GeekDad Home Safety Tip: Dealing With Radon

Reading Time: 3 minutes

photo: Jonathan Liuphoto: Jonathan Liu

photo: Jonathan Liu

Every day, it seems, we’re presented with more things to worry about, particularly when it comes to our kids. Are you teaching them foreign languages while they’re young? How many minutes do you read to them per day? What about TV time? Do they consume high-fructose corn syrup? Aspartame? It gets pretty hard wondering which things are worth worrying about and which aren’t; and even then you can’t address everything with limited resources.

Well, sorry to add to your list of concerns, but here’s something that is at least easy to check and not inordinately expensive to deal with: radon. There are plenty of much more comprehensive explanations of what radon is and what to do about it, but hit the jump for a short executive-summary for you busy GeekDads.

What is Radon?

In short, it’s an odorless gas that causes cancer. The Surgeon General says it’s the second leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking. It’s basically present in soil and leaks into your home, where it gets trapped and eventually gives you lung cancer.

Why should you care?

Did I mention cancer? The longer you’re exposed to high levels of it, the more likely you’ll get cancer. Small kids, of course, are more susceptible, plus they’ve got a lot more time left to be exposed to it (or, for that matter, to be protected from it).

How do you test for it?

There are kits that you stick in your house, on the lowest level (sometimes that’s a crawlspace). You leave them there a couple days, then seal them up and send them off to the lab. It’s based on half-life and radioactive decay, so you really need to follow the instructions so you don’t screw up the results. But they’re fairly cheap, you can do them yourself and they’re not disruptive.

How do you fix it?

If it does turn out that you have high radon levels, you can get a radon abatement system installed. Now, if you’re building a house, it’s probably a good idea to get one installed from the get-go; you’ll save yourself a little trouble later. But even as a retrofit, a radon abatement system is not really all that big a deal. Basically it’s a pipe that goes from under your foundation to the roofline, with a fan that pumps air up. It sucks radon from the soil around your house and pumps it out into the air where it can disperse, thus reducing the level of radon inside your home. And they’re not extremely expensive, either, compared to other health hazards you might have to deal with, like lead-based paint or black mold.

I’ve been doing a lot of renovations on an older home we purchased, and this is by far one of the cheapest and simplest things we’ve done. Sure, it’s not as exciting as a sound-proofed theater room or a bay window, it will do more for the health of the geeklets than most of the other things I’m doing. And just think: if you, unlike me, live in a moderately-sized city, chances are you can find somebody in town who can install the system, and you won’t have to pay mileage and hotel costs.

Tune in next time for: Take Off Your Shoes, You’re Getting Pesticides on the Carpet!

The EPA’s “Citizen’s Guide to Radon”

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