FAQ's on radon & radon mitigation in SE Wisconsin
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Frequently Asked Questions

How prevalent is radon contamination?

Radon is found in homes all across the US. It’s been reported that one out of every fifteen homes have radon. There is no "safe" level of radon. It is a radioactive gas and is known to cause lung cancer. Although the EPA recommends mitigation in homes shown to have 4 picocuries or more of radon, this doesn't mean this amount of radon is safe. At best, radon mitigation can bring levels down to about 1.5 to 2 picocuries, which is about the level of radon we're exposed to outdoors.

What is considered an acceptable level of radon in a home?

Unfortunately, any amount of radon in a home poses a threat to the long-term health of those living in the home. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends radon mitigation in homes with radon levels of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or greater.

What is a picocurie?

A picocurie, abbreviated as “pCi” is a measurement of the radioactive decay rate of radon. “Pico” is a mathematical expression for “one trillionth.” “Curie”, a term named in honor of Madame Curie, refers to her discovery that a one gram of Radium produces 37 billion decays per second. One pCi/L  is one trillionth of a Curie, and is equates to 2.22 disintegrations per minute per liter of air.

How can I find out what sort of radon levels are present in my town?

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has an interactive radon map (http://wi-dhs.maps.arcgis.com/apps/OnePane/basicviewer/index.html?appid=a0f619747b5e4e72bce960619e6663e8)  on their website for the entire state of Wisconsin. You can zoom into your city to see how each zip code is rated based on radon tests performed in those areas.

Can I have a radon mitigation system without a sump pump?

A sump pump is universally recognized as the best place to install the venting for a radon mitigation system. It is fairly rare to find a home in the Milwaukee area that doesn’t have a sump pump, but if yours is one those rarities, or has one that isn’t working anymore, don’t worry. Lifetime Radon Solutions installs and services sump pumps all the time.

Besides serving as the main suction point in radon mitigation, a sump pump also prevents water from damaging the foundation of your home. It can remove as much as a gallon of water from below your home every two hours, which helps keep mold and mildew from forming in your basement.

Do granite countertops cause problems with radon buildup in homes?

While it is true that granite, like all rocks, contains naturally occurring uranium and other radioactive elements, the fact that it isn’t particularly porous and is used sparingly in most homes minimizes whatever risk it may pose. In fact, most scientific research shows the risk of radon from granite countertops is miniscule.

While you can have your granite countertop tested for radon, it isn’t really possible to determine what percentage of your indoor radon levels are directly attributable to granite countertops. Anyone concerned with radon levels should have a radon test performed by a certified professional. If levels are at 4 pCi/L or higher, radon mitigation will have far more benefit than removing your granite countertops and replacing them with something else.

How much can radon levels be lowered through radon mitigation systems?

We always test the radon levels in homes after installing mitigation systems. We typically see homes with a pre-mitigation reading of 4 pCi/L coming in at 1 to 2 pCi/L after installing radon mitigation systems.

How does radon get into buildings?

Radon rises through the soil below the foundation of buildings, where it gets trapped under the foundation and increases in pressure. Because the air pressure inside homes and other buildings is lower than the pressure in the soil, radon gas will work its way through any small cracks or gaps in the floors and walls of buildings.

Radon can also get into homes through water, especially in homes with well water. The gas dissolves in water and is released through steam and condensation once inside the home. Although radon can be ingested by drinking well water with radon in it, the risks are considered much lower than the risk of breathing in radon.

Are older homes more at risk of high radon levels than newer homes?

No. High radon levels affect both old and new homes. However, a 2014 study that looked at radon levels in 273 Sauk County homes found an interesting correlation between newer homes and higher radon levels. Researchers noted that homes built after 2001 had the highest percentage of test results above the EPA recommended action level. One likely explanation is that the newer, more tightly sealed homes produce a stronger suction effect than older, draftier, less well insulated houses. So, while you might think you're better protected against radon in a new home, it could very well be the exact opposite.

If our home doesn’t have a basement, we’re not at risk of having radon in our home, right?

Wrong. Homes without basements are just as much at risk of having radon contamination as homes with basements.

My next door neighbor’s house just got tested and has very low radon levels. Is it safe to assume my house has the same radon level?

Unfortunately, no. Radon can vary significantly even between two houses next door to each other. The only way to know for sure how much radon is in your home is to have it tested

How accurate are home radon tests sold at stores?

The home radon tests available at stores, and often from your local health department, have an accuracy rating of only ±20%. These test devices are small metal containers, roughly the same size and shape as a tin of tuna. Inside is activated charcoal, which absorbs radon in the air. If you are planning to use this sort of testing device, it's a good idea to use two of them during the testing period and average the results of the two devices.

For a more accurate assessment of radon levels, it is recommended to have a certified radon testing company perform the test with continuous electronic radon monitors.

Can rain and debris get in the radon exhaust pipe?

It is typical for condensation to form inside the exhaust tube of a radon mitigation system. Any condensation that forms, along with what little rain water gets in, will simply trickle into the ground. Debris rarely ever gets into an exhaust pipe. This is because the force of air exiting the pipe prevents anything from entering. We sometimes have customers ask us if it's a good idea to put a screen over the exhaust vent to prevent any debris from entering. This is actually a bad idea, due to the potential for ice to accumulate on the screen and clog the exhaust.

Are there any drawbacks to having a radon mitigation system installed?

The only drawback we can think of is that most homeowners notice a small increase in their energy bills. This is attributable to a small fan in the mitigation system running all the time. The small increase in energy costs is certainly worth the peace of mind that comes with knowing your home has greatly reduced radon levels.

How Long Does Radon Testing Take?

Our radon test lasts 48 hours. We set up our equipment in the areas likely to show the highest readings for radon and they record data continuously for the next 48 hours. We then pick up our equipment from your home and analyze the results. In most cases, you will have the results from your radon test the day we pick up our equipment.

For a more detailed picture of radon levels, a year-long test is advisable. However, few homeowners have the time or budget for such an extensive test. The accuracy of our equipment in a 48-hour test is more than sufficient to let you know if your home has high levels of radon or not.

Can't I just patch the cracks in my basement floor and put down one of those radon-proof sealants?

While patching cracks in the floor is always a good idea, doing this in conjunction with one of the commercially available sealants promoted as a radon barrier is going to do very little. Radon travels easily through concrete and most of these so-called sealants. These DIY solutions are routinely busted by state and federal agencies for making claims they can't live up to.

Here's something else to consider: Any of the high-build epoxy coatings which might prevent some radon from entering through your basement slab are so labor intensive and time consuming that you would be far better off just hiring someone to do the job correctly and efficiently. 

The most effective solution is a sub-slab depressurization radon mitigation system (like the ones we install). These are far more effective in removing radon from your home than any attempts at sealing it out, and in many cases, particularly with large basement floors, they are more cost-effective. 

Can I open the windows when the radon test is being done?

In order for the test to get accurate data on the radon level in your home, the windows of your house should be kept closed. Normal entry into and exit from the house is okay, as long as doors aren’t held open for extended periods of time. Also, whole house fans or window fans should not be used during the testing period.

Does the fan in a radon mitigation system make a lot of noise?

Virtually all radon mitigation systems require a small fan in the PVC piping to keep the air moving upward through the pipe and out of your home. This fan runs constantly, year after year. Although it is inside the PVC tubing, it is audible from outside as a humming noise. How noticeable this is depends on where the PVC tubing is placed.

There are three areas where a mitigation fan can be located: 1) Outside the house, along a wall; 2) In a garage; 3) In an attic.

When placed outside along a wall, you might hear the fan if you open your windows. It’s also possible for the fan to cause the tubing to vibrate against your house if the tubing mounts come loose.

In a garage, the fan is usually positioned above the cross beams. Although you can hear it running, it’s not as loud as a bathroom fan and you can only hear it when you’re in the garage.

If the fan is in the attic, you’ll probably never hear it running unless you go up in the attic to check on it.

We bought a radon resistant home, so why should we worry about radon?

Many new homes being built today are advertised as Radon Resistant New Construction (RRNC for short). You would think with a name like this the homes actually resist radon, but all RRNC means is that radon mitigation system pipes have been pre-installed in the home. Typically, they run up through walls inside the home for a more discreet installation than what is done on existing homes.

Trouble is, there’s no radon mitigation fan in place. Without a fan, you have what's known as a passive radon mitigation system—which accomplishes very little. You really need the exhaust fan to actually remove radon and have a truly radon resistant home. For the small cost of having a fan installed, you are better off bypassing a radon test altogether and just getting a fan installed.

How much radiation does radon put out?

The amount of radiation you're exposed to depends entirely on the radon levels in your home. To complicate things even more, radon levels can fluctuate throughout the year depending on weather and meteorological conditions. To give you a rough idea, though, in a home with radon levels of 4 pCi/L (the level at which mitigation is recommended), 8 hours of exposure is the equivalent of receiving 200 chest x-rays per year.