CAN YOU REDUCE RADON BY OPENING WINDOWS?
The question "can you reduce radon by opening windows" seems to come up a lot. Whether it's over the phone, in person at estimates, or during real estate transactions, we seem to hear this question all of the time! The simple answer may annoy you, but I would rather give an accurate answer than a misleading one of course. The simple answer is SOMETIMES opening windows can reduce radon levels in your home. Why is it just sometimes you may ask? Thats where the not so simple answer comes into play! To try and keep it as basic as possible, I will explain how radon is drawn into the home in the first place and then circle back.
Radon is drawn into the home because there is a pressure differential between the home or structure and the soil underneath it. Many things are responsible for this pressure differential--stack effect (the same concept that draws smoke up and out of your chimney), kitchen exhaust fans, the barometric pressure pushing and pulling on the home, the wind, and more. In fact, listing all of the factors would be too difficult and chances are, we would still miss a few. When it comes to windows, the one factor that generally comes into play is the wind. Depending on which windows you open, where the windows are, whether or not there is cross ventilation, and a host of other human and environmental factors, opening a window could, in certain cases, actually draw more radon into the structure. Because environmental factors are too difficult to predict, and because most homeowners are not physicists, I simply tell folks that if they want to temporarily ventilate their basement, they can open all of the windows in the basement to allow outside air to mix with the inside air and if windows are on all sides of the home, hopefully the cross ventilation will help to avoid creating a soil gas vacuum that draws more radon in. For more information on the technical answer to this question, the attached PDF article by AARST/NRPP (American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists/National Radon Proficiency Program) can be found below:
In conclusion, opening windows in your home can SOMETIMES reduce radon levels. Moreover, it is important to understand that while ventilating can sometimes be a temporary solution, as soon as the windows are shut again, the home will generally go back to the original radon levels within 12-24 hours. Additionally, it is also important to note that the energy penalty associated with keeping your windows consistently open is drastic. The only sure way to know your home is protected from radon exposure is to test, install a proper sub-slab depressurization system, and then test again consistently. Opening windows, sealing gaps and cracks, and even filtering indoor air are not considered proper techniques to effectively reduce radon levels in the home. While sealing gaps and cracks can be an important step in the mitigation process, it is more-so important to create a better vacuum under the slab than it is to retard the gas from protruding through the concrete or soil. Ultimately, if you are thinking of opening your windows during a radon test to skew the results or opening your windows to vent your home and protect your health, it is likely better to simply follow proper radon testing and radon mitigation protocol. The law of unintended consequences can come back to bite you, and we have definitely seen it happen before!
DO RADON FANS RUN ALL THE TIME?
We get this question all of the time as well! YES, RADON FANS DO RUN ALL OF THE TIME! The main reason radon fans run all of the time is because the radon levels in the home are constantly changing. As the barometric pressure pushes and pulls against the home or structure and other human and environmental factors play into the scenario, your radon fan is essentially overriding those factors, beneath the slab or "at the source," to ensure the radon is drawn into the exhaust pipe rather than drawn into the structure itself. In other words, human and environmental factors are constantly creating a pressure differential between the structure itself and the soil beneath the structure. The consistent fan suction is creating a constant negative pressure that is greater than those other factors, in most cases, and ultimately drawing the radon (which finds the path of least resistance) into the exhaust pipe (instead of into the home) and ultimately directs it above the roofline. Did you catch the "in most cases" in the sentence above? I feel the need to explain this because sometimes retest results come back after installing the system, and although the overall average is well below the EPA standard of 4.0pCi/L, many times a few of the data points are slightly above 4.0 pCi/L. When this happens, the astute homeowner that carefully reads the entire report will generally ask, "I see that some of the measured levels were above the 4.0 pCi/L threshold, whats that all about?"
The explanation is that sometimes, the environmental pressures or human pressures pushing and pulling on the home may be temporarily greater than that of the fan. That is, sometimes a radon fan cannot override mother nature and the radon levels will spike temporarily. This is just another reason why it is extremely important for the radon fan to run all of the time. The consistency of the fan will constantly depressurize the slab. Further, in winter months, it is extremely important to keep the fan running because the radon system will be pulling 40-50 degree air from beneath the slab and when the below freezing windchills hit the pipe, it can create condensation and ultimately freeze or ice up the fan and pipe. Keeping the radon motor running, and constant air moving through the pipe, gives you the best chance of avoiding freeze-ups during the frigid winter months.
WHAT IS RADON?
Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the decay of uranium which can be found in most soils. Radon is a noble gas which means it cannot be seen, smelled, or touched, or tasted. Even though it cannot be sensed without a proper testing device, that does not mean radon is not harmful to humans and household pets. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States only to smoking. The decay process of radon produces radon daughters which can attach to dust particles in the air that are then inhaled. Over a long period of time spent breathing in dangerous radon levels in your home, your chance of developing lung cancer is increased.
HOW DOES RADON GET INTO THE HOME?
Typically radon gas travels up from the soil to dissipate into the air. However when a home or structure blocks it’s path it has the ability to seep in through cracks in the floor, the sump crock, or even the pores of the concrete. Because of the density of radon, once inside of a home it tends to build up in the lower levels because it has nowhere else to go. Fortunately radon gas can be easily diverted from entering the home with the installation of a radon mitigation system
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR RADON TO DISSIPATE?
Without the assistance of a radon mitigation system or a vast improvement to the ventilation of the home, radon gas will continue to enter the home as it dissipates. So there is no length of time that radon will simply just leave the home unless a system is put into place. Once a radon mitigation system is in place, radon gas will typically be rid from the home in as little as 48 hours.
SHOULD YOU BUY A HOME WITH HIGH RADON LEVELS?
There is no reason to shy away from purchasing a home that has tested high for radon gas. Radon mitigation systems can be designed to fix any home no matter how it’s constructed. If you are interested in purchasing a home that has a radon issue, simply request that the seller give you a credit towards installing a radon mitigation system. Most reputable radon mitigation companies including Lifetime Radon will guarantee to lower your radon levels below the EPA action level of 4.0pCi/L.
HOW EFFECTIVE IS RADON MITIGATION?
Radon mitigation systems can effectively lower the radon levels below the EPA action level of 4.0pCi/L with a 100% success rate. Some homes may require extra steps such as crawl space encapsulation, or multiple systems usually in the case of an extraordinarily large footprint or tight soil below the slab. In many cases, radon mitigation systems can reduce the radon levels inside of a home to below the outdoor air level (around 0.4pCi/L).
IS RADON ONLY IN THE BASEMENT?
A common misconception about radon gas is that it is only found in basements. While it is true that radon gas tends to build up in the lowest level of a structure, it can build up to a point where it starts to creep up into the upper floors. Additionally, most heating and cooling systems can distribute the radon in the basement throughout the home.
HOW COMMON IS RADON IN WISCONSIN?
Much like the majority of the midwest, Wisconsin has a serious radon problem. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, 1 in 10 homes in Wisconsin have elevated levels of radon gas present. In some countries like Dane, Waukesha, Washington, Jefferson, Fond Du Lac, and more, these odds are much higher. If you live in Wisconsin you should have your home tested every two years no matter what part of the state you are in.
I HAVE A NEW HOME WITH NO CRACKS OR GAPS, WHY SHOULD I TEST FOR RADON?
Radon gas does not simply just stop rising if there aren’t any obvious openings into a structure. Radon gas has the ability to move through the pores of the concrete to make its way inside. Additionally, if your home is new that most likely means it is very tightly sealed which can trap radon gas inside more than older homes can.
I DON'T LIVE IN AN AREA WITH HIGH RADON, WHY SHOULD I TEST?
If you live in Wisconsin there is no county that is exempt from radon gas, so it is important to test your home no matter what city you live in. In the United States as a whole there are some states like Arizona and Texas that have a much less likely chance of elevated radon levels, however there are still homes in those states that have tested above 4.0pCi/L. Every homeowner should have their home tested for radon every two years as the levels can fluctuate with time. Radon testing is affordable and easy to perform, so there is no excuse not to.
CAN I HAVE A RADON MITIGATION SYSTEM WITHOUT A SUMP PUMP?
Utilizing a sump crock and drain-tile to create the negative pressure under the slab of a home to draw radon out is not the only method used by professionals. In homes that do not have a sump crock or drain-tile, a collection point is dug under the slab by removing 5-10 gallons of soil from a 4”-5” cored hole. The radon mitigation system can then create negative pressure necessary under the home to draw the radon gas out using that collection point and a radon fan designed for higher suction.
MY NEIGHBOR'S HOME TESTED LOW FOR RADON, CAN I ASSUME MY LEVELS ARE LOW AS WELL?
Radon levels can vary from home to home, even with next door neighbors. Every home is different and uranium concentrations in the soil can vary throughout a neighborhood. Each home in a neighborhood should be tested individually.
WE BOUGHT A RADON RESISTANT HOME, WHY SHOULD WE WORRY ABOUT RADON?
Depending on the concentration of radon rising up from under the home, a radon resistant home might not be enough. Many “radon resistant packages” a builder might sell to you will only include a passive system. A passive system is simply just a PVC pipe inserted into the slab and can work by utilizing stack effect to draw radon out. The problem is, if the radon level is high enough or the passive system cannot produce a stack effect, it tends to be useless until a fan is added.
CAN YOU USE DOWNSPOUT FOR RADON MITIGATION?
Some companies advertise the use of downspout as a replacement to PVC piping for the ventilation of radon. The problem with using downspout though is it can easily freeze in the winter time. If you live in a state that experiences cold winters, downspout is a very bad idea. The moisture created by pulling warmer air from underneath the slab to vent to the cooler air outside will certainly freeze. Once the piping freezes, the fan can no longer remove the radon from your home and your levels will begin to rise again. It can even get to a point where the downspout will get so heavy that it tears the siding off of the home.
HOW DO YOU DETERMINE WHERE THE RADON SYSTEM WILL BE PLACED?
Our systems need to follow all of the EPA, AARST, and NRPP standards for mitigation to ensure the safety of the occupants inside of a home. This means that there usually are only a few different options for venting and fan placement. For typical homes, a phone estimate can be done after going through some in depth questions about the property. For older homes or homes that are very unique, we would send a technician out to guide you through the process in person. Below is a video of what our in-person estimation process looks like.