Canada.

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Radon: Silent Killer in the Home

radiation_warningRadon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that has no color or odor and can be found all over the world. Radon can be found in wells, rocks and soil. Higher radon levels will be closer to the ground. Basements, for example, would be closer to the potential radon-contaminated soils. Radon gas seeps in through cracks, wires, pipes and any available opening.

How Much Radon is Detrimental?
Radon is quite sneaky in nature, so how do you know you are experiencing too much exposure inside your home or any other building?

In the United States, the picocurie (pCi) is used in measure radon levels. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a threshold of 4 pCi/L for indoor air. Any level above 4 pCi/L would require radon mitigation.

In Canada, the Health Canada’s radon threshold is 200 becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3). Any level above 200 Bq/m3 would require radon mitigation.

Radon Facts

  • Radon is an inert nonflammable gas.
  • Radon maps of the United States and Canada show locations of higher elevations of radon. You will notice that radon is nearly everywhere.
  • Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in North America, next to smoking.
  • More than 20,000 Americans and more than 3,000 Canadians die each year from radon-related deaths.
  • An elementary school student who spends eight hours a day and 180 days a year in a classroom with 4 pCi/l of radon will receive nearly 10 times as much radiation as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows at the edge of a nuclear power plant. (http://www.radon.com/radon/radon_facts.html)
  • According to the U.S. EPA, nearly one in three homes checked in seven states and on three Native American lands had screening levels over 4 pCi/L, the EPA’s recommended action level for radon exposure.

Radon Poisoning
Radon poisoning symptoms are much like its characteristics — there are none.

Unfortunately, if any potential symptoms show, they are usually long-term symptoms that develop after the damage has been done. Symptoms usually will be within the lungs — such as coughing, wheezing and heavy breathing — and infections may occur.

Radon Detection
Radon detection can prevent long term illness or even death. As with many other diseases, the earlier it is detected the better the chances are to overcome or prevent further damage.

You may be able to purchase a radon test kit yourself. The best approach for these devices is to strategically place them on the lowest livable level of the home. Prices for radon testing kits and devices can range from $10 to $300, depending on the functionality, style and brand. Some test kits take samples from the air, while other devices are similar to smoke detectors.

The easiest way to test radon levels in your home is to call your local National Property Inspections or Global Property Inspections home inspector. Your local NPI or GPI inspector may be certified to test for radon; if not, he/she will put you in touch with a trusted company that can do the testing for you.

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What You Can Do About Air Pollution in Your Home

Family at Home_shutterstock_98814359According to WebMD.com, you don’t only have to worry about air pollution outdoors; it’s in your home, too. The air inside your home can be polluted by “lead (in house dust), formaldehyde, fire retardants, radon, even volatile chemicals from fragrances used in conventional cleaners.” You’ll also find dust mites, molds and pet dander, even if you don’t live with pets. Some pollutants are tracked into the home; others arrive via things you bring into the home, such as new furniture or cleaning products.

What can you do to reduce the pollution in your home? Here are five tips:

  1. Keep your floors clean. Vacuuming with a HEPA filter and mopping your floors helps reduce lead, toxins and allergens from your home. According to WebMD.com, you can skip the cleaners when you mop and just use water. Also, put a mat in front of every door to catch contaminants before they are tracked into the home.
  2. Maintain a healthy level of humidity. Dust mites and molds love moisture, which means that high humidity levels contribute to their procreation. Healthy humidity levels are in the 30 to 50 percent range. To maintain this level, use a dehumidifier in the summer months and a humidifier in the winter months. Click here for more tips for dehumidifying your home.
  3. Just say “no” to smoking indoors. Cigarette smoke, the No. 1 cause of lung cancer in North America, is a major culprit of indoor air pollution. If you, a friend or a relative smokes, then take it outdoors. Contact your doctor or health insurance company for information about smoking cessation programs.
  4. Get your home tested for radon. Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas resulting from the breaking down of uranium in the soil. It is the No. 2 cause of lung cancer in North America. The only way to know whether your home has a high radon level is to have your home tested. Contact your local NPI or GPI inspector to have your home tested.
  5. Go fragrance-free: Cleaners, aerosols, air fresheners (solid, spray, oil), laundry detergents and fabric softeners all release unhealthy chemicals into the air. To add clean fresh scents to your home, consider adding house plants (which act as nature’s air purifiers) or using fresh lemons and baking soda to get a clean scent in the kitchen.

For more information or to read the full article, click here.

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What You Need to Know About Radon

Submitted by Kenn Garder, Technical Support, NPI/GPI Corporate

Family in living roomRadon is a radioactive gas that is formed during the breakdown of uranium in rock, water and soil. This constant breakdown happens naturally, and usually the gas mixes with and dissipates into the air.

In an enclosed space, such as a house or building, radon can build up into high concentrations and become a health risk. When air containing higher concentrations of radon is breathed into the lungs, the gas particles break down further and emit “alpha particles” that can be absorbed into the tissue of the lungs, creating damage to the cells in the lungs. When lung cells are damaged, they have a potential to result in cancer when they reproduce. The most recognized health risk associated with long-term exposure to high levels of radon in the air is an increased lifetime risk of developing lung cancer.

To detect radon in the air, a continuous electronic monitor or charcoal canisters can be placed in the lowest living area of the building in accordance with the testing instructions, for either a short-term or long-term period of time, depending on the type of detector used. Radon is measured in becquerels per cubic meter in Canada and in picocuries per liter in the United States.

In Canada, the Federal Provincial Territorial Radiation Protection Committee set a guideline, or reference level, of 200 becquerels per cubic meter for annual radon concentrations. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set as a guideline of 4 picocuries per liter for annual radon concentrations. If average annual levels exceed these amounts, it is recommended that the radon be remediated from the structure and exhausted to the exterior. The most common method is to use a pipe that is installed into the ground below the floor with an inline fan that pulls the radon gas from under the floor. The cost of the remediation system varies but can range from $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the contractor and the style of building.

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