Radon gas is colorless, odorless, and seeps into homes from the ground through cracks and joints in the house. It’s also suspected of causing thousands of lung cancer deaths every year. Radon gas can be found anywhere in the country, and it’s not unusual for an inspection to detect levels of radon gas in a home in our area that exceed the EPA standard of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or less. In fact, the EPA estimates that one in 15 houses has elevated radon levels.
Most homes should have the radon level tested. Testing is easy and relatively inexpensive (about $100 or less). If a test shows a level of radon higher than 4 pCi/L, a radon mitigation system should be installed. Fortunately, this is a fairly simple fix and costs about the same as some other common home repairs.
A typical mitigation systems consists of a pipe that penetrates the ground beneath the house (either below the crawl space or basement) and is connected to a fan that runs 24 hours a day to disperse the radon gas that might otherwise build up to unsafe levels in your home. The pipe can run up through the roof of the house on the inside, but most likely the pipe will be run up the side of the house on an exterior wall. In the latter case, the pipe looks like a downspout from a gutter and is somewhat camouflaged to look like the rest of the exterior of the home.
Once a radon mitigation system has been installed, it’s important to retest the radon level to make sure the system is functioning properly. The fans have an average life span of about five years, so the system should also be checked periodically and the fan replaced when needed.
Sources: US Inspect and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
If you live in a house with a basement, chances are you have a sump pump system (consisting of a sump pit that houses a pump) in your home. A sump pump system is installed to help manage exterior water runoff that drains toward the foundation of a house. Not all homes with basements have a sump pump system, but if water may be deposited near the exterior of a house, the builder will likely install the system when the house is being constructed. And you don’t need a basement to have a sump pump—some homes with crawl spaces have them, too.
It works like this: A drain system is installed around the perimeter of the home. The drain tubes usually have a diameter of a couple of inches, and have small holes drilled in them to collect and capture the water that’s heading for your basement. Once the water is captured, it’s directed to the sump pit, where the sump pump is installed. When water enters the pit, the pump is activated by a float and the accumulated water is pumped out of the home to a spot where it flows away from the home.
Since a sump pump helps remove moisture from the underground areas of your house, it’s important that the system is inspected and maintained in proper working order. Your pump should be tested at least twice a year, and more often if the pump runs frequently. If you have a pedestal model, just lift the float to test the pump. If you have a submersible model, pour a few gallons of water into the sump pit until the pump is activated. Of course, if the pump fails to activate when you test it, have it serviced immediately by a qualified technician!
Also, the sump pump should be plugged into a dedicated GFCI outlet. If it’s on a shared circuit, other appliances could trip the circuit, thereby disabling your sump pump. Some companies offer back-up pumps that run on battery power in case of mechanical or power failures. The sump pit should also be covered to help keep it free of debris that might hamper the movement of the float valve or cause other damage to the pump. With regular minimal maintenance, a sump pump should last anywhere from five to seven years, on average. That life span can be a bit shorter if you live in a damp area and your pump runs more frequently.