Radon Awareness: Keeping Lewiston Homes Safe through Testing

Radon Awareness: Keeping Lewiston Homes Safe through Testing

Radon is an invisible, odorless gas that can seep into homes and pose a serious health risk if left unchecked. As residents of Lewiston, it’s important we educate ourselves about radon and take steps to test our homes. High radon levels have been detected in buildings across Maine, so no home should be assumed safe without proper testing.

In this blog post, we’ll break down the basics of radon, how it affects Lewiston households, and what you need to know about radon testing in Lewiston Maine to keep your family protected.

What is Radon?

Radon is a radioactive gas formed from the natural decay of uranium in soil and rock. It moves up through the ground and can enter homes through cracks and openings in the foundation. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and is responsible for over 20,000 lung cancer deaths per year.

The health risk comes from breathing in the radon and its radioactive decay products which can damage lung tissue. The EPA and Surgeon General warn that radon is a serious public health hazard that should not be ignored.

How Radon Enters the Home

Radon is naturally-occurring and surrounding us outdoors at low levels. But inside an enclosed space, like a home, it can accumulate to dangerous concentrations.

There are three main ways radon typically makes its way into a house:

  • Through cracks in solid floors – Any openings or cracks in concrete slabs or floor joists provide an entry point for radon in the soil under the home.
  • Through floor drains or sumps – Radon can flow up from underground wells and aquifers, entering through drains and sump pits.
  • Through foundations – Concrete blocks, cinder blocks, and stone foundations contain natural gaps and pores. Radon can seep in through wall cracks, unsealed joints, or dirt floors in basements or crawl spaces.

The potential for high indoor radon levels depends on multiple factors like soil composition, weather, and air pressure. But any home can have a radon problem regardless of foundation type, age of the home, or whether it has a basement or crawlspace. Performing a radon test is the only way to know if a house has an unsafe radon level.

Signs of a Potential Radon Problem

Radon is impossible to detect with our senses, so the only way to determine if a house has elevated radon is through a test. Clues that a home may be susceptible to high radon levels include:

  • Radon detected in the neighborhood – Houses in the area have tested high. Radon levels can vary drastically between adjacent homes. But knowing radon has been found nearby means your home could be at risk.
  • Gaps or cracks in the foundation – Any cracks, hollow-block walls, dirt floors, or openings around pipes, wires, and drains provide entry points for radon.
  • Poor ventilation – Tightly-sealed homes trap radon inside. Limited air circulation prevents dilution of radon.
  • Proximity to uranium-rich bedrock – Granite, shale, and limestone commonly contain uranium which decays into radon. Homes built on this bedrock are more likely to have high radon levels.
  • Presence of private well water – Radon can dissolve and accumulate in well water drawn from uranium-rich rocks and soils underground. Using private well water sends radon into the air in your home.
  • Previous radon test results – If a past test showed radon concentrations over 2 pCi/L, EPA recommends retesting your home at least every 2 years.

Any of these signs indicate radon testing is a good idea. Have a radon test done as part of home inspections during a real estate transaction. Retest your home periodically or whenever major renovations are done. The only way to know your radon level is through testing.

Radon Testing Options for Lewiston Homes

Several types of radon tests are available from certified radon professionals and test kit laboratories. Homeowners can also opt to conduct DIY radon testing. When considering radon testing in Lewiston Maine, common options include:

Short-Term Test

This is the quickest way to check a home’s radon level. The test kit is placed in the lowest livable space of the house for 2 to 90 days. Most short-term tests last between 2 to 7 days. A lab analyzes the device and reports the average radon concentration for the duration of the test.

Short-term tests are a good initial indicator of radon. If results are high, follow up with a long-term test for a more representative sampling.

Long-Term Test

For the most accurate reading, long-term tests are done over 3 months to one year. Test kits remain in place for the entire duration before being sent to a lab for analysis. The longer time period accounts for radon fluctuations and delivers the average radon level inside the home.

Long-term testing gives a realistic idea of radon concentrations you’re likely to be exposed to while living and sleeping in the house long-term. EPA recommends long-term testing after identifying high radon with a short-term kit.

Passive Devices

Passive radon tests require no action once set up. Popular types of passive detectors include charcoal canisters, alpha-track detectors, electret ion chamber detectors, and charcoal liquid scintillation detectors. Radon passively diffuses into the detectors, leaving behind physical evidence of decay that is then analyzed in a lab. Many reliable radon test kits use passive devices.

Continuous Radon Monitor

These electronic devices continuously measure and record radon levels, providing real-time data on fluctuations and peaks. A qualified radon professional can monitor your home’s radon for 2 days to one year, interpreting the results and patterns. This method is typically more expensive than other options.

DIY Home Test Kits

Many hardware stores sell do-it-yourself radon test kits you can use at home. DIY short-term tests range from $15 to $25 and long-term tests cost around $20 to $40. Look for DIY kits approved by national proficiency programs. Carefully follow the kit instructions to get valid results.

Professional assistance is recommended for interpreting DIY kit results and mitigation planning. Contact a certified radon mitigation contractor if DIY results indicate your home has high radon.

When to Test for Radon

EPA and Maine radon professionals recommend testing your home in the following situations:

  • During a real estate transaction – Buyers and sellers should test for radon before finalizing a deal. Radon also impacts property value.
  • After moving into a new home – Even newly built homes can have dangerous radon. Test within the first month of moving in.
  • After major renovations – Remodeling projects can shift foundations and alter radon entry routes. Retest after renovations.
  • Every 2 years – Radon levels fluctuate over time. Recheck your home’s radon at least every 2 years.
  • After installing a radon mitigation system – Confirm the system is working properly and reduce radon.
  • When using lower level rooms more – Updating a basement into livable space warrants a radon test.

Take action as soon as possible whenever a radon test indicates levels at or above 4 pCi/L.

Ideal Conditions for Radon Testing

To get meaningful test results, EPA provides these radon testing guidelines:

  • Close windows and doors 12 hours before the start of a short-term test or 2-3 days for a long-term test. Closing doors inside the home allows normal air pressure differences and airflow to occur.
  • Maintain normal occupancy during the test. Changes in routines can affect results. Operate home systems like furnaces, air conditioners, and fans as usual.
  • Place the test kit in the lowest livable space where it won’t be disturbed. Finished basements and main living floors are ideal test locations.
  • Conduct tests between September and May when windows and doors stay closed. The highest radon levels usually occur during colder months.
  • Avoid testing in unusually severe weather, like major storms, high winds, or record-high heat or cold. Extreme conditions can skew results.
  • Perform a follow-up test for confirmation if initial results show 4 pCi/L or higher. Make sure to test under closed-building conditions.

Following proper protocols yields the most useful test results on your home’s year-round average radon level.

Reading and Understanding Your Radon Test Report

Radon test results are reported in picocuries per liter (pCi/L). Key metrics on your radon test report include:

  • Test result or radon level – The concentration of radon measured in your home, stated in pCi/L. Compare this number to EPA and Maine radon action thresholds.
  • Testing method – The device used to measure radon and length of time the test was conducted.
  • Testing location – Where in the home the test kit was placed. This ideally will be the lowest livable area.
  • Date of test – When the test began and ended.
  • Tester/lab ID info – Facility that analyzed the test device with contact information.
  • Statement of validity – Comments on whether proper testing conditions were met to consider the results valid and accurate.
  • Discussion and guidance – Overview explaining test results and next steps you should take based on your radon level.

Professional radon testers can help explain results and give recommendations. If your report doesn’t provide enough details, request clarification from the testing lab or contractor.

EPA & Maine Radon Action Levels

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set action levels to guide homeowners on when to mitigate for radon based on testing results:

  • 4 pCi/L or higher – EPA strongly recommends taking action to reduce radon within a reasonable time. Most homeowners opt to install radon mitigation systems when levels are 4 pCi/L or above.
  • Between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L – EPA suggests considering mitigation, especially if there are risk factors like smoking or children in the home. Consult with a radon contractor.
  • Under 2 pCi/L – Radon mitigation may not be cost-effective at this time. EPA guidelines say to retest every 5 years and if renovations are done.

The Maine Radon Program aligns with EPA guidance. They also recommend fixing homes with radon levels at 4 pCi/L or greater. Exposure to radon is cumulative over your lifetime, so even levels between 2 and 4 pCi/L carry risks. Talk to a radon mitigation pro to decide the best course of action for your home if results are 2 pCi/L or more.

Options for Radon Mitigation in Lewiston, ME Homes

When radon testing in Lewiston Maine reveals elevated levels, proven mitigation methods can permanently reduce concentrations. The most common radon reduction technique is active soil depressurization (ASD). Here’s how an ASD system works:

  • A suction point called a sump is installed in the concrete slab or soil beneath the foundation.
  • A powerful fan connected to the sump creates a vacuum to draw radon gas from below the home.
  • Radon is vented through a pipe to the outdoors where it dilutes harmlessly.

Exhaust vents are run up through the interior or along the outside of the house. Vents should vent above the eave line and direct radon away from windows or other openings.

ASD radon mitigation systems typically cost between $800 to $2,500 depending on system design, materials, and how easily installers can access the proper sump location. Professional installation is strongly recommended to properly place the sump and fan unit.

Other radon reduction techniques like sub-slab depressurization, drain tile suction, block wall suction, and natural ventilation may be options in some cases. A certified radon mitigation contractor can assess your home and recommend the best system during a free estimate.

How to Choose a Radon Mitigation Contractor in Lewiston, ME

When shopping for a radon mitigation contractor in Lewiston Maine, look for the following credentials and experience:

  • Maine radon mitigation license – The State of Maine requires radon professionals receive a state-issued license verifying proper training and expertise. Ask to see credentials.
  • NRPP certification – The National Radon Proficiency Program (NRPP) provides certification to radon mitigation pros who pass exams on radon reduction methods and standards. Choose an NRPP-certified contractor.
  • YEI certification – Contractors certified by the National Environmental Health Association’s National Radon Measurement Proficiency Program (NEHA-NRMPP) can display the Yankee Environmental EngineeringTM (YEI) credential. This validates expertise in using ASDS radon mitigation.
  • BBB accreditation – Companies accredited by the Better Business Bureau must uphold standards for ethical business practices. Check for BBB accreditation.
  • Local reputation & reviews – Pick a contractor well-known in the Lewiston area for quality and reliable radon reduction services. Verify their reputation through reviews and testimonials.

Only hire licensed, certified radon mitigation contractors with training and experience installing the right systems in Maine homes. Get upfront pricing, a contract outlining work details, and a guarantee covering operational defects.

Maintaining Your Radon Mitigation System

Once properly installed, radon mitigation systems require little maintenance. Follow these tips to keep your radon reduction system working effectively:

  • Check the fan monthly – Ensure the system fan is functioning, not obstructed or clogged, and warning lights are not indicating problems.
  • Keep the exhaust vent clear – Remove any debris around the outdoor exhaust opening and make sure nothing blocks the vent pipe.
  • Have a pro inspect annually – A visual inspection by a contractor each year will check for leaks,settling, obstructions, and other issues needing repair.
  • Watch for major renovations – Large alterations to the home can disrupt the mitigation system. A contractor should evaluate changes and adjust the system as needed.
  • Retest radon levels every 2 years – Regular retesting ensures radon remains reduced in the home over time.
  • Plan for system lifespan – Radon mitigation systems can last over 20 years, but components may require repairs or replacement over time. Factor system costs into long-term budgets.

With periodic maintenance, your radon mitigation system should keep your indoor air safe for years to come. Testing is the only way to confirm low radon levels.

Raising Radon Awareness in Lewiston

We all have a role to play in spreading radon awareness and education in our community. Here are some ways you can get involved:

  • Test your home – Lead by example and share your test results to inspire friends and neighbors to check their radon levels too.
  • Share EPA radon risks – Inform others about the serious health hazards of radon exposure and how easily homes can be tested.
  • Explain radon entry points – Visual demonstrations showing how radon seeps into homes helps people understand why every house needs to be tested.
  • Assist community testing – Volunteer for initiatives that provide free radon test kits or discounted professional testing assistance to local families in need.
  • Support new home construction codes – Advocate for radon-resistant building requirements in new Lewiston developments to prevent high radon in new homes.
  • Spread awareness through media – Share posts, images, and videos on social media highlighting radon risks, testing, and mitigation to expand public knowledge.
  • Display a radon awareness poster or magnet – Help give radon a visual presence and spark discussion through awareness merchandise from radon groups.

Every conversation, every test, every mitigation system installed raises awareness a little more. We all have the power to spread the word about radon in Lewiston.

Let’s Work Together to Reduce Radon Risks in Lewiston Homes

The citizens of Lewiston have the power to take control of radon risks in our community. Through education, testing, mitigation, and ongoing awareness efforts, we can ensure families are protected from dangerous radon exposure.

Please share this article to get the word out about this silent hazard. If you have concerns about radon in your own Lewiston home, contact a certified radon test pro immediately to get your levels checked. Consulting with qualified radon contractors will give you trusted guidance and expertise on lowering high radon readings.

Radon awareness saves lives. By joining together to understand radon risks, test our homes, fix high radon levels, and educate others, we can reduce radon dangers and keep our Lewiston community safe.

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