"It's estimated that about half of the radon reduction systems in
Illinois are installed incorrectly," said Ted Funk, an Extension
specialist in the University of Illinois Department of Agricultural
and Biological Engineering. "There are guidelines, but people aren't
as careful as they should be and they don't follow the rules."
Funk believes that some people don't understand what it takes to
install a system properly but most simply don't take the problem
"They just want to put something in and say they've got
a radon reduction system," he said. "So not only do they ignore the
rules, they don't lower the level of radon. It's ironic that they go
to all that trouble and expense and then not get the job done."
Radon gas is produced from the natural breakdown of uranium that's
found in rocks and soils across the United States. As radon decays,
it emits subatomic particles.
Radon enters a home when the indoor air pressure is lower than the
outdoor air pressure. The house creates a vacuum, sucking radon gas
inside. Sump pumps, crawl spaces and openings where the floor and
wall meet are common radon entry points.
When we breathe radon gas, decaying radon atoms emit alpha particles
that rip like tiny bullets through lung cells. Scientists believe
the particles can alter cell nuclei, which increases our risk of
lung cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated
that radon causes 14,000 to 21,000 lung cancer deaths annually.
Because it can take anywhere from five to 25 years for this cancer
to develop, many experts refer to radon as a "kill slow" health
risk, Funk said. Exposure to radon has no immediate symptoms.
"We expose ourselves to a lot of things that are in the 'kill slow'
mode, but they just don't get our attention," he said. "Radon
Homeowners can test for radon themselves, using kits that can be
purchased at most hardware stores. If you find that the radon level
in your home exceeds the level considered acceptable by government
standards, the EPA can provide you with the names and addresses of
professionals who are trained to reduce radon concentrations.
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And if you are building a home, Funk strongly advises installing
a passive radon reduction system. "For new construction, it's only
$600 to $1,000 extra cost," he said. "That's not very much when
you're looking at the whole package. It's more difficult, and much
more expensive, to do it after the fact."
A passive radon system uses construction techniques that are
familiar to any reputable contractor. In a crawl space, a layer of
clean gravel topped by polyethylene sheeting is placed beneath the
flooring system. A gas-tight venting pipe runs from the gravel level
through the building to the roof. Then the foundation is sealed and
caulked thoroughly. This system exploits the vacuum effect by
creating a pressure barrier to radon entry and a short-circuit path
to the outdoors.
Funk also suggests installing an electrical junction box in the
attic at the time of construction. That way, if the passive system
is not sufficient, a specially designed electric venting fan can be
installed later to pull the gas into the vent pipe, where it can be
exhausted outside the house. The fan must be installed by a licensed
radon mitigation professional.
However you choose to reduce radon in your home, Funk strongly
encourages contractors and do-it-yourselfers alike to make sure the
system they choose is installed correctly.
"It's one thing to not even attempt radon reduction," he said. "It's
another thing to attempt it and fail because you didn't follow some
relatively simple rules. Go to the Extension radon website, get the
guidelines and do it right."
The Extension's radon website is
Illinois news release]