Much like carbon monoxide, radon is a completely invisible, odorless substance that is quite deadly, and it could be undetected in your home right now. Though it is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and the second-place cause of lung cancer overall (behind smoking), many homeowners still don't understand what it is or just how hazardous chronic exposure might be.
What exactly is radon?
You probably remember radon from your days in high school chemistry – there it is on the Table of Elements, nestled among its fellow noble gases. It's a natural product of uranium decay, and it seeps out of various types of soils into the air – or into a house's basement, if that's what it encounters first. When you breathe in this gas, its radioactive particles damage your delicate lung tissue, eventually leading to serious pulmonary issues with chronic exposure.
Does your house have a radon problem?
Older houses, houses with damaged foundations or those with poor basement ventilation are the most likely to have dangerous levels of this radioactive gas. High levels of radon are also more common near mining or other such activities that disturb large quantities of earth, or it can come through the water supply. Since you can't see or smell it, the only way to know if your house has a problem is with a radon test. These tests are often available through local public health authorities, or through indoor air quality experts.
How do you reduce your home's radon risk?
Radon disperses readily into the atmosphere if it's given the proper outlet, so proper ventilation is the biggest factor in preventing or correcting radon issues in your home. Basements are the most prone to radon accumulation because they're underground, and because so many homes don't have proper ventilation in their basements.
If you have an older home, basement remodeling may be your only option to keep radon levels within a healthy range. Many of these houses were built before anyone understood radon dangers, so they were built with closed-off spaces and little or no basement ventilation. Some newer houses may only need a couple of well-placed vents and the help of a qualified HVAC professional. If you're currently doing a basement remodel, talk to your contractor about the provisions he or she has made for good airflow and ventilation. Basements floors can also be sealed during a remodel, and there are radon-resistant construction techniques that may also help reduce risk.
Overall, radon causes more lung cancer than secondhand smoke, and it can show up in any building. Consult a radon mitigation professional to discuss the availability of testing and the strategies you can use to help protect yourself and your family. Finally, choose a basement remodel contractor who understands the risks of radon and the importance of proper ventilation.