Episode 14 – All About Radon

Donna:

Hello and welcome to another episode of the rapid repair pro podcast.. the Handyman OFallon advice you need to know. My name is Donna Green and I am your host. Joining me is the rapid repair pro, our resident Handyman OFallon expert and my personal repair pro Phil Green.

Phil:

Hello Everybody.

Donna:

How are you today?

Phil:

I’m doing wonderful.

Donna:

Awesome. Also joining us in studio are our two valley bulldogs.. the Handyman OFallon sidekicks, Lucy and Bauer.

Phil:

Wait, I only see one.

Donna:

I know actually I was just getting ready to say I don’t think Lucy has left her recliner upstairs. I think she’s snuggled in her recliner and snoring up there as Bulldogs do.

Phil:

Yeah.

Donna:

So right now we only have Bauer but I, my guess is Lucy will join us before this episode is over. So if you are tuning in for the first time, the purpose of this podcast is to inform you homeowners on some best practices with Handyman OFallon repairs and when it comes to making decisions about various things about your home.

Donna:

So we hope you find the Handyman OFallon information informative and helpful as homeowners.

Phil:

And we also want you to get to know your new Handyman OFallon provider, rapid repair pro.

Donna:

That is so true. So today our topic is going to be radon.  We have provided radon mitigation since 2009, and over the years we’ve heard some interesting things about radon and have had a lot of questions and if I had to summarize it, I think radon is misunderstood. There’s a lot of great information out there so people aren’t misinformed.  One of probably the funniest calls that we’ve ever gotten about radon was a lady that called concerned that her home had radon and that she seen a green glow in her home.

Phil:

Right.

Donna:

That is misunderstood. Yeah, that was weird. We’re not quite sure what the green glow was.

Phil:

I wasn’t really interested in going.

Donna:

Yeah, we are radon mitigators, not Ghostbusters. And so we don’t know what the green glow was, but we are with 100% certainty it was not radon. Radon is also not something that you see or smell. So, for people that call and say they suffer from radon gas, it’s probably some other indoor air quality problem your Handyman OFallon expert can help you figure out.

Phil:

I had a person the other day who when I got to her house, I asked her if she tested her house. She said no. And I said, well, why are you interested in a radon mitigation system? She said, because me and my dog had been getting sick a lot lately.

Donna:

Okay, so that’s not a direct result of radon. No, that is some other indoor air quality problem that probably does need to be addressed.  The purpose of this episode is to help you understand how it affects you, why it happens, maybe help you be less misinformed on that topic. So let’s start it off Phil, by talking about what is right. Can you explain what radon is?

Phil:

Radon is a radioactive gas that is in the decay chain of uranium. And what that means is uranium is everywhere on the earth and uranium has a half life and uranium’s half-life I think is 4 billion years.  A half life of a radioactive isotope means that it gives off some of its protons and it becomes a different element. Radon is in part of that chain and uranium eventually as it breaks down, then the next item, it has its half-life and the next item it eventually it becomes lead.  Radon gas is in that decay chain. Radon gas comes from radium. Radium would be a step up in the chain. When radium decays, it becomes radon gas. Then when radon gas decays, it becomes polonium. Radon is just a gas that’s naturally occurring in the soil. It’s radioactive. This is something only some Handyman OFallon providers have the skill and experience to help with.

Donna:

So if I understood you right, and for those of us that don’t understand all the science and all of that chain and breakdown and half-life and all of that, it’s basically the breakdown of uranium that is beneath the soil and it leaches in and it works its way up through and once it hits air, once it leaches out of the soil, that’s where it becomes radioactive. Am I right? It is radioactive before then.

Phil:

No, it is always radioactive.

Donna:

All right. Hopefully people understood that. We’re we’re going to break that down a little bit more as we go. So hang in there with us. So here in Illinois and Missouri, what are the statistics of how many homes are affected by radon gas?

Phil:

Well, statistically you’re looking at basically every third home has elevated levels of radon. That doesn’t mean this house has it, this one doesn’t.  It’s just statistically over this area. That’s about what we’re looking at. And some areas are higher and some areas are lower. So in this specific geographical area where we’re at here in st Louis, some communities tend to be higher and some tend to be lower. So like if you get into the Mascoutah area, those areas tend to be on a higher side. Glen carbon, Edwardsville, those areas tend to be on a higher side as well.  Collinsville and O’fallon trend al little lower. The highest house I’ve ever mitigated was in South st Louis. So, the averages can vary over the different communities. But in general about every third house has elevated levels. When I say elevated, I mean elevated above 4.0 picocuries per liter of air. That’s the recommended level for mitigation. That’s why we always recommend calling either Rapid Repair Pro or any other Handyman OFallon expert to help.

Donna:

Okay. Well here’s some interesting statistics about radon exposure. There are 21,000 lung cancer deaths associated with radon every single year. And it is the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths in the US. That is second to lung cancer caused by cigarette smoking. So very it’s serious.  Here is some comparisons for those that don’t really understand, you know.  4.0 picocuries per liter of air is comparable to smoking two and a half packs of cigarettes a week. For those people that don’t smoke or quit smoking, if your home is elevated with radon, you still run the risk of lung cancer.

Phil:

If you do smoke your risk increases dramatically not just for you, but everyone who lives in the home, their risk is elevated the reason being because the radon gas actually sticks to the smoke particles in the air and you get a higher dose.

Donna:

Well, here’s another interesting comparison that 4 picocuries is equal to 200 chest X rays per year. Who does that? Right.  Doctors would never recommend 200 chest X rays a year. Yet we run the risk with that same exposure in our home and those numbers go up drastically as that radon level goes up. You talked a little bit about geographically in our area, but is our area the only area with radon, what other areas do people deal with radon gas.

Phil:

I find as a Handyman OFallon provider, Elevated levels of radon gas have been found everywhere, every state in the country. The EPA publishes a nationwide map that shows average concentrations in every state. But just because your state isn’t listed high on the EPA map doesn’t mean there aren’t areas that are elevated. We always recommend everyone in the entire country to test their house for radon.

Donna:

Okay. Can you explain to our Handyman OFallon listeners how radon gets in our home?

Phil:

Sure, because it’s a gas that’s naturally occurring in a soil. It leaches out of the soil and into the air outside all the time. I mean, it’s always doing that. So, you know, when you have a home, it could be a basement, a slab, a crawl space, and it can be a commercial building too.  Your house acts like a vacuum cleaner on the soil. And we’ve talked about this before where the stack effect, warm air rises and escapes to the top.  That creates negative pressure at the lowest point of the house where it’s contacting the soil and that brings soil gases in. So that’s the main entry method for radon gas into the house.  Things that could make your level higher than someone else’s could be pathways through the soil, and the soil type that you have.  Underground utilities and all that creates almost like a highway for radon. One thing we have found is that as new home subdivisions are being built in areas that were once previously fields where they put a lot of drainage piping to drain away excess water. We find sometimes that these houses may have extremely high levels of radon because that piping is somehow connected better with their basements. And it is basically a radon delivery system. So if you live in a subdivision that was once a cornfield, get your house tested for radon

Donna:

That’s awesome.  I want people to clearly understand this. You talked about how every type of home is at risk for radon. I often get questioned when people call and say, well, my house is a slab so I shouldn’t have to worry.

Phil:

Every type of home foundation is at risk for radon gas. That’s why everyone should call a Handyman OFallon expert at least once on this.

Donna:

I want people to clearly understand that. The other thing that I hear often when people call in is radon is a bunch of crap. The government made it up and It’s no different than any other thing out there. It’s just a money grab. And it breaks my heart when I hear someone with that thought about radon because we’ve heard the stories, we’ve had people call us like a young mother that’s 35 years old that dies of lung cancer, and folks, lung cancer is silent. People don’t typically learn about lung cancer until it is really far along. And so when we hear stories like that, it breaks our heart and we know that radon is not a bunch of crap. But the reason for that, that people feel that way is because you never heard about it until about 10 years ago. Phil, can you talk about what happened in the home construction industry that now causes our homes to have a higher level of radon?

Phil:

One reason that we have higher levels of radon now is because since the 1970s when we had the oil embargo, homebuilders and people started getting a lot more concerned about tightening up their houses to save energy. And new homes are built to a very high standard for energy efficiency. They have to meet energy efficiency codes. And what that means now is that the houses aren’t ventilated as much as old drafty houses. This allows radon gas to remain in the house longer and levels can build up faster.

Donna:

Okay. I think the other thing that plays into this is now we live indoors more. Years ago, people hung out on their porches. Neighbors were out, kids were out playing. And not only do we live indoors more, but we live in our basements more. Almost every home has a finished basement and that’s where TV watching happens. Hangouts happen, kids sleep down there. And so that’s where you’re going to find the highest level of radon concentration as it is. So those are the reasons folks, that people are hearing more about radon. If you have an old drafty home, you may have a lower radon level then a newer constructed home.

Phil:

Well it’s possible.

Donna:

All right. Awesome. Good information about radon and other Handyman OFallon tips. All right, so now we need to talk about, you know, what do you do to find out if you have elevated radon gas. Phil’s already talked about how, no matter where you live, you should have your home tested for radon. Rather be safe than sorry. It’s something that’s preventable. It’s affordable to fix and you should, you just should just know. So everybody, no matter what type of foundation you have, no matter where you live, you should have your home tested for radon. So then let’s talk about the testing options out there.  I get a lot of calls about that. And so you could hire a professional testing company, or there’s also test kits that you can buy. Can you talk about the differences between what you are going to get, with the professional testing company versus the home test kits?

Phil:

Well, definitely with a professional testing company, you’re going to get accuracy. Their equipment is strictly maintained and calibrated. And you know, they at least in the state of Illinois, they have to annually prove that they’ve kept their equipment up to date and calibrated. And not only that, you’re gonna know that the test was done properly, that the monitors were put in the correct location and everything was done above board and you can be confident in the results that you get.  You can get home test kits. If you do use those make sure that you follow the directions to the letter and make sure that you use two at a time and put them side by side because that helps to tell how accurate the test is.

Phil:

If you do two test kits side by side and the results are within 10% of one another that indicates, you probably have a good test. The Handyman OFallon techs here at Rapid Repair Pro can do that for you.  Another thing to look out for if you’re going to test yourself is not to do the test kits during adverse weather because that can influence the radon level and give you a false reading. There’s just a lot of things that if you do it yourself, that may skew the results. I mean, we’ve had people call in concerned because their levels were really high and we’ve recommended professional testing and they’ve gone in and found that the test kits were inaccurate.

Donna:

Absolutely, one Handyman OFallon customer comes to mind on that.  We went through quite a bit to convince her to get the professional testing and then found out that her radon levels weren’t near as bad as what that other test kit was. So I’m a fan of the professional testing.  If you are looking for a testing company, that would be a great opportunity for you to reach out to us. We have recommendations on that.

Donna:

Let’s talk about costs for testing.  Home test kits are about $20 a piece and you’re going to be doing two of those, that’s $40. Right? Um, and then that may lead onto further testing. If there’s any concern about those test results. That’s why we usually advise you to seek expert Handyman OFallon help if you don’t know what you are doing.

Phil:

And that would be to test one location. If you have a home with two different foundation types, let’s say you’ve got a home with a basement and an addition that has a crawlspace or a slab, then you need to test the room above the slab also. So that’s four test kits.  You need to test the lowest habitable area and any area over a slab or crawl.

Donna:

Another question that I get is that my neighbor’s house tested low for radon, so I don’t need to worry about it. Right. What is the truth on that in your opinion as a Handyman OFallon expert doing this for years.

Phil:

Wrong. We should have a buzzer.

Donna:

I know, it’s definitely wrong.

Phil:

It is also wrong to assume that because your Handyman OFallon neighbor’s house tested high that your house has higher levels of radon. Any two houses next to each other can have totally different radon levels because it’s not just the proximity to the source of radon gas, there are other characteristics that determine what your level of radon is, like how much stack effect your house produces, entry points in your house compared to others. So, the only way you’re really going know is to test. You can’t assume.

Donna:

Another great Handyman OFallon comment that I hear all the time, especially when the person that’s calling in is really frustrated about the whole radon situation and they don’t understand it and because of a home sale contract and the buyers had the house tested, Now the seller has to put in a radon system. They’re the ones that question it the most. I hear, you know what, I’ve lived in my house for years and I don’t have lung cancer. I don’t think I need to worry about it. I would say,  So if we’re talking lung cancer, we all know people that have smoked for years and don’t have lung cancer. Right. So the bottom line is, how do you know it won’t affect you or a family member? It may still affect you later.

Phil:

Every year I go to a radon symposium up in Springfield where all the radon and Handyman OFallon professionals get together for a conference and there was a young lady who was an Olympic champion. She started having issues and found out she had stage four lung cancer. She had never smoked and an incredibly healthy person. She started doing some investigating and found out that the home she grew up in, which was up in northern Illinois, had recently been tested for radon and found the levels were extremely high and she grew up sleeping in the basement of that home.

Phil:

So she was exposed to that as a child, sleeping in that room for years and never had a problem. But now that she’s an adult she’s now contracted lung cancer and is in a serious condition. She’s been battling that now for awhile and she’s currently in remission. You just don’t know, you may not have lung cancer now or your kids are fine, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be forever. Right. And I don’t want to be super alarmist and say, if you’ve lived in a house that had radon, you’re going to get lung cancer. That’s not the case either. But it can definitely happen and you should not put off testing.

Phil:

Is now time to talk about how it can create lung cancer.

Donna:

Sure.

Phil:

Okay. Radon is radioactive gas and you breathe it in, right? The radon atoms are kind of sticky. Okay. So if you have a fan blowing around, they’ll actually blow around, stick to the walls, stick to the ceiling, stick to everything in there. That’s why cigarette smoke makes it worse, the atoms adhere to the smoke and you get a higher dose.  When you breathe it in, they stick to your lung tissue and irradiate the lung cells which damages the DNA and that can be the beginning of lung cancer. There are some studies out there that say that there are other effects from radon exposure besides just lung cancer. They think maybe it can play a role in COPD because it does damage lung tissue over prolonged exposure.

Donna:

Okay. That is great Handyman OFallon information. Some of those details I was not aware of. So they’ve had their house tested and need mitigation. Let’s talk about what they need to do to fix it.  What’s the process with installing a radon mitigation system.

Phil:

It’s really a very simple process and for me, as a Handyman OFallon expert, I have a great system for this. If you have a basement, what we’re looking to do is find the best location to install a system that can pull the radon gases out of the soil and vent it out of the house. So we’re looking for a spot to drill a three inch hole in the basement floor. Then we’ll seal a PVC pipe to that and we’ll route that pipe outside or into the attic where we connect an inline fan that’s used for radon mitigation and an vent that above the roof line. So, what we’re trying to do is, depressurize the slab under the house so that the soil gases get drawn to the system and vented out instead of drawn into the house. That same process works if you have a slab house, we do it the same way.

Phil:

If you have a crawl space, we need to put in a sealed liner in there. That is a six mil, cross laminated poly sheet. It’s black on one side, white on the other, we cover the ground with that. Then we seal it up the walls and any thing that goes through the floor, like a support post or whatever in the middle. And then we create a suction point on that same type of system connected to a radon fan, which pulls the soil gasses out from under that liner and vents them out of the roof. The other things we’ll do is seal cracks in the floor and the wall joint or any large cracks in the floor. Your sump pump pit is a major source of radon entry into the house, so we’ll put a sealed lid on that to prevent anything coming up through that.

Donna:

So let’s give a price range on what radon mitigation can cost for a Handyman OFallon expert to come out.

Phil:

Well, generally you’re looking at anywhere from $800 up depending upon your situation.

Donna:

Obviously if you’ve got a crawl space, it’s going to cost a little more. There’s a lot of Handyman OFallon labor involved in that, right?

Phil:

If you have a crawl space that’s definitely going to be higher than a basement. Some other factors could be the soil conditions under the floor, you know, if they’re really tight soil conditions or if it’s a really old house and it’s really difficult to get a system through the house and outside, that can be a factor.

Donna:

I know one of the things that’s important to us is that we get the best Handyman OFallon results possible on a radon mitigation system. So if you have a home that’s older that we don’t believe will have rock underneath the slab, that we think it’s going to be a little bit more of a challenge we will use a more powerful fan, which costs us more.  We do steps like that because it’s really important to us to have the lowest possible radon level for you. Anything else that you feel that we provide as radon mitigators that set us apart?

Phil:

I think honestly, and not to be braggadocious, but I’m really the only Handyman OFallon radon mitigation provider in the area that has a well rounded background. I’ve been a builder and a carpenter, or Handyman OFallon expert for years. I’ve got an extensive amount of building science training, and an HVAC degree. When you hire me to do a radon mitigation system, not only am I not coming in and just poking a hole in your slab and putting in a system, but I’m taking into account the characteristics of the house and designing a system that will work best in any given situation. I’m also one of only two people in the entire area who is licensed to mitigate a school or commercial building.

Donna:

Okay. So daycares, churches, schools, um, and any other commercial area. Okay. Here’s one thing that I think that I know sets us apart.  When you call us for a mitigation system, that’s what we’re going to talk to you about. There are companies out there that will sell you the radon mitigation system, but then also tell you you need this elaborate filtration system on your furnace and run the price up drastically.

Phil:

Right. We’re not going to upsell you like that and get you for everything we can while we’re there. As Handyman OFallon techs, we’re going to go in and, and design the best system possible to bring your level to the lowest level. And that’s what we’re going to recommend for you. We’re not going to recommend any other things that I feel like aren’t really necessary. We can talk about installing a filtration system but that is for other reasons, not radon mitigation.

Donna:

Okay. So, once you have a system installed in your home, are you safe forever? Do you just assume that that system’s working forever? How should they manage that?

Phil:

Absolutely not. First off you definitely should retest the house after a radon system is installed by any Handyman OFallon specialist, including myself. I know a lot of people don’t do that, but you definitely should. But in addition to that, we recommend you test your house every two years, So that you can be sure the system is still working as designed because you never know. If you have a well-designed and well installed system, chances are your radon levels are going to stay consistent for as long as the system operates, but you just never know.

Phil:

So it’s a good idea to test every two years, but definitely have your house tested after the system is installed and make sure that whoever installs your system does not test the house themselves. It is against the law in Illinois for the mitigation provider to test his own work because of the conflict of interest there, and that’s another thing I want to bring up. In Illinois you have to have an Illinois license to install radon mitigation systems, and that includes if you bought a new home and the builder put in a passive radon system, which is basically just the piping and you need to activate it with a fan.

Phil:

But it is convenient because the pipes are already built in. But if it tests high and it has to be activated by adding a fan that person must have a license. Your builder cannot do that legally. Okay. Now in Missouri, they don’t have a license requirement. They just recommended you have someone certified through the National Radon Proficiency Program. Just be careful over there, anybody can install radon systems and if you go over and look at radon systems in Missouri, I can tell that anybody can install them.

Donna:

Yeah. There’s no standard, so no guarantee that you are safe. So, we can work in Missouri and you should know that if you call us to work in Missouri that we’ve gone through extensive training and use best practices.

Phil:

We actually have published quality standards. We have to get them approved with the state every five years.

Donna:

Yeah. So there’s a lot of requirements with being licensed, you know, we not only do that, but we have to monitor the radon exposure of our employees.

Phil:

We also have to get continuing education every year.

Donna:

I do love the standard there for such an important topic. All right, one last comment that I hear often. is that oftentimes the buyer will walk away from the house because of the radon, and I can’t stress enough to folks is that you shouldn’t have a false sense of security if you buy a house with low radon levels. So if your dream house has elevated levels of radon, a well designed radon mitigation system will give you peace of mind and should not prevent you from buying that house.

Phil:

Well, there are also other benefits to having a radon mitigation system besides lowering radon gas levels. They’re really effective at reducing the moisture and humidity in the basement because that same soil gases that brings in radon gas also brings a lot of moisture into the basement. So you will find, and I encountered this with a lot of people that once they had a radon system installed, they no longer needed to run their little dehumidifier in their basement. And they could tell a definite difference in the humidity level in her basement.

Donna:

Next steps, you need to get your host house tested. We want you to call us so that we can recommend a professional testing company that’s going to take really good care of you. What else would you like for them to do, Phil? How would they reach out to us?

Phil:

Well, you can reach us online at our website at www.rapidrepairpro.com and you can also call us at 800-741-6056 and I promise you that someone will answer that phone, and if you fill out the web contact form, someone will follow up with you. That’s definitely something that sets our company apart as well.

Donna:

Yes, it’s important to us. We hear that all the time that they’ve tried to call other other providers and they don’t answer their phone, they don’t call them back. And I know that’s frustrating.

Donna:

Um, well guess what? Lucy’s awake. And so it was a power nap. So sorry folks, there might be a squirrel in the backyard. So before we close, I want to point out that you’ve heard a lot of big terms today. You’ve heard plutonium, uranium, all of those technical terms, but the word of today that stands out in my mind the most is braggadocious. I believe that’s what you said. You don’t want to be braggadocious. I know that I’ve never used that word in a sentence. So, anyway, just wanted to put that thought in your mind. The word of the day is braggadocious. If you guys picked out where it is on the comment, feel free to comment on our Facebook page or when you call into a schedule. Say, Hey, I heard that word braggadocious and where Phil said it. Um, so anyway, anything else for their listeners today, Phil?

Phil:

Give us a call. Remember we also, in addition to radon, we are the highest rated Handyman OFallon provider in the entire area , and we could take care of a lot of different things for you. Give us a call. We’d love to earn your business.

Donna:

Absolutely. So give phil, the Handyman OFallon provider and us at Rapid Repair Pro a call and thanks for listening. I appreciate your time and we hope that this podcast was helpful for you. Have a wonderful day. Yep. Do that. Take care.