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Outsmart Radon, the Invisible Killer


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Imagine Dragons have it right in their song "Radioactive." When they sing, "I'm breathing in the chemicals," they aren't kidding. Radon is, in fact, radioactive, and it can be deadly. 

In honor of National Radon Action Month (yes, that is a thing, and yes, we have no doubt you're googling it right now), we reached out to Alan Grubb, a master inspector for 4U Inspection Services, to find out what you need to know about radon.  

The invisible killer may be inside your home 

Radon isn't so different from carbon monoxide (CO). Like CO, radon is odorless, invisible, and tasteless. Unlike CO, radon is a radioactive gas (caused by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water).

"Radon is funky," says Alan. "You could have a house next to you that has a radon mitigation system, and your house could be completely clear. The only way we're going to know is to run a test." 

Radon can infiltrate your home through gaps around pipes.

Radon also isn't deadly at a moment's notice. Instead, it moves through the ground, into the air, and usually finds its way into your home through these entrances:

  • Cracks in the foundation, floors, and walls.
  • Construction joints.
  • Gaps around pipes.
  • Cavities inside walls.
  • Water supply.

We know what you're thinking: If radon isn't an immediate threat to me today, then why should I care?

Radon is really dangerous (really) 

Radon is harmful to your health.

Radon is one of the leading causes of lung cancer in the U.S., according to the nation's top doctor – the Surgeon General. In fact, one person dies from lung cancer caused by radon every 25 minutes, and and the EPA lists radon as the leading cause of lung cancer for people who have never smoked.

For a smoker, the risk of getting lung cancer from radon is five times the risk of dying in a car crash. For non-smokers, it's equal to the risk of dying in a car crash.

So, of course, now you're wondering – 

How do I get radon out of my home?

You may need to install a radon detector.

First, you need to determine your home's radon levels. This is done through short-term and long-term testing (we'll get to the difference in a moment). The National Radon Program Services at Kansas State University offers discounted test kits with analysis at no extra charge. You can also buy a radon kit for your home from your favorite online shop or from your local home improvement store.

Short-term testing is shorter than 90 days (many only last 2-4 days). Long-term testing is (you guessed it!) more than 90 days with the test sent off to a lab for analysis. Experts recommend both types of testing as radon concentration in a home fluctuates by the day, season, or weather, such as a hurricane and snowstorm.

A radon mitigation can save your home and your life.

A radon level of 4 pCi/L or higher requires immediate attention.

"In EPA standards, anything over what they call four picocuries per liter, which is the measurement, you should consider mitigating," says Alan. "In other words, the EPA recommends putting a system into the home to remove this gas."

Fixing radon involves inserting PVC pipes from the radon-emitting soil beneath the home, up through the roof. A fan draws the air through the system, so it doesn't build up and leach into the living spaces. Even homes with extremely high levels of radon can see a return safe levels with the help of these systems.

Reduce risks with a home management app

Subscribe to the premier home management app.

vipHomeLink can help! Our home management app helps you learn how to maintain a home by putting expert-backed tips in the palm of your hand. You can reduce your risk from not just radon but also other dangers to your home and health, including carbon monoxide and mold. We also provide personalized recommendations for home maintenance and tailored recommendations for home improvement. Plus – our new weather alerts help ready your home for the next severe weather event.

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Originally published on January 29, 2020; updated January 6, 2020

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