Top Signs Your Home May Have a Radon Problem

Radon is an invisible and odorless radioactive gas that can seep into homes from beneath basements and foundations, posing a serious lung cancer risk to residents over prolonged exposure. While completely undetectable to our senses, radon gas is estimated to cause over 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States alone, making it the second leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking.

As one of the only significant sources of radiation we encounter in our daily lives, identifying potential radon concerns within our homes is crucial for protecting our family’s health. This article outlines the top signs to be aware of that may indicate elevated radon levels requiring testing and potential mitigation.

Sign #1 – Location

Certain geographic regions have a higher likelihood of containing underground radon gas sources that can permeate into homes. Colorado is considered a higher risk radon zone by the EPA, with Larimer County and Fort Collins specifically known to have radon levels above the national average. Living in an area with underlying uranium-rich soil or granite increases the odds your home may harbor elevated radon.

While radon risks are everywhere, certain locations raise more concerns than others. If you live in Larimer County or have underlying uranium or granite in your property, it’s wise to consider the following signs more carefully.

Sign #2 – Basement Construction

How your home’s foundation is built greatly impacts radon’s ability to enter. Older homes or those with dirt floors, block walls, little foundation sealing or sump pits are structurally more permeable to radon than modern homes with sealed foundation walls, drain tiles and vapor barriers. Look for cracks or other openings in basement floors and walls as potential entry points.

Incomplete block walls allowing visibility between blocks and crack-free poured concrete walls help minimize radon infiltration compared to cracked or crumbling foundations. Houses with walkout basements or daylight windows also see more air pressure driven flow introducing outside gases.

Sign #3 – Recent Renovations

Renovations like adding a new bedroom or living space over a basement can actually worsen existing radon issues by disturbing soil and increasing indoor-outdoor pressure differences. Other projects like putting in a new sump pump, pipe trench or French drain alter soil sealing and pressures, potentially amplifying radon uptake.

Measure radon levels after any basement work to ensure safety. New plumbing, electrical and drilling can compromise previous mitigation efforts or open radon pathways anew if sealing and waterproofing aren’t addressed. Always retest after renovating.

Sign #4 – Sump Pumps

Sump pumps remove normal groundwater seepage from under homes. However, they can also serve as a pathway drawing radon in along with water. Look for active or abandoned sump pumps discharging into crawl spaces or outdoors as a potential radon entry point. Make sure sump pits are properly sealed at the joint where the pump enters to block gases.

Replacing an old sump pump gives opportunity to improve the seal where piping passes through the basement floor. Ensure sealing materials used are radon-rated rather than standard caulk or sealants to obtain an air tight barrier.

Sign #5 – Damp Basements

Dampness alone doesn’t indicate radon but highlights air pressure differences promoting flow of gases from soil into living areas. Look for moisture issues like water stains, white mineral deposits or algae growth as signs the basement isn’t sufficiently protected from outside sources. Underground springs, flooding or poor waterproofing may all contribute.

Problems with drainage around the exterior foundation or inside plumbing leaks raise the potential for increasing basement moisture levels, soil gases and related radon risks over time. Make sure drainage slopes away from the house and waterproofing is intact.

Sign #6 – Gas Meters

Any gas meters, pipes or lines leading into the home from belowground create potential pathways. Natural gas, propane or oil storage tanks buried near the house allow the pressure driven flow of radon along with fuel lines. Carefully seal where pipes enter through basement walls and check for signs of external corrosion which may serve as entry points if unaddressed.

Strategically locating meters above grade outside, rather than in basements or crawl spaces when building or making home improvements can help minimize radon-friendly infrastructure indoors. Proper sealing is still required for any below grade gas lines.

Sign #7 – High Radon Neighborhoods

Nearby homes testing above the EPA action level of 4 pCi/L that required mitigation provide an important clue. Look for radon notices posted by local realtors, or check with state radon offices or previous owners to inquire about past results. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Radon Program also provides publically accessible heat maps of high radon probability zones.

While no location is immune, living in an area already proven to have concerning levels predicts increased individual home risk compared to low radon neighborhoods. Consider testing annually if neighbors had issues.

Sign #8 – Radon In Past Tests

If previous confirmatory tests found elevated radon, it likely remains a problem even after minor repairs over the years. Re-testing identifies any worsening as a mitigation system degrades or other changes alter radon flow. Look for past records stored with utility bills, real estate documents or lists of quality-control checks from mitigation companies.

Continued vigilance is needed since conditions are dynamic and systems require maintenance over 15-30 years to retain effectiveness. The average indoor radon level also climbs each year without mitigation even if initially moderate.

Sign #9 – Recent Cancer Diagnosis

While not proving radon caused disease, lung cancer diagnosis of prior residents is informative. Radon risks accumulate slowly over decades, so disease may surface within a few years of moving. Checking with former owners provides clues about testing history and the residence’s specific risks. Proactively testing reduces uncertainty for new owners unaware of any past issues.

It’s prudent to mitigate whether or not lung disease occurred if in a high radon zone or a diagnosing sharing other concerning signs. Preventing future cancers is the goal through minimizing risky exposures early on.

Sign #10 – Home Performance Testing

Occasionally blower door or infrared testing of homes uncovers previously unrecognized radon entry routes. Such evaluation done for energy efficiency reveals unsealed holes, rising basement humidity or unusual pressure patterns indicating air flow between foundation and living areas. Repairing any performance issues may lower radon risks along with utility bills.

An unusually “drafty” basement may signify air movement carrying radon gas indoors. Whole house testing using fans to pressurize and depressurize helps pinpoint specific foundation trouble spots.

In Conclusion

While the majority of U.S. homes likely have some radon, concentrations are usually quite low posing minimal health risk. However, about 1 in every 15 residences measure over the EPA action level indicating a radon issue requiring professional mitigation to reduce lung cancer danger.

Taking the time to thoughtfully consider any potentially radon-related structural characteristics, test results, home conditions or location factors could alert homeowners to follow up with short term radon screening for clarity and peace of mind. Protecting families often begins with simply being aware of radon signs and risks and testing appropriately. Proactively addressing any issues avoids long term health uncertainties without causing undue alarm where none is warranted.

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