Radon Mitigation Solutions – The Fort Collins Approach

Radon, an invisible radioactive gas, poses a serious health risk as it silently seeps into Fort Collins homes. Prolonged exposure to radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. Fortunately, Fort Collins has developed a comprehensive approach to reducing the radon danger through public education, testing incentives, mitigation regulations, financial assistance, and partnerships between city and county government, businesses, and residents. This collaborative effort makes effective radon mitigation achievable and affordable for local homeowners.

The Radon Hazard

Radon forms naturally from the decay of uranium in soil and rocks. It enters homes and buildings through cracks and openings in foundations and concrete floors where it becomes trapped and accumulates. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies radon as the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. after smoking. Radon particles emitted from decaying radon gas get lodged in lung tissue and damage cells over time, leading to cancer.

The EPA estimates 21,000 lung cancer deaths annually are caused by radon. Exposure risks increase as radon levels rise. The EPA recommends fixing radon concentrations at or above 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter). The national average indoor level is 1.3 pCi/L. However, levels above 20 pCi/L are common inside high-risk homes.

Why Fort Collins Homes Are Vulnerable

Several factors put Fort Collins at higher risk for indoor radon accumulation:

  • Uranium-rich soil common in northern Colorado produces radon gas that seeps through permeable gravel and sand subsurface layers.
  • Colder winters create temperature and pressure differences that draw soil gases like radon into homes through cracks in floors and foundations.
  • Many homes lack proper sealing, ventilation, and radon-resistant features. About 75% of Fort Collins houses were built prior to 1990 before radon-resistant building codes.
  • Basement foundations and below-grade spaces like crawlspaces connected to the ground maximize radon entry points.

Identifying Radon Dangers Through Testing

Since radon is invisible and odorless, the only way to know if it is accumulating in dangerous amounts is to test. The city and county offer free short-term radon test kits at local libraries and civic buildings to encourage homeowners to check their levels. The kits are easy to use at home for 2-7 days then mail to a lab for analysis. The city also provides long-term tester recommendations and maintains a list of state certified radon professionals.

Fort Collins requires a radon test at point of sale for many pre-1990 homes. Testing lets buyers make informed decisions and negotiate mitigation system installation prior to closing when levels are 4 pCi/L or higher. Local real estate agents partner with the city by informing clients, facilitating testing, and communicating results.

The city analyzes reported test data to identify radon hot spots and trends. This focuses public awareness and mitigation efforts on highest risk areas like housing near former industrial sites or neighborhoods with many basement homes. Ongoing testing ensures radon hazards don’t go undetected.

Accessible Mitigation Through Local Contractors

When elevated radon levels are found, the next vital step is mitigation system installation to prevent dangerous gas accumulation. Mitigation seals foundation entry points and uses pipes and fans to draw radon from below the home and vent it above the roof where it disperses harmlessly. This can reduce interior radon levels by up to 99%.

Fort Collins maintains a list of certified local contractors qualified to design and install effective radon mitigation systems. Many contractors offer free quotes and estimates to help homeowners understand options and costs. They also assist residents in accessing financial assistance programs.

Active sub-slab depressurization is the most common and effective mitigation method. It involves drilling a hole through the foundation floor slab to insert vent pipes that run up through the house and exit above the roof. A fan connected to the pipes creates a vacuum to pull radon from underneath and vent it outside before it can enter the home. Sealing all foundation cracks is a key first step.

Building Codes and Incentives

In 2008, Fort Collins became one of the first cities in Colorado to adopt radon-resistant construction requirements for new homes. Appendix F of the International Residential Code (IRC) establishes strict radon mitigation preparation standards in all new construction.

The updated 2018 IRC codes now require even more protective radon-resistant features in new Fort Collins homes like:

  • Gravel and plastic sheeting under foundations
  • Sealed and caulked floors and walls
  • Vent pipes installed vertically through floors
  • Junction boxes for future fan installation
  • Passive radon vent systems

The city waives all permit fees for radon mitigation work in existing homes. This incentive makes system installation more affordable. For major renovations, radon-resistant techniques like sealed sump pump lids and vent pipe loops must be added.

Financial Assistance for Mitigation

The city partners with Larimer County to provide financial assistance for radon mitigation to homeowners who cannot afford the typical $1200 to $2500 cost. Through the Radon Mitigation Assistance Program, income-qualified residents can receive a grant covering 75% of the system installation price. This vital support enables wider protection against radon-induced lung cancer.

Making Homes Radon-Safe

The collaborative Fort Collins approach engages all stakeholders in reducing the radon threat. Ongoing public education fosters awareness while free test kits, mitigation regulations, trained contractors, and financial assistance facilitate actual risk reduction. This comprehensive mitigation framework enables residents to affordably transform their homes into radon-safe spaces.

By working together, the city, county, businesses, and homeowners are dissipating the radon danger and creating a safer, healthier community. The Fort Collins radon program demonstrates that strong partnerships for change can overcome even invisible threats like radon through innovation, accountability, and collective action. With continued vigilance, we can detect radon risks early and mitigate them effectively for all.

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